Unsafe: Less than One Aide Per Classroom–UPDATED

SpecEd Figures[Update: I have been informed that my interpretation of the numbers above is flawed. For this, I apologize. As I have stated numerous times, I’m really new at this. My son just turned 6, and we’ve been in the school system for less than two years, so I do often get it wrong. I apologize and accept full responsibility for the error.

I am not correct that every Special Education teacher is in need of an aide. Many work with students who do not require the additional assistance of an Instructional Assistant and who spend the majority of their day in a regular classroom. Therefore, my statement that we have less than one aide per classroom is not true.

It seems that we in fact have at least two aides (and occasionally three) for every special education classroom. Again, as I said, I take full responsibility for getting this wrong. I appreciate those from whom I’ve heard for helping me get the facts straight. As I stated below, had we been given more than just a table with frankly suspicious numbers, perhaps I would have understood this before I published the blog, but as I said, the fault for getting this wrong is entirely my own. I apologize, and I have struck out the incorrect information below. Any new information that I’ve added, I have placed in italics for emphasis.]

After six months of requesting this information, Huntsville City Schools finally released staffing data for Special Needs Classrooms yesterday about 3:00pm.

I had heard that there would be one Instructional Assistant per classroom earlier in the week. The actual numbers are much worse than that.

While Dr. Wardynski claims that the system will meet the requirements of the IEPs on Monday, he offered no clear justification for his conclusion. And look at those numbers. Anything surprise you about them? They’re perfect. The central office has hired exactly the right amount of staff. Not one too many. Not one too few. Perfect. Does this strike you as unusual? It does me.

In short, the finance guy didn’t show his work. How did he determine that the IEPs required 126 Instructional Assistants, for example? We have 126 aides to 2,700 students. That’s a 21:1 ratio. [Since I don’t know how many of the students’ IEPs require an aide, I do not know what the actual ratio is. It would be nice if Dr. Wardynski would share this information with us. I have asked for a breakdown of the teacher/aide to student ratio numerous times over the past two weeks. I’ve been ignored.] How exactly does one determine that IEPs only require a 21:1 ratio? Show your work, Dr. Wardynski. Show us how that will work.

Here’s what we know.

There are approximately 2,700 special needs students expecting to start school on Monday, August 8th.

According to the data that Dr. Wardynski shared Thursday night, the system currently employees 171 Special Needs teachers. These are the special needs personnel who are assigned to specific classrooms with students in the classrooms. It includes, as you can see in the picture above, Hearing Impaired Teachers, Visually Impaired Teachers, and the Pre-K Teachers as well (who typically have a class that is only 50% special needs).

We have 171 teachers to 2,700 students: a 15:1 ratio.

We have 126 aides to 2,700 students: a 21:1 ratio. [Again, since I don’t know how many of those 2,700 students’ IEPs require an aide, it is impossible to say what the actual ratio is.]

Assuming that the Hearing Impaired and Visually Impaired teachers do not have their own classrooms, there should be 167 Special Education teacher who do. 167 classrooms and 126 aides. This means that we potentially have 41 special needs classrooms in our system with only one adult in the room. One.

This is a dangerous situation, and we have no more time to resolve it before Monday. [Despite my misunderstanding of the data, I remain convinced that our classrooms are understaffed.]

Perhaps this is why I keep hearing that special needs parents are pulling their kids out of the system.

As I mentioned to the three outsiders who wasted our summer defending an idiotic plan to close schools, the problem isn’t that people aren’t moving into Huntsville. The problem is that we’ve lost faith in the leadership of Huntsville City Schools.

And when the superintendent and the board of education present numbers like this with the expectation that we will cheer for them, honestly the only reasonable response is to throw you hands up and walk away.

That will not be my response at least not this year. My son has greatly benefited from being in a classroom setting. It has helped him come out of his shell, so no, I will not deprive him of something that he loves. So what’s a parent to do?

  • Read and completely know your child’s IEP. You can’t insist that the system follow the IEP, if you don’t know what’s in it.
  • If you find that your child’s IEP isn’t sufficient, request another meeting to address the deficiencies.
  • Do whatever you can to support your child’s teachers, aides, therapists and schools. The lack of staff is not their fault.

On Monday, unless I’m certain that my son’s classroom is sufficiently staffed to be safe and meet the requirements of his IEP, I’m planning to stay at my son’s school all day. While staying in his classroom would be disruptive to his education (and he wouldn’t want me to do so, anyway), I plan to be on campus trying to assist the school in other ways.

This safety issue was one of the Board’s own creation. We warned them. We warned Dr. Wardynski as well, but they decided to wait.  They are responsible for this situation.

It would cost $41,000 to allow one aide for every special education teacher. That’s less than half of what we’re paying Dr. Moore to sit at home. So you see the argument that “we don’t have the money” is bullshit.

Our system has the money; they’re just not choosing to spend it on our kids.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. I wonder if we could find out how many IEP are at each school – I know at my son’s school, they have one Special Education teacher to manage 425 students ranging in age from Kindergarten through 8th Grade. While I love our teacher, how can one teacher that many students cases? Even if they just needed minor assistance; she can not be at all places at all times with all grade levels.

    1. There’s no possible way that she could. That’s a good question. I’ll add it to my list. The second page of the pdf report that I’ve linked to offers some detail concerning what special needs students are at which schools, but there’s very little detail there.

      425:1 is insane and would have to be illegal. Call your board member and the state. The Alabama special education department’s is 334-242-8114.

