From Chelsey Harris:
I am a former HCPS special education teacher who worked as a Special educator at Joppatowne High School. I moved from Michigan after college to pursue my teaching career in Harford County. I was told by recruiters that all of my state tests as well as my teaching certificate would transfer to Maryland with no problems.
When I accepted the job at JHS, I was also told that JHS was one of the only high schools in the county that qualified for teacher loan forgiveness. Teacher loan forgiveness is a federal program that forgives up to $17,500 of federal student loans after you serve five consecutive years in a high need school. This program is an incentive for a difficult job in high needs schools.
After my five years at Joppatowne High School, I pursued a job in another school district because I literally couldn’t afford to work in Harford County anymore. I filled out my loan forgiveness application and sent it to Barbara Matthews only to receive my application back saying I was not a “highly qualified” special educator. Not only was this the first I had heard I was not considered highly qualified, I was also being denied the $17,500 of student loan forgiveness from the federal government. I was devastated, upset, and feeling absolutely helpless.
I began asking colleagues about their experiences, and six other special education teachers that I know personally have been denied teacher loan forgiveness for similar reasons. None of us knew we were not considered highly qualified and all of us were denied the $17,500 that was dangled in front of our faces only to be stripped away.
I asked Barbara Matthews, Howard Kutcher and even Mrs. Canavan how a special education teacher is highly qualified to teach special education in Harford County… No one could offer a response, instead the question was continually ignored. Students who are in a self-contained classroom are not being taught academics at the level of a general education student where they would need a certified math, English or history teacher to deliver the content. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in special education and a minor in elementary education and passed state tests in both areas. Ms. Matthews even gave me the number to call someone at the state level who informed me that special educators highly qualified status is determined by each individual district.
I am not quite sure why Harford County is so reluctant to sign our loan forgiveness applications? It is not money out of their pockets. Teaching in some of the Title 1, Route 40 and high needs schools is not a walk in the park, and I believe the teacher loan forgiveness should be given to the special educators in Harford County. If I am not highly qualified to teach special education in Harford County, than who is? Who is qualified to teach self-contained special education? Why was I allowed to be a teacher of record or administer the ALT. MSA if I was not considered highly qualified?
In addition, why would HCPS fly me to Maryland, pay for food and hotels while recruiting, than pay for my move to Maryland if I was not highly qualified to teach special education? Perhaps HCPS and the board of education need to sit down and reevaluate their definition of highly qualified for special education teachers so we can get the loan forgiveness that is rightfully ours. This is just one more way HCPS does a huge disservice to their teachers. It seems as if HCPS does more to hurt their teachers than help them.
After five years with no step, the least they could do is sign the line to give us something we deserve. If there are any special educators out there who have had a similar experience while trying to obtain their teacher loan forgiveness, I highly recommend contacting Mrs. Canavan, Dr. Kutcher, Ms. Matthews, Mr. Burbey or even go to the board of education because something has to change.