Interview by Sarah Havlicek
House Bill 20-1128, Sponsored by Representatives Bri Buentello
(HD-47) and James Wilson (HD-60) in the House and Senators Rachel Zenzinger (SD-19) and Kevin Priola (SD-25) in the Senate, aims to add the requirement of at least 10 hours of professional development regarding the laws and practices of educating students with disabilities to educator licensing for teachers, special services providers, principals, and administrators.
The bill recently passed out of the House of Representatives and was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Education committee. In an interview with Sarah Havlicek, Representative Buentello, a special education teacher herself, explains the necessity of the bill and ways it will improve special education practices for diverse learners in the state of Colorado.
Why is this bill needed?
Colorado is miserably behind on current practices in special education. Frankly, it stems from our disconnect with the law. Right now in the state of Colorado, there are several ways you can get a teaching license without ever having any kind of special education training. It became painfully obvious when I became a teacher in Colorado that there is a fairly significant gap between teacher training and best special education practices for diverse learners. I have co-workers who are not recent college graduates, which means they weren’t subject to the mandate that we now teach education candidates special education best practices. These people already have their Master’s in different topics, they didn’t have any training in their undergraduate work in relation to special education and if it’s not mandated, we just don’t do it. We see the result of not having that mandate. So, I am really proud to introduce this bill to bring a fairly comprehensive overhaul.
Why did you decide to sponsor this bill?
I came to Colorado five years ago and it did surprise me, the disconnect, between best and most current practices in teaching and fostering an inclusive learning environment and teaching to those diverse abilities. I have talked a lot about my son as a student with a disability and his experience but the events that really stand out to me in my mind were actually when I was teaching. There was a math teacher who had absolutely no background in special education and my students, who were special education identified and had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), their IEPs were totally ignored by the math teacher. She had absolutely no regard for them and as a result, my students, their learning, and their graduation rates suffered. So That is when I first realized that the law was behind here in Colorado. Because there was no mandate, lots of people were not complying with federal law and I really want to close this gap for our exceptional learning learners.
What ways will the education requirements for educators change if this bill is passed?
It is actually pretty comprehensive. First of all, colleges will now be mandated to provide all education candidates a background in special education. I left that up to the boards and the curriculum department within universities’ education programs, they just have to demonstrate they are instructing teaching candidates. That is already the practice, it just is not reflected in Colorado law. So, I caught that up. A second requirement is, from now on, if you are licensed, whether as an administrator or a teacher in Colorado, you have to demonstrate that ten hours of your background training must have something to do with topics within exceptional student learning. I believe there will be a lot of overlap between the Colorado READ Act, just because the READ Act also requires teachers to learn about reading disabilities and how to teach to those capabilities. I strongly feel that we needed at least a thousand-foot comprehensive overview of what students with disabilities really looks like, because, it is as broad and diverse as our students.
In what ways will students be impacted by the new requirements for educators?
It will take a little while, it will be seven years, because there is a two-year ramp up in this program. Seven years from now, every licensed teacher and administrator in the state of Colorado will have training in special education and that is something I just couldn’t be prouder of.
Sarah Havlicek holds a B.A. in Communication and Journalism from the University of Saint Thomas and a M.A. in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication from Saint Louis University. Sarah works on AdvocacyDenver’s Policy Perspective, interviewing key stakeholders and legislators about policy that are related to the work and mission of AdvocacyDenver.
For questions or comments, contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org