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March 2, 2024

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Vancouver teachers union files complaint about special education policy change, says it violates collective agreement

District newsletter Nov. 13 informed staff some students would be moved to general education classrooms

By , Columbian staff writer

The Vancouver Education Association filed a complaint Monday with Vancouver Public Schools that alleges a change in the district’s special education policy violates student rights and the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

In a weekly newsletter to staff Nov. 13, the district asked for some middle- and high-school special education students to be moved to general education classrooms for science, social studies and health classes by the start of the second semester Jan. 30. The newsletter states the three subjects are not forms of “specifically designed instruction,” meaning they should not be taught by special education staff.

A district spokesperson said the change is to fulfill state and federal graduation requirements.

“Per federal and state law, graduation requirements should be met in the general education setting unless the IEP (individualized education program) team determines they should be met in another setting,” district spokesperson Jessica Roberts wrote in an email. “Our district guidance is to make sure that students with (individualized education plans) can first access general education.”

The union — which represents 1,600 certificated staff in Vancouver Public Schools — said unilateral changes to the day-to-day learning environment of special education students are a violation of many students’ individualized education plans. These plans are documents developed prior to the school year by the student’s parents, teachers, psychologists and others to determine the most appropriate learning environment and daily schedule.

“There are so many problems with this, it’s hard to know where to start,” union President Jamie Anderson said in a Monday press release. “These students are going to be joining entirely new classes halfway through the year, which is a challenge for any student. General education and special education teachers are scrambling to figure out how to ensure that these students still get the individualized education they are entitled to under federal law and aren’t being set up for failure.”

According to Roberts, the district sent a follow-up email to union leadership after the Nov. 13 newsletter stating that “if individual students are not able to access these courses in general education, (IEP teams) can collaborate with their AD (assistant director) and principal on how to appropriately support that student.”

Union contacted school board

Anderson sent a letter to the district’s board of directors Nov. 21 alerting them of the union’s stance on the proposed change. In the letter, Anderson wrote she estimated the change would affect as many as 364 children in the district.

Although the union supports attempts to integrate general education and special education students, Anderson said the district does not yet possess the number of appropriate special education staff to make such changes — an issue brought forth by staff in other local districts, too.

“Currently, (Vancouver Public Schools) struggles to provide adequate staffing for self-contained programs to ensure safe learning environments,” Anderson wrote to the school board. “At this point in time, there has been no plan for preparing students or educators (both general education and special education) to make this drastic change in services. Our educators are being asked to notify families of these changes without … review or input, opening us up to legal liability.”

Anderson said as of Monday, the school board had not responded to her letter.