ESS teachers raise worries about ‘rushed’ in-person plan

An array of questions about Exceptional Student Services during COVID-19 came up during Wednesday's meeting of the MUSD board.


Being required to offer in-person schooling for special-education students by Monday, 10 teachers at Maricopa Elementary School are asking for more time and lots of answers.

The Exceptional Student Services instructors sent a lengthy letter to Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board laying out their concerns, adding they were not satisfied with the answers they received from their department head.

The requirement comes from a statewide executive order guiding the opening of schools during COVID-19. The order requires the school to provide in-person instruction to ESS students who want it, starting no later than Aug. 17.

That has meant creating “specially designed instruction” in a self-contained classroom and having it in place Monday. Teachers said they were not given a reasonable amount of time considering the effort and risk involved.

“We would like our voices to be heard,” they stated.

Their worries range from protocol for diapering and wheelchair transfers to situations of students refusing to wear masks and teachers’ medical bills if they contract the coronavirus. They said they had filled out a district survey asking if they felt staff was at risk and why, but they felt the results were ignored.

“Why are we testing the waters with the most vulnerable students first?” they asked.

The ESS teachers didn’t just ask questions in their letter, which was read as a call to the public by Board President AnnaMarie Knorr at Wednesday’s meeting, but also laid out ideas of their own for considering such entitlements as IEPs and Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

That included meeting as an IEP team to “discuss why these services are or are not FAPE and give parents an understanding of what in-person will actually look like at this time.”

The letter included dozens of questions for the board. Those who signed the letter were Kimberly Williams, Andrea Nuno, Tawni McGinnis, Sarah Aguilar, Beth McCoy, Laura Done, Cindy Searles, Brent Sherwood, Brenda Reed and Steve Spencer.

“We had about 10 days to get it all done, maybe a little bit less,” District ESS Director Teri Louer told the board.

“I do believe, although it was rushed and caused lots of grief, the intent of the executive order was meant to help and support our exceptional needs students,” she said. “We know that we need to improve the achievement of these students, and that was what this was meant to help with.”

Louer said ESS students who have an individualized education program (IEP) will have transportation to their in-person class.

In presenting the ESS portion of the district’s distance learning plan later in the meeting, Louer described the decision-making process: “The decisions were made not by the model the parents or teacher preferred but based on the rate of improvements students could make. That is a really significant part of the plan.”