Summer school staffing problems lead to virtual learning for special needs students in Montgomery Co.

Staffing problems in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) now mean some students with special needs will have to move to virtual learning for a summer school program. 

The school system said they're short about 20 teachers for the Extended School Year program. 

About 4,400 students are in the program and most will have an in-person teacher, however, 172 students will have to learn online —  leaving some parents concerned.  

"You know, honestly, I couldn’t sleep last night. It made me so nervous, and it brought back so many memories of the pandemic," said MCPS parent Christina Hartman. 

Hartman said for the last two years her daughter Charlotte has been going in-person to summer school. 

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She says getting the email this week saying Charlotte would have to learn virtually was nerve-racking.   

"Charlotte has this very severe and profound intellectual disability," Hartman said. "Even though she’s going to be six next week, she functions at the level of a 1 or 2-year-old." 

Christina says in addition to having a caretaker for Charlotte, she and her husband had a backup plan; a summer camp that works with students with disabilities. But she worries about the other families who don’t have that option.  

"This was a very sudden move, and these children are extremely labor-intensive," Hartman said. "Having them sit there and watch a screen all day doesn’t work. She was literally banging her head on the table, and she pulled out all her hair." 

MCPS officials say they offered special incentives to try and attract more special education teachers to work over the summer, but not enough teachers had an interest.  

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For families affected by the shortage, MCPS says they will pay $19 an hour to support caregivers during the hours the program runs and have committed to compensatory services for these students in the fall. 

"What I’m hearing from that community is that they’re not being paid enough. They’re exhausted," Hartman said. "If we’re not attracting those people what happens this fall? Are they going to send us another letter saying the kids are going to be virtual? That doesn’t work for Charlotte. It doesn’t work for a lot of children I think we found." 

Officials say teacher recruitment for summer programs is a challenge statewide and the full picture for fall isn’t fully known.  

Christina added that she hopes more parents will contact school leaders to let them know in-person learning needs to happen for these students.  

"Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education, and we need to make sure that’s available."