The Hillsborough County School District has made important headway in turning around its programs for special needs students. New training, higher pay and other reforms have helped patch the safety net for children whose extensive medical needs require closeup supervision and hands-on care. The district should analyze whether that is sufficient and consider additional steps.
The deaths of two special needs students in 2012 marked a turning point, as the district re-examined gaps in pay, leadership and training that contributed to lax oversight and low morale. As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Marlene Sokol reported, district officials responded by reaching out to parents and assessing the weaknesses. The district started new training. It is moving to raise pay levels and enrich the career path for program aides. Administrators are improving communication at schools to reduce the chance special needs students will wander away. And staffs have a better sense of how to handle emergencies.
The improvements are a good start, and they put teachers on notice that caring for special needs students is a shared responsibility. School officials also have taken a fresh look at individualized plans for special needs students. The district also should continually assess training and its benefits package to ensure the special needs program offers a safe, dynamic environment.