Alleged assault on special education student sign of bigger problems, experts say

Local News

Experts say a 12-year-old special education student allegedly choked by his teacher on Hawaii island brings to light a bigger problem: a severe shortage of properly trained teachers.

So what’s causing that, and what can be done to fix the problem?

Officials at the University of Hawaii College of Education say there are enough graduates every year to fill the need. The problem is they don’t stay in special education very long.

The UH Special Education program graduates 70 to 80 teacher candidates every year, and most of them are well aware of the challenges in the career.

“I have always enjoyed a challenge, and I feel that being in this program would help me be the educator that we need more of out in the field,” said student Jayleen Barino.

“It’s very taxing, emotionally draining, and physically draining often,” said Amelia Jenkins, interim associate dean at the UH College of Education.

She says that’s why many don’t stay in the field very long. The teachers’ union points out that special education teachers also don’t get the support such as specialists who can help deal with students with severe behavior problems.

“We are creating an environment that is so bad for our students and teachers that we are not providing the services that everyone should be having,” said HSTA president Corey Rosenlee.

The arrest of a Keaau Elementary School teacher for assaulting 12-year-old Dashay Souza Nascimento is an extreme case. But experts point out that because there is such a shortage of qualified teachers, some are forced to go in the classroom unprepared.

“Unfortunately a lot of the teachers that are in the classrooms are emergency hires. They’re not licensed, or they’re working on a license, but they’re still the teacher of record,” said Jenkins.

Rosenlee adds that the student-teacher ratio is also too big and not allowing the students to get one on one help they need.

“We’re gonna have to fund this and it’s either gonna have to do it proactively, do it now or we wait for the lawsuit,” he said. “It will cost a lot more.”

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