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Cuts Planned for Tacoma Educators Assisting Special-Needs Students

More than 100 Tacoma paraeducators will have their hours reduced so much in the new school year that they will no longer be eligible for health insurance. (NeONBRAND/Unsplash)
More than 100 Tacoma paraeducators will have their hours reduced so much in the new school year that they will no longer be eligible for health insurance. (NeONBRAND/Unsplash)
June 17, 2020

TACOMA, Wash. -- Tacoma schools plan to cut or reduce the hours of hundreds of educators who work with the most vulnerable students. More than 400 paraeducators will be laid off, transferred or have their work hours cut in the fall.

Glory Tichy, president of the Tacoma Federation of Paraeducators, said she thinks the decision is short-sighted, adding that schools are going to need all hands on deck, even if there's less in-classroom time next fall because of COVID-19.

"It doesn't make sense that the district wouldn't be looking at whatever way possible that they could incorporate the staff that they have on hand to support in those additional ways," she said.

A spokesperson for the Tacoma School District said the decision isn't budget-related. Instead, the district anticipates campuses will have half the number of students on campus two days a week, requiring fewer staff members. The decision was made before the Washington State Office of Public Instruction announced it's planning for in-person education in the fall. The district has said this doesn't change its plans.

Along with assisting teachers, paraeducators work with students with special needs, including one-on-one support. Tichy said parents are concerned their students won't get the assistance they need if paraeducators aren't there to provide it.

"They know those students well; they know what works for them," she said. "They know how to anticipate when they're going to need extra support with something, and the idea that these students are only going to get that two days a week is devastating for them, as well."

The district has said it ensures that all Individual Education Plans will be met when students with special needs are on campus. However, reduced on-campus time means reduced hours for paraeducators. Tichy said more than 100 people will have their hours reduced enough to no longer be eligible for health insurance.

"For some folks," she said, "it may be them faced with a decision of, 'Do I even stay here and do this? Because if I can't contribute to my household, can't pay my bills, don't even get health insurance - you know. There's a lot of things to weigh out there right now.' "

Plans for next year still are in flux. Tichy said she and other paraeducators are encouraging the Tacoma Public School Board not to accept the dhttps://actionnetwork.org/petitions/petition-to-save-jobs-for-paraeducators-in-the-tacoma-school-district?source=direct_link&istrict's recommendations at its meeting on June 25. Her union also is circulating a petition to be delivered to the board.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA