Disabled Students Struggle Amid Teacher Shortage:

Nationwide there is a shortage of teachers. This is particularly pronounced among special education programs. Many states have brought in emergency certified teachers.

However, disabled students who require special education services require teachers that are trained to meet their needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law on educating students with disabilities, requires that special education teachers be “appropriately and adequately prepared and trained” and “have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities.”

In North Carolina 11-year-old Nico, and his peers did not have a teacher when they began school in July. Instead, the licensed special education teacher next door planned lessons for the six-student class at Holly Grove Elementary School in Wake County NC. Nico is autistic and has a seizure disorder. The other five students in his class are all disabled and range in age from 8 to 11.

According to Lisa Luten, a district spokesperson, the teacher who developed the lesson plans shared her time between teaching Nico’s class and her own. When she returned to her own students, other individuals took over. Instructional assistants and substitute instructors were among the other personnel.

The school couldn’t fill the position for months. Several parents expressed concerns. Nico’s mother e-mailed Catherine Truitt, the state superintendent of public instruction.

Truitt responded and suggested that the school could be in violation of a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires that public schools provide students with disabilities a “Free Appropriate Public Education.”

North Carolina, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. Low wages are also an issue. According to National Education Association data, the average starting wage for a teacher in the state is $37,127, placing it 45th in the US.

Special education teachers frequently report feeling unsupported by their school administration. They cite a lack of ongoing professional development opportunities, as well as excessive administrative documentation responsibilities for each student. They are also responsible for overseeing paraprofessionals and collaborating with therapists and other health care specialists that work with their students. They frequently have to advocate for their student’s inclusion in basic school activities such as music and art classes.

Some advocates have noticed an increase in students with disabilties being forced to get assistance at home rather than in school, or having their days cut short owing to school capacity issues. According to DPI data, the state has lost around 9,400 teaching assistants since the 2008-09 school year, as reported by Education NC in 2021.

The teacher shortage impacts all students. However, it is particularly problematic for students who receive special education services. Before the 1970s many public schools explicitly barred children with disabilities from attending. Since then, federal and state governments have passed laws requiring school districts to accommodate and provide services to these children. 

Disabled students should have access to the resources they require. In the United States, disabled students have the right to a free and appropriate public education. However, schools are frequently ill-equipped to provide services and support. Disabled students regularly fall through the cracks when support is inadequate.


Donnelly-DeRoven, Clarissa. “Schools Struggle to Retain Special ED Teachers. Advocates Say Invest More in Them.” North Carolina Health News, North Carolina Health News, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2023/01/26/schools-struggle-to-retain-special-ed-teachers-advocates-say-invest-more-in-them/.

Will, Madeline. “States Are Desperate for Special Ed. Teachers. but They Can’t Cut Corners to Get Them.” Education Week, Editorial Projects in Education, 26 Oct. 2022, https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/states-are-desperate-for-special-ed-teachers-but-they-cant-cut-corners-to-get-them/2022/10.

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