A Huge Problem in Special Education: Teacher Unions

There have been many recent, well-publicized incidents of teachers and school staff doing horrible things to kids – and not just any kids, special needs kids.  Here are just a few examples:

This is just a representative sample of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of incidents of abuse of special needs kids.

Unfortunately, the teachers are rarely fired in these cases and in some of them not even removed from the classroom in which the abuses take place.  You probably wonder WHY?

The answer is sadly simple: teachers’ unions and their contracts.  Most unions have negotiated contracts with the school districts requiring a thorough investigation (which the unions usually control) before any disciplinary action can be taken against an accused teacher.  The basic principle behind this is a good one: you don’t want to fire good teachers who are being falsely accused.  The unfortunate reality behind this is that bad teachers are protected and the investigations are suspect.

In many cases, the schools (working with the unions) try to cover up these events because of the negative publicity and the potential loss of funding.  Saying that developing evidence to prove these events (beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the criminal standard) is difficult is a huge understatement.  School personnel and school district administrations are more adept at cover ups than those involved with Watergate.  After all, whose word are you going to believe?  The teacher or principal who denies the incident or the special needs kid who probably can’t even express what really happened because of the trauma or their social skills (many children with Autism are unable to explain a traumatic event to a parent or anyone else).

In fact, this is why there is a huge battle raging on across the country between parents of special needs kids and schools as to whether to permit audio and/or video recording equipment in special education classrooms.

  • Maine family fighting to allow audio recordings of school day for child with autism

     Even when there is overwhelming evidence of the abuses (sometimes surreptitiously obtained because there was no other option), the schools will shortshrift the investigation (or something more heinous, like destroy the evidence) and transfer the offending teacher or staff member to another school in the district.  All to prevent a huge legal battle with the union.

I won’t get too political here and discuss whether unions are useful in ANY industry, but they are a huge problem in properly dealing with abuses by teachers and staff in the education industry.  Tragically, many parents don’t have the resources to push the issue (attorneys are expensive and the legal system is not set up well for non-lawyers to understand how the battle works – I’m working on a solution to this) and therefore the unions “win”.

Until we as a society realize that we need to put our children – especially our children with special needs – FIRST, these abuses will continue and the unions will continue to protect the bad teachers and the ones who abuse the system or their students.  Unions are not there to protect the good teachers and the highly qualified ones, because they don’t need protecting; they do their jobs expertly and with care and compassion.  The teachers who don’t do their jobs well or who don’t treat their students with care and compassion and who violate the children’s rights are the ones who should not be protected and should not only lose their jobs, but be placed into a system that alerts future potential school employers as to prior violations (if you want to call this “blackballing”, so be it), and potentially face criminal charges.