Special education shortage forces Omaha families to make tough decision

Three Omaha elementary schools will be without special needs educators this year
Students needing special education are now facing a new challenge.
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 4:33 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Some families in the Omaha Public School District with Special Education needs are being given two options this school year: Either relocate to a new school or waive their rights to special education services.

It’s because OPS doesn’t have enough specialized teachers for the job.

With this tough decision facing families, Lauren Micek Vargas and her nonprofit Education Rights Council are helping Omaha families in special education navigate it.

“We have coordinated and cooperated with the school district to make sure that those children are being placed into appropriate settings and getting the services and support they need,” said Vargas.

Federal law requires that students with a verified disability get individualized education plans or IEPs.

Due to a teacher shortage in the district, three schools will have no special education instructors when the school year begins: Walnut Hill Elementary, King Elementary, and Central Park Elementary.

This affects about 140 students, forcing the district to adjust.

“How are we then going to provide services to the students as identified in their IEPs? They will be looking at other schools to attend,” said Susan Christopherson, Chief Academic Officer for OPS.

Last week, families received a message outlining the issue and their options. OPS will help relocate families or they can stay at their current school but withdraw consent to receive special education.

“When you waive that, you essentially are waiving all of their rights as a child who is verified with a disability to receive extra instruction and get those extra services and supports,” said Micek Vargas.

The law says this decision would require families to re-verify their child’s disability to get special education again.

“By waiving those rights you’d have to start that process again.”

OPS said it’s working with each family to find a solution where it doesn’t come to that.

“We’re working alongside each family to help provide those options to ensure their child is receiving those services for the upcoming school year,” said Christopherson.

The district said families will be offered transportation if they decide to relocate and they’ll be given the option to keep siblings together if necessary.

The nonprofit Education Rights Council will offer anyone faced with making this decision a free consultation to help.