After years of violating federal special education law, Indiana officials began talks with the U.S. Department of Education last week about their plan to comply by the start of next school year. A state official previously said these talks had already begun.
Indiana issued thousands of emergency permits to teachers without special education certification over the last several years, which is against federal law and effectively places some of the highest need students with untrained educators. The state is now scrambling to correct the longstanding violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it plans to stop issuing emergency permits for special education teachers in less than nine months.
On Oct. 1, a spokeswoman with the Indiana Department of Education, Holly Lawson, incorrectly told WFYI that the federal government had “worked to provide guidance” to Indiana as part of the process of ending the use of emergency permits for special educators. After WFYI’s initial story on the state not complying with federal law, Lawson contacted reporters to correct the information, saying that the first conversation with federal officials about Indiana’s elimination of emergency permits occurred last week.
Lawson said she did not participate in the conversation with federal officials, but the general counsel for IDOE informed her that they are satisfied with what Indiana is doing to correct the issue.
“My understanding is that we’re in a good place and by taking the proactive action, we’re addressing the issue and we’ll be able to move forward,” Lawson said.
The federal government has not penalized Indiana for violating special education law.
Indiana schools have grown increasingly reliant on emergency permits due to a shortage of fully licensed special educators. While advocates and educators agree that students with disabilities should have trained and qualified teachers, both special education administrators and lawmakers have voiced concern that the rush to eliminate the use of emergency permits could worsen the state’s special ed teacher shortage.
Last week, the Indiana State Board of Education gave initial approval to a plan to end the use of emergency permits for special education teachers next school year.
Instead of issuing emergency permits to unlicensed special education teachers, the IDOE plans to create an alternative licensure program. The program would allow the state to issue permits to teachers who can prove they’re actively working toward special education certification.
Both actions are subject to the state’s rulemaking process, which will include a public hearing before the state board takes a final vote.