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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana has faced a shortage of special education teachers for some time, and some fear an end to emergency permits for those instructors could make the problem worse.

To help get positions filled, many districts have had teachers who aren’t fully licensed for special education obtain one-year emergency licenses. Those could be renewed as many times as needed.

Now, the state is switching to a temporary licensing system that limits those instructors to three years of teaching special education without full certification. This change comes after Indiana was discovered to be in violation of federal law through issuing emergency licenses.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, for the 2020-2021 school year, 21% of teachers in special education roles held emergency licenses.

The state’s shortage of instructors has been a concern for school districts and parents of children in special education.

“It’s not just anyone that can come in and teach our students,” said Joanne Tedesco, who has a sixth grade daughter with special needs.

Tedesco said her family purposefully moved to West Central Indiana to make sure her daughter has the services she needs.

“As we see special educators working decreasing and seeing our special education students’ needs increasing, there’s certainly an issue here,” she said.

“We are deeply concerned about what this means for our special education workforce moving forward,” said Laura Hammack, superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools and a former special education teacher.

Hammack said her district has three special ed teachers on emergency licenses right now, adding that full certification can sometimes take more than three years.

Hammack said the emergency licenses have helped teachers transition into special education permanently. The district is looking for additional ways to fill those positions in the future, she said.

“We are working at the high school level to match interested high school students who are interested in pursuing the career of education – best career out there – and really working them through an education pathway,” Hammack said.

No one from the Indiana Department of Education was available for an interview, but a spokesperson said the department has been working to recruit more teachers into special education. That includes reduced-cost or free programs through Indiana colleges and universities that also allow accelerated options.