The San Diego Unified School District has a shortage of special education teachers and aides, according to the California School Employees Association (CSEA).
The CSEA said 160 special education employees have been reassigned this school year, and there are still 100 vacancies to fill a few months into the 2019-2020 school year.
CSEA spokesperson Michael Breyette told NBC 7 the shortage sends a message, “That the San Diego Unified School District isn't concerned about the safety of students and staff."
When Heather Russell learned her son Ethan's special education aide was being taken away because of the shortage, she said she was terrified.
Her 8th grader at Pershing Middle School has had the same special education aide since kindergarten.
“While they're trying to fill the gap of lack of aides at another school, it greatly impacted my son,” Russell said.
Ethan has a rare disorder, cerebral palsy, and is non-verbal. His aide was by his side when he went into heart failure a few years ago.
She recognized the signs and that meant all the difference in the world for Ethan, who has been through multiple surgeries.
“It's a matter of life and death in some situations,” Russell said.
A school district spokesperson said the SDSUSD has reduced the number of special education students per class to 20, which is far below California’s maximum of 28 students. The spokesperson added the district is working to fill positions with qualified applicants as quickly as it can.
Parents and guardians of special education students at Zamorano Elementary in the Bay Terraces neighborhood said they don't see any problems and that their children are thriving.
“She gets all her needs met because of her one-on-one aide and stuff, she's doing really well,” parent Shenee Glover said.
But while Russell was able to get her son’s special education aid back within a day, she remains concerned that this special education teacher and aide shortage could mean her son could face losing a person that has played such a vital role in his life.
A shortage of special needs aides was also reported in the Poway Unified School District earlier this month.