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In the States: Updates on Local School Districts in Iowa and Wisconsin

The new “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.

DOJ Settles with Cedar Rapids Community School District

Last week, the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with Cedar Rapids Community School District in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A Department of Justice investigation found that the district “inappropriately and repeatedly secluded and restrained students with disabilities as early as kindergarten,” leading to hundreds of hours of instructional time lost.

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said:

“Students with disabilities should not be subjected to discriminatory and abusive seclusion and restraint practices that deny them equal access to education…When schools isolate and unlawfully restrain children with disabilities, rather than provide them with the supports needed for success in the classroom, they violate the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Under the settlement agreement, the school district will implement reforms needed to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities.

Shortage Showcase, Milwaukee Public Schools

The largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Public School system, started the school year with over 200 vacant teaching positions. Wisconsin Policy Forum senior researcher Sarah Shaw points to a 20% decline in individuals earning a bachelor’s degree in education and full teaching certification as a major issue.

“Right now, there are not enough graduates from education programs to be able to fill the projected teacher openings. And those projected teacher openings are projected both thinking about where our teachers coming in, but also how quickly our teachers, leaving the profession, especially as we have an aging Baby Boomer population,” said Shaw.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum says they have projected they would be around 2,500 teacher openings a year in southeastern Wisconsin with only about 2,000 graduates to fill those jobs. That leaves at least 500 open teaching positions every year to be filled from elsewhere.

Angela Harris, chair of the Black Educator Caucus for Milwaukee Public Schools highlighted the challenges that many students would face as they start the school year likely without a fully certified teacher in their classroom:

“When we talk about teacher shortages, we have to understand that it is going to affect our students academically because they aren’t going to have that teacher of record in the classroom that they are going to build a long-term relationship with that is coming into that classroom with the knowledge of the curriculum that they are teaching.”

The teacher shortage goes beyond just Milwaukee. In August, the Madison School District was down 141 teachers, Racine Unified School district had 73 teacher vacancies, and the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District was down 23 teachers.

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