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The Bellows Falls Middle School.

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WESTMINSTER — The distribution of special education teachers and aides among the schools in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union has upset some school directors.

Rockingham School Directors James McAuliffe and Priscilla Lambert, who usually don’t agree on much, strongly agreed Wednesday night that Rockingham students, specifically students at the Bellows Falls Middle School, were not getting the educational attention they needed.

“It’s an equity issue,” said McAuliffe, who said he was also “very upset” with the decision to hire remote teachers to teach the students.

Stacey Alexander, the director of student services, had given the supervisory union members an overview of the status of special education services, and Alexander said she had many teacher and aide vacancies.

To meet the requirements of students’ individual learning plans, the school district has had to resort to “virtual” teachers, where the students work with remote teachers while they are in a classroom.

Alexander said that about 28 percent of all the students in the district have individual education plans, or IEPs. She said that number could increase. She said there were 263 students, which could increase to 279. She said just before the beginning of school, a family with four students, which all had EIPs, moved into a district town.

Westminster Center School has 50 students, Athens-Grafton has 12, BFUHS has 70, the pre-K grades have 24, Saxtons River has 13, and the Bellows Falls Middle School has 60, Alexander said.

She said she needs at least six special education teachers to fill vacancies “and no applicants.”

Lambert, herself a retired special education teacher at Bellows Falls Union High School, told Alexander that she was “very concerned” that students, who are still recovering from the years of dislocation because of the pandemic, would be further alienated.

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Special education students need hands-on attention, Lambert said.

Lambert said she wanted to observe the special education students in their “virtual” setting.

Alexander said “the kiddos” working with a remote-based teacher was not the same as during the pandemic. Students are not home, she said, “sitting on their bed,” and trying to connect with a teacher.

“It’s not the COVID virtual,” she said.

Now, the student is in a classroom, and trying to work with a remote-based teacher, she said.

“Some kiddos love virtual,” Alexander said. “Some say, ‘It’s not for me,’” she told the board. “High school kids do not like it at all,” she noted.

Alexander said the remote teachers are expensive, and the school district is employing them on a 30-day contract, so that if the school district does hire a special education teacher, they are not committed to a long-term contract.

The WNESU is hardly unique in having trouble filling special education positions, as there are vacancies all over Vermont, said Westminster School Director Tine Biolsi.

Contact Susan Smalllheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.