      1. Sorry for the confusion; we have a total of 425 students in the school. I am wondering how many of them have IEP’s and how many should or need assistance but will fall through the cracks due to lack of staffing. I just don’t see how one teacher can serve a K – 8th properly with on help.

        1. Cool beans. I agree that one special education teacher in a single school seems unbalanced. Without access to the data that would show how many special education student there are in the school, there’s little way to know.

          This is one reason why special education parents need to network and talk to each other. The only way that parents can know if their classrooms are adequately staffed would be if they compare notes about their child’s IEPs.

    2. Who knows anything about the agency that has the contract for subs, support staff? I heard it was EPSCO. Was the contract based on lowest bidder? What kind of staff are we looking at?????????

      1. Very Concerned Parent:

        The EPSCO contract was approved at the July 21, 2011 Meeting. They were the low-bid contract from 4 groups, that included ONIN, Manpower, and Kelly Services.

        However, the strange thing is that that contract was not supposed to cover Instructional Assistants. It only covered 35-40 Child Nutrition Program Workers (at $8 per hour) and 1 Child Nutrition Program Clerk. at $10 per hour.

        There was no mention in the bid to cover Instructional Assistants as it now seems they have done. I’ve been hearing that the aides provided by EPSCO are making less than those who were provided by ONIN last year. (Hard to imagine, but true.)

        No, I don’t know how this pushed through without a board vote (and the board did not vote on it.) I’ve got a copy of the bid but it doesn’t really say much more than what I’ve shared here.

  2. The inclusion teachers don’t have aides period. Only the teachers with students with more severe disabilities have assistants. Most of the inclusion teachers don’t need assistants so to find out if the classrooms have enough help you would have to look at them individually. Some do some don’t. And yes money is not an excuse.

    1. Can you define for me a little more what you mean by “inclusion teacher?” When I think of an inclusion teacher, I think of a kindergarten teacher who occasionally has a special needs child in the room. If that’s what you mean, I agree, that teacher doesn’t need an aide since the child needing an aide would bring the aide with him or her. But I doubt that teacher is counted as a special education teacher. (I’m fairly certain that my son’s kindergarten teacher has an early childhood education degree and not a special ed degree.)

      If you mean another type, please let me know. I’m still new at this, and despite my best intentions I’m often wrong.

      But, I will say this: I know my son’s classroom is understaffed. I agree that each classroom should be looked at individually, and they haven’t done that. (Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been surprised when I told them that my son’s classroom has only two aides with eleven students.)

      Either way, I’m convinced that our system needs additional aides to provide a safe learning environment.

      Let me know what you think, and as always, thanks for reading and the feedback.

  3. Inclusion teachers are counted in the numbers on the chart. Look at the programs offered at each school on the chart. Those teachers are in a regular education classroom with a regular education teacher and sometimes pull-out for small group instruction and remediation. They typically don’t service students with severe disabilities. When a student with a severe disability is included in the general education classroom they will have an assistant with the student. It may be a one on one ratio or a one to two at most. I’m not sure of the numbers but only about 1% of all special education students have a severe disability and although others could benefit from an instructional assistant it is not deemed necessary in order to provide them a free and appropriate education. All the schools are required to provide is a free and appropriate education. That is what the student needs in order to make progress, and although the more staff there is the better it is for “all students”, additional instructional assistants aren’t deemed necessary. I agree that your child’s classroom may be under staffed as the persons making the decisions about the number of instructional assistants needed have probably never visited your child’s classroom and simply look at numbers instead of individual situations. I’m sure it’s easy to say this is all that is needed when you don’t have to be the one to actually try and implement an IEP and work with students on a daily basis. Just saying!!!!!!!!!!

    A friend of mine told me about you blog, and I just wanted you to know I love it. You write beautifully and I feel your frustration. I think you are definitely on to something even if your not sure what, and I’m sure with persistence you will be able to resolve the issues in your son’s classroom to your satisfaction.

  4. The language of an IEP is filled with “legaleeze” and can be subject to interpretation. Here are some ideas to toss around. Were IEP’s re-written in the Spring (when all the scrambling started) with an eye for reducing staff such as writing “requires an aide, as needed”. Have there been children in the system who do not have IEPs because they are borderline or just don’t fit the mold, but who obviously need help from an instructional asst. and have been given the help in the past. This year those students may be on their own. Teachers, as a result, may have numerous challenges in maintaining classroom discipline and safety.

    1. Yes, the IEP process in the spring was a flawed one. For example, when we first asked about getting our son an aide to assist him in the regular ed classroom, we were told that all that could be added would be, “He will have access to Special Education Personnel.” Anything more specific would require approval from the central office.

      We sought such approval and got an Aide written into his IEP. I would suspect that many people who actually needed an one-on-one aide didn’t get one.

      When I mentioned this to Mrs. Sledge, she told me that that was not department policy.

      I am certain that there are many children in the system who needed an aide but didn’t get one.

  5. I need to clarify only 1% of all students not just special education students have a severe disability. You would need to know the total of all students enrolled in HCS and take 1% of that number to come up with a figure. The number could be a little higher depending on the school, but in the general population only 1% of all people have a severe disability and school populations should be representative of the general population.

    1. Thanks for that update. As you see, I’ve altered the blog to incorporate the ideas you were discussing. I hope you’re right about getting things resolved. I wasn’t able to do anything at all about the Special Needs Consolidation, but hopefully, all of our kids will be safe tomorrow.

      Thank you for your kind words and for reading. I really appreciate it.

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