Moriah Stephens teaches students with developmental disabilities at Ann Bremer Education Center. Typically, her students get to carve woodblocks in the Maker Space and practice cooking in the kitchen. But all that stopped late last year to limit COVID spread. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Moriah Stephen teaches high school–aged kids with developmental disabilities at Ann Bremer Education Center, a specialized school for high-needs special education students.

We have anywhere from 15 to 20 people out in a day. Having that many people gone makes it really hard to do this job. Then you have people helping out in rooms that they’re not familiar with. 

When you have students that have such varying degrees of developmental disabilities, you never know what you could do to trigger them or set them off. So I was trying to help in another room today, help them do their morning meeting, and the student was starting to get escalated because I wasn’t doing it right. If the support’s not there, it can be a dangerous situation for everyone.

I mean, I got a concussion from a student the Friday before winter break. And that’s not even the only one this year. Staffing has already been challenging this school year. It’s just gotten progressively worse as the variants have changed. 

This week, people have been able to respond before situations have become dire or 911-worthy. But I’m worried that we are going to get to a place where that’s not the case. Especially as we reach upwards of 20 people out in a day.

All of our students have comorbidities. All of our students are high-risk, and most of them are not vaccinated. We just had a staff member die of COVID, that was contact-traced to school. 

This week, people have been able to respond before situations have become dire or 911-worthy. But I’m worried that we are going to get to a place where that’s not the case. All of our students have comorbidities. All of our students are high-risk, and most of them are not vaccinated. We just had a staff member die of COVID, that was contact traced to school.

special education teacher moriah stephens

You hear about that happening in other schools in other cities and other states. And it’s not supposed to happen to you. For a lot of us, it’s the first person we knew personally who died of COVID.

I hate teaching from home. I hate virtual learning. But I know that until our schools have enough staff to do the job safely, it really is the best option.

I know that I’m supposed to be a teacher. I know that I’m supposed to be a special education teacher.

But I definitely joke about quitting every day. And every day I talk to someone who’s like, yeah, I was looking at other jobs. We’ve had multiple staff quit in the past month. But it’s like this everywhere, which I think is why a lot of us are still sticking it out.

I’m hoping that what will result from all of this is a global overhaul in public education, because change needs to happen everywhere. Putting a lot of stake in hope.

After our interview, Intermediate District 287, where Moriah Stephens works, announced it would move to distance learning from January 13–21.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...