Special education teachers in Atlanta high schools could lose their jobs if they aren’t certified to teach in another subject, according to teachers involved and their supporters. A school district official said no decision has been made about their futures.
Keith Butler, who helps special education students with math in an Atlanta high school, said teachers are at risk of being fired because the school district is requiring them to become certified in a specific subject area in addition to their qualifications as special education teachers.
“It’s just wrong. It’s going to affect kids. The bottom line is that what you’re doing here is affecting lives,” Butler said. “You shouldn’t set students up for failure, but now they’ve set up the teachers for failure.”
Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford said the school district’s senior leadership team will meet this week to decide how to handle the situation. He couldn’t confirm that special education teachers are required to be certified in another field.
“No final decision has been made. We want to make sure we have highly qualified teachers for all of our students,” Alford said. “I don’t want to say it’s not going to affect anybody, but at this point, we don’t know who it will impact.”
Butler said the school district gave teachers time to gain additional certifications, but many of them failed certification tests that other teachers train for in college. He said he attempted the math test twice but wouldn’t be able to pass it without earning a degree in that subject.
It wasn’t clear how many teachers may be affected by potential nonrenewal of their contracts.
Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, who has three children in APS and is running for a position on the school board, said the school district needs highly qualified teachers in the classroom, but that dismissing special education teachers would do more harm than good.
“I want the best teachers we can possibly get. I don’t know if this will do it. It seems this will take us backward instead of forward,” she said.
Special education teachers have called the Atlanta Federation of Teachers with concerns that their contracts might not be renewed for next school year, AFT President Verdaillia Turner said.
“They told us that they had not been given anything in writing, but that they received a call that they would not receive an APS contract because they are not certified in a preferred area,” Turner said.
Teachers plan to meet with APS officials Monday evening at Therrell High School, where they will voice their concerns in hopes of being offered employment contracts for next school year, Hayes-Tavares and Butler said.