TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, today expressed her outrage over reports this week that some students at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Trenton have not received grades this year because they have been taught by substitute teachers since the beginning of the school year:
“The situation at Kilmer Elementary is completely unacceptable. The system has failed these students,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “These students cannot afford to fall behind, and ultimately they’ve been denied a full year’s worth of education.”
Senator Turner added, “We need to know who dropped the ball here, and why nobody spoke up for almost an entire year. The Department of Education is supposed to be monitoring these schools and ensuring that all students get a thorough and efficient education, but that clearly isn’t happening. Safeguards are needed to prevent this from happening again.”
According to media reports, eighth graders at Kilmer Elementary have been instructed by substitute teachers in math and language arts since the beginning of the school year when two vacancies went unfilled. Seventh grade science students have also had a substitute teacher for one marking period this year.
The school district is now trying to determine grades for the students in those classes since the substitutes are unqualified to give grades.
“Now the students have to play catch-up because the district failed to provide the quality of education these students need and deserve. It’s unfair that they now have to pay for the bureaucratic shortcomings of the Trenton School District,” explained Senator Turner.
Senator Turner said that the current situation with Kilmer Elementary also puts into question the State’s current policies when it comes to substitute teachers. Current law says that substitute teachers with the minimum of 60 college credits can teach in a classroom for no more than 20 days while substitutes with a certificate of eligibility from the Department of Education can teach for up to 60 days. Eighth grade students at Kilmer Elementary have now gone more than 150 days without a fully-qualified teacher in math or language arts.
Senator Turner said she is now working on legislation to prohibit schools from chaining together several different substitute teachers to fill in for vacancies and long-term absences.
“Districts shouldn’t be allowed to chain together several substitute teachers in a row in situations like these. It only further disrupts the learning environment when students change teachers every 20 days. There needs to be a threshold after which schools are required to find fully-qualified replacements to provide real instruction during a long-term absence,” explained Senator Turner.
Senator Turner has requested that the Department of Education to conduct a full investigation into the shortcomings that allowed the Trenton School District to fail in providing the students at Kilmer Elementary School with qualified, full-time teachers. She is also said that the Senate Education Committee may hold a hearing in the future to question officials at the Department of Education and Trenton School District on this matter.