Utah schools struggle with staffing educators for students with special needs

SANDY, Utah — For the first time in ten years, Canyons School District has enough teachers but is burdened with one of the largest deficits in paraeducators.

Paraeducators help very young students and those with special needs. The positions are critical, yet there are 20 unfilled job openings.

At Altara Elementary, the early childhood special education teacher Candy Keefer has help. Two paraeducators control the chaos.

“Some of our kiddos are special needs so they needs,” Keefer said. “They need that extra support.”

“We need all hands on deck when you’re working with three and four-year-olds,” Early Childhood Administrator Terri Mitchell said.

Yet, nearly two-dozen positions remain unfilled which leave a hole for special-need students ranging from preschool to high school.

“It makes it a little more chaotic in the classroom as far as managing and making sure everyone is getting their needs met. It makes it just a little bit more challenging to make sure the instruction is happening the way it needs to,” Mitchell said.

Canyons School District isn’t unique. FOX13 News found paraeducators are needed in classrooms from Moab to Wendover.

“They can do mornings or afternoons and still work while they’re going to college,” Human Resources Assistant Jo Jolley said.

Canyons School District is thinking ahead, partnering with the University of Utah to offer college credit for peer tutors to entice high school students to become educators down the road.

“We have a huge shortage in teaching in the teaching profession, especially in special education nationwide,” Jolley said.

After 17-years as a stay-at-home mom, Keefer entered the classroom first a paraeducator.

“That’s what started it. I absolutely loved it,” Keefer said.

Now, she relies on them to give special need students the attention she or he deserves.

The district is paying about $12 an hour for the part-time position. Application information can be found here.

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