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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:55 p.m. Aug. 19, 2022, to add a statement from the Montgomery County Education Association. It was updated again at 9:15 a.m. Aug. 20, 2022, to include additional comments from MCPS.

On the Friday before teachers begin their pre-service week for the upcoming school year, Montgomery County Public Schools sent an email asking some educators to volunteer to be reassigned to fill special education teaching vacancies. 

At about noon Friday, MCPS sent an email to teachers asking those who are in general education assignments but dual certified in special education to consider volunteering to be transferred into a special education program. The district is offering a $5,000 incentive to teachers who do so and are selected to be transferred. The incentive would be paid in two installments — one in October and one in February. 

The request comes as MCPS struggles to fill special education teaching vacancies across the district. On Friday, MCPS reported about 187 vacant full-time teaching positions across the county. In recent weeks, district leaders have said about a third of openings have been for special education teachers.

In a text message Friday, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said there are 90 full-time special education teaching positions open, and 13 part-time positions. There are 2,854 dual-certified teachers employed by the district who are not teaching special education, Cram said.

.The MCPS message said the teachers union had agreed to the incentive. In a message to members Friday night, however, the Montgomery County Education Association wrote that it had not agreed, and held an “emergency meeting” that afternoon to reject the agreement “because it lacks a binding commitment from MCPS for equitable treatment for current special educators.” 

“While we initially agreed in principle to a $5,000 incentive for voluntary transfers to special education, we have been adamant that we must also have comparable incentives for those who are current special educators,” the message said. “MCPS has told us they want to delay those negotiations until mid-September, which is simply unacceptable.”

In response to the MCEA message, Cram said the union “agreed to the inventive and importantly agreed and encouraged MCPS to message all teachers to solicit interest.” Cram said the union “then rescinded late today.”

“Teachers began to respond to the survey and we were working to examine and clear those interested in the incentive,” Cram said. “This reversal on the part of MCEA is extremely unfortunate.”

Friday’s MCPS message asked interested teachers to fill out a Google sheet with information, which will close on Monday. That’s the same day educators report for pre-service week, in which they prepare for students’ return on Aug. 29. 

“While this is a short turnaround from when you receive this email, MCPS is looking to make decisions as quickly as possible to allow for as much time as possible during pre-service week for the selected individuals to move to their new school,” the message said. 

It said MCPS will prioritize filling special education teaching vacancies at the volunteer’s school first. So, if possible, teachers who volunteer would remain at their assigned schools. 

If that’s not possible, MCPS will consider “geographic proximity” to a teacher’s current assignment “to minimize disruption,” the message said. MCPS also plans to prioritize filling vacancies at high-needs schools and those with the largest numbers of vacancies. The message does not say which schools those are. 

MCPS says it is “less likely” that teachers who work in certain positions — such as those for elementary immersion, science and math — will be chosen for transfer. 

“We know this is a difficult decision to make in a short period of time,” the message said. “We appreciate the challenges this will present for you, but we are confident that MCPS has the best teachers in Maryland and that those who are selected will be more than able to pivot into their new roles and will be provided support by the Office of Special Education to do so.”

Cram said Friday that there will not be involuntary transfers — meaning teachers will not be involuntarily reassigned to different schools if there are not enough volunteers to meet the district’s special education teaching needs.