RICHMOND, Va -- Amid reports of alleged assaults in a local preschool, a state lawmaker is pushing to ramp up regulated training for staff in early education, especially for those who work with children with special needs.
"I think the state really does have to step up and make available both the training modules and the resources, so teachers who are dealing with our very young children in an early childhood education setting can actually provide services that our special needs children need," said Democratic State Sen. Barbara Favola, who represents parts of Northern Virginia.
Her call to action came on the heels of the arrests of two teachers in Chesterfield County who police said assaulted multiple preschool students with special needs. The alleged abuse took place at Chester Early Childhood Learning Academy, a preschool in Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) which serves low-income children.
CBS 6 asked a spokesperson with CCPS about the training required for early education employees but has not received a response.
However, a spokesperson with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) said public preschool teachers must have a state license in either PK-3, PK-6 or special education.
In obtaining the initial license, teachers are required to complete training in multiple categories including:
- Child abuse and neglect recognition and intervention
- Behavior intervention and support
- Emergency first aid
According to VDOE, educators also participate in 15 hours of annual professional training development provided by the school division. That training is typically individualized and focused in one of the following areas: curriculum, assessment, teacher-child interactions, and/or supporting all students while meeting their individualized needs.
Favola said that's not enough.
“The early childhood education space does not have as many requirements as K-12," Favola said. “We have to put a quality statement in there on what we can expect. When a parent drops off the child, parents should be assured that the teacher in the classroom has a certain amount of training.”
She said she'd like to see yearly updates in teachers' training as well as a comprehensive review of training every two years.
“That probably would look like creating training modules, providing dollars to our school systems, both the publicly funded early childhood centers and privately funded early childhood centers," Favola said.
For private centers, she said the only state requirements include licensing for the actual facility and the director. Other staff are not regulated.
“The actual regulated training is very low and mostly is guided by the actual operation," said Hamilton Holloway with the child advocacy non-profit Families Forward Virginia.
To fill in any potential training gaps, Holloway said the organization deploys training affiliates to centers across the state to provide resources on topics including child abuse and neglect, mandatory reporting, special education, etc.
“Anytime there is additional training, additional opportunities for learning, whether that be through regulation or through opportunities and resources, it's absolutely critical," Holloway said. "From a state and regulation standpoint, what's critical of that is that there's money behind it to support those regulations and to support those trainings that have to happen across the state."
He said in recent years, VDOE has expanded its role into early education, and he hopes those efforts continue.
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