Nebraska lawmakers discuss lack of special education teachers in North Omaha schools

Nebraska legislators have raised concerns as to why three schools in Omaha are without special education services.
Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 5:20 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The teacher shortage is a statewide and nationwide issue, and some Nebraska legislators want to know why the lack of special education teachers has become a larger issue in Omaha’s most disadvantaged community.

Three Omaha Public Schools are without special education teachers: Walnut Hill, Central Park, and Martin Luther King -- all elementary schools in North Omaha.

“Why are there three schools in North Omaha, our state’s most under-resourced community, that don’t have special education teachers this year,” asked Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln. “Was that a huge red flag for you? How did you walk through and talk through and think through the racial justice considerations with that?”

OPS officials told lawmakers that special-ed teachers have a very difficult job. The district is doing all it can to recruit educators, and the shortage of teachers in North Omaha is out of their control.

“The three schools with vacancies are all in North Omaha,” said Spencer Head with OPS’ Board of Education. “The Omaha Public Schools didn’t choose these schools. The schools with vacancies are a direct result of staff resignations. After exploring multiple options, we determined the best way to serve those students was to move them to a school where we could provide the services they needed.”

One parent testified. Kelsey Escobar says she received last-minute notice her special education student would have to transfer to another school in order to stay in special education classes.

“I ended up having to take time off of work because of this situation because obviously I can’t leave my son at school and get neglected,” Escobar said. “I don’t really have people to depend on. People all have lives.”

The issue won’t be solved in one meeting -- but everyone agrees the goal is to get the best education possible for all OPS students, no matter which school they attend.

Legislative committee members say the lack of teachers, especially in special education, in the district will be a topic of discussion in the next session.