New Ulm leads push to streamline special education paperwork | Local News
NEW ULM —
Christina Mattson’s classroom in New Ulm Middle School is never empty during school hours.
During the “prep hour” she gets only every other day, the special education teacher plans lessons, documents her students’ progress and needs, and aids students who need extra help with their assignments.
There is nowhere near enough time to fulfill the mounting number of state documentation requirements, some of which Mattson said are redundant or delays educators’ ability to respond to student needs.
Mattson and her colleagues are at school or working from home well before the first bell rings and after the last bell rings filling out paperwork.
“You’re missing out on either time with your family or with your students,” she said.
New Ulm special education teachers and administrators developed a proposal to reduce the paperwork burden. Those recommendations have now become bills being considered by state lawmakers.
The proposal emerged from a 2017 gathering of New Ulm school school officials and state legislators.
Special education costs were a hot topic during that meeting, Supt. Jeff Bertrang said. The lawmakers suggested the educators develop some ideas for how the state could help reduce special education costs.
District leaders decided to focus on Minnesota’s special education reporting requirements, which have not been updated to match reductions in federal requirements.
The district developed a proposal to eliminate six of the extra state requirements, which they estimate could save teachers between 30 and 60 hours per student per year.
The recommendations each have become individual bills in both the House and Senate.
“(Special education teachers) went into this work because they want to work with children, not in front of a computer screen,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who is sponsoring two of the bills in the House.
New Ulm leaders have made two trips to the state Capitol to pitch their proposal.
“(Teachers) are dealing with an unbearable burden of paperwork,” Irina Soboleva, New Ulm’s special services coordinator, said during a hearing before the House Education Policy Committee last week. “As a result, they have less and less time for teaching students.”
The recommendations have support from leaders in local school districts.
“Documentation is important, but when we can streamline we should,” said St. Peter Supt. Paul Peterson.
But some of New Ulm’s recommendations have drawn opposition from representatives of the Coalition for Children with Disabilities — a collection of advocacy groups. There is concern that reducing reporting requirements could jeopardize the level of services.
“We thank New Ulm for coming forward with their proposals, but we want to make sure at the end of the day our students’ rights are protected,” Sarah Clarke, a lobbyist for the coalition, told the House committee.
New Ulm leaders say they understand the concern but their recommendations would reduce red tape and allow educators to more quickly respond to evolving student needs.
“Additional paperwork requirements have nothing to do with helping students,” Soboleva said. “It does not increase achievement and teachers cannot address students’ needs quickly enough without completing a ton of paperwork.”