Knox County Schools budget cuts impact students with disabilities

Local News

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knox County school system staffers who help special needs students learned this week that their positions are being cut.

“We want answers,” Julya Johnson said.

About 150 students benefit from assistive technology, making learning a little easier for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Johnson, a former WATE 6 On Your Side meteorologist, said the assistive technology department helped her child excel in the classroom.

“It has been a life changer, a game changer,” she said. “I mean my child is on the honor roll every single time and this is a child with severe dyslexia.”More online: Read the full budget proposal

The removal of the department means cuts to three positions – staffers well-trained in facilitating learning for special needs students.

“And for them to get rid of that level of expertise without letting us know, without letting the tax payers know, without letting us vote on it, to me it was traumatic,” Johnson said.

The decision to eliminate the department was a recommendation from the county’s Department of Student Support Services, not a decision made by the school board.

“My email box was kind of flooded from parents and grandparents that were speaking in opposition to these cuts being made and how it would impact their children and grandchildren,” Knox County School Board Member Patti Bounds said.

To fill the void, the school system plans to train more teachers to address the needs of these students.

“We’ll continue to have some specialists that are trained that are part of a larger team that are trained on specifically providing support for more intensive needs but a big piece of that training is going to be training all of our staff in all 90 of our schools,” Melisssa Massie, executive director for Knox County Schools student support services, said.

However, Knox County Education Association President Lauren Hopson said that will only put a greater burden on teachers.

“With the teachers, my biggest concern is this is going to be one more thing put off on them to do, which may not be their area of expertise,” Hopson said.

Parents like Johnson hope administrators will reconsider their decision, so that students like her son do not get left behind.

“This particular cut directly affects access to learning and to me it would be the same thing as if they cut textbooks,” Johnson said. “This is an access to learning so I hope they listen to that and take that into account.”

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