Teachers: St. Paul schools are violating federal law with special ed kids

Susan Du:

Over the past few months, Humboldt High teacher Rachel Wannarka started noticing a lot of kids being transferred to her special education math class after failing out of regular math.

While regular math takes place daily, special ed math is every other day, taught at a level several grades lower than what many of these students were used to. Wannarka knew the kids were smart enough to succeed in the mainstream class, so she started looking for an explanation why they couldn’t keep up.

Special ed students all have unique learning disabilities – autism, cognitive difficulties, emotional behavioral disorders. But federal law stresses students with disabilities are entitled to be taught alongside students without them. It’s the school’s job to provide the extra support to make that possible.

That’s why all special ed students have a custom Individualized Education Program (IEP), a legal document that spells out when an aide is needed at their side to help them focus, get their work done, and make it through the day without incident.

Suspecting that Humboldt wasn’t giving students the extra support they needed, Wannarka cross-referenced students’ IEPs with staff schedules. She found that dozens of kids weren’t getting the time with aides that the law requires.

As a result, they’re failing out of the less restrictive mainstream classes and squandering their potential in special ed classes, where they just keep falling further behind, says Wannarka.