The University of Southern Maine will offer a bachelor’s degree in special education starting this fall.

The announcement Friday comes as school districts across the state are struggling to fill vacant special education positions.

“The online program seeks to address Maine’s critical need for special education teachers,” said USM in a news release.

Although Maine schools are scheduled to open their doors to students in the next few weeks, many districts are still scrambling to fill open positions as a long-running educator shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

The educator shortage has been and remains widespread across districts and departments. But it is most acute for special education teachers and techs, according to educators, administrators and education researchers.

District leaders across the state said that while they largely have classroom teacher positions locked in for the fall, they’re still searching for certified professionals to serve special education students.


“Unfortunately the need for special education staff started around five or six years ago and has been constant since then,” said Clay Gleