Arkansas special education licensure proposal ignites debate

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Special Education Licensure

An Arkansas proposal to loosen the requirements to teach special education has been temporarily delayed, as a result of pushback from disability rights activists.

“We felt that stakeholders — including parents, teachers and other members — really had not been notified by the state [education] board,” Samuel Kauffman, an attorney with Disability Rights Arkansas, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “The rule on its face, though, is troubling to us too because we’re worried about the risk the rule change could have for students with disabilities.”

Under current Arkansas law, people a license to teach special education must complete the requisite coursework and Special Education Praxis Test. In limited circumstances, licensed teachers can teach special education if they are working on completing the coursework requirements.

In response to shortages of qualified special education teachers in certain areas in the state, the Arkansas Department of Education passed a new rule allowing licensed teachers to become eligible to teach special education just by passing the test, thus allowing them to bypass the coursework requirements.

Under a new Arkansas law, approved by voters in November, such rules are not finalized until they are signed off by a legislative committee.

On June 5, Disability Rights Arkansas issued an alert [PDF], urging activists to call on the legislature to slow down the process, to allow time for more debate on the rule. The Arkansas Administrative Rules and Procedures Subcommittee, which was scheduled to take up the rule June 10, announced June 9 that it would delay hearings on the matter.

In the debate, disability activists stressed the numerous challenges special education teachers face when navigating the complex special education regulatory structure, which is largely governed at the federal level. As they see it, the coursework requirements are necessary for special education teachers to efficiently serve students with disabilities.

The Arkansas Education Association also opposes the rule change.

teacher and girls work on project at school, girl in a wheelchair“As a regular classroom teacher, I would not feel comfortable in my skill base being the best special education teacher that children have, and I think that we have to keep our best, our brightest, our most highly qualified teachers in front of our students every moment of the day,” AEA President Brenda Robinson told KATV.com.

A video about the debate, from KATV, can be seen here.

Disability Rights Arkansas, and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.