GORHAM, Maine — It's no secret school districts are struggling to fill open positions. Districts are especially hurting to fill staff vacancies in special education classrooms, which some superintendents said is a common theme throughout Maine, as well as in schools nationwide.
Just in Cumberland County, there are about 26 special education teacher openings and more than 100 ed tech openings, according to Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry.
"When I first came on board in 2015, we'd put out an application for a special ed resource room teacher, for example, or a posting, and we'd have, you know, 20 applicants easily. We put a posting out today and we're lucky to get one or two qualified applicants for our special education positions open in our school system," Perry said.
This statistic is concerning to many parents who have a special needs student. E'Dee Bruns' daughter, Kiera, is a sophomore at South Portland High School who learns in a special education classroom. Kiera has autism and severe mixed receptive expressive language disorder, which makes communication difficult, her mother said.
Bruns said she's afraid there's an uneven ratio of staff to students in her daughter's classroom—a room of students who learn best in a one-on-one environment. NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to the South Portland School Department about its student-to-staff ratios in special education classrooms but has not heard back.
"Group learning doesn't really work with Kiera like it does with typical children," Bruns said.
However, the quality of her daughter's education is not Bruns' only concern. She said safety is equally as important, as her daughter has a history of wandering out of classrooms, which were fully staffed.
"Now that they're partially staffed, I worry she could walk out of the classroom and no one would notice," Bruns said. "She could just decide, 'I'm going to leave,' and walk out the door. She's very smart. She will wait until there's a distraction before she leaves."