Hawaii's Edict on Special Education Teachers Stirs Ire

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Certified special education teachers in Hawaii have been barred from transferring to posts outside their specialty for the coming school year.

Patricia Hamamoto

Under an order last month from Patricia Hamamoto, superintendent of the Hawaii Department of Education, the teachers must stay put to help the state meet a court mandate to have 90 percent of its special education teachers certified by the 2002-03 school year.

"We are hoping to satisfy the courts because we know that's an area we came up a bit short," said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the state education department. "We are doing everything we can to retain certified personnel in their posts. We are doing heavy recruiting."

Mr. Knudsen said he believed the ban would be only temporary.

"This is not seen as a permanent situation," Mr. Knudsen said. "We know going into next year that we need that many teachers."

The education department must comply with the requirement as part of a 1994 consent decree resulting from a class action against the state. The suit called for improvements to special education in the statewide school system.

State teachers' union leaders oppose the ban, saying the superintendent has overstepped the bounds of her powers. The Hawaii State Teachers Association sent a letter to the federal district judge in the case and to the special master appointed by the district court to oversee the consent decree, asking them for a meeting to resolve the issue.

"Special education teachers are just enraged," said Joan Husted, the union president. "You've punished everybody without knowing how many would even have wanted to transfer. The state may have made a mountain out of a molehill and caused a greater morale problem."

Mr. Knudsen said principals were given the authority to make exceptions to the ban in extreme circumstances.

A Challenging Situation

Recruiting certified special education teachers is a national problem, but Hawaii has struggled with particular challenges. The state has difficulty luring teachers from the mainland, Mr. Knudsen said. At the same time, the state's teacher education programs do not produce enough special education teachers to meet the state's need.

Currently, some 2,100 special education teachers are among the state's 13,300 teachers, according to the union. Another 2,000 teachers hold dual certification, in both regular and special education, Ms. Husted said.

The state has made recruiting special education teachers a priority. In addition, the state offered $10,000 bonuses to any teacher with dual certification who chose to move into a special education slot.

But Ms. Husted said she fears the ban will hurt recruitment efforts.

"You have made the situation worse," she said. "Special education teachers are saying, 'I don't want to remain in the school system.' The university is running into difficulty because students moving into dual certified programs might decide they don't want to because they'll get trapped."

Ms. Husted said the state had considered the option of moving all teachers who have dual certification that includes special education into special education jobs, but chose the transfer ban as the "lesser of two evils."

"We understand that, but this is not the answer," she said.

Vol. 21, Issue 32, Page 28

Published in Print: April 24, 2002, as Hawaii's Edict on Special Education Teachers Stirs Ire
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