Special education teachers in Santa Clara County continue to raise concerns about the alarming rates of injuries sustained in their understaffed classrooms, urging local authorities to take action and ensure a safer learning environment. As KTVU reported on May 19, 2023, educators demanded safer work conditions and increased staffing after suffering repeated physical assaults from students with special needs.
During a rally at the Santa Clara County Office of Education organized by the workers' unions, SEIU Local 521, and the Association of County Educators, teachers shared their harrowing stories of being injured while trying to handle students with behavioral issues. One teacher, Christina Munoz, recounted an incident in 2018 where she was attacked by an adult student during a walk and required four people to help free her from the student's grip. According to another report by the San Jose Spotlight on the same day, Munoz still experiences shoulder and neck pains as a consequence of the event and believes severe understaffing and normalization of such injuries in the education sector is a major issue.
Recent labor contract negotiations between the county and SEIU Local 521, as well as the Association of County Educators (ACE), led to pay increases for educators earlier this year; however, safety concerns remain unresolved. SEIU spokesperson Valarie Prigent highlighted that contract agreements did not address many safety measures that teachers were advocating for, which include better adherence to a 2015 mandate requiring more than one educator to accompany a student to the restroom.
Understaffed classrooms pose risks for not just the teachers, but also the students themselves. ACE President Tara Guerrero told the San Jose Spotlight that additional staffing and improved deescalation training could help manage potentially hazardous situations. Guerrero disclosed that she had been subjected to physical aggression from students while working in special education, resulting in injuries such as dislodged teeth and a compressed vertebra in her back. Due to these experiences, she felt the need to switch to the Opportunity Youth Academy program, which provides high school education to older youths.
Moreover, ACE maintains that the county should hire at least 100 more special education workers to ensure the safety and well-being of both staff and students. In many classrooms, only one teacher and two paraeducators are assigned to manage multiple students with different needs and challenges. The San Jose Spotlight highlighted how educators, who were once specialized in specific areas, are now being utilized as "specialized academic instructors" to handle a wide range of disabilities, creating potential safety risks for students and staff alike.
One specific mandate that the Santa Clara County Office of Education has reportedly failed to implement concerns Pro-ACT training, which teaches deescalation techniques and should be retaken every three years. Guerrero claimed that she had not received this training since 2010, despite several attempts to obtain it. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the education office stated that they remain committed to collaborating with staff and union leadership to address student and staff safety concerns.
The protests and demands from special education teachers in Santa Clara County mark the latest in a series of red flags raised by educators across the region, who have experienced similar issues in recent years.