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(WDRB file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Special education teachers in Indiana will be required to be fully licensed or meet new requirements for provisional licensing after Indiana officials said the state issued thousands of emergency special education teaching permits in violation of federal law over the last four years.

Indiana issued 43% more special education emergency teaching permits in 2019-20 than it did four years before, including for teachers with emergency licenses in mild intervention, intense intervention, deaf and hard of hearing, and blind and low vision, WFYI-FM reported.

Federal law bars states from issuing emergency permits for special education teachers. The federal government has not penalized Indiana for violating the rules.

State officials said they will stop issuing emergency permits for special education next school year, instead mandating that educators be fully licensed or enroll in programs that culminate in special education licensure. Districts were notified of the change in June.

The sudden shift in policy is expected to be an added hardship on Indiana schools, which have become increasingly reliant on emergency permits due to a shortage of special education teachers.

Schools use the emergency permits when they are unable to find qualified teachers. Some of the teachers on emergency permits are certified in other areas, but others are not licensed in any other teaching areas and may have no teaching experience.

Of the nearly 4,500 emergency permits issued in 2019-20, more than a quarter were for special education, WFYI-FM reported.

School administrators said that while they agree special educators should be fully licensed, some fear the new statewide policy could add large caseloads to educators who are already licensed, or worsen the field’s teacher shortage.

They also worry that barriers, including cost, for teachers to get fully licensed will lead to a decrease in the number of teachers in classrooms and an increase in case loads for qualified special educators.

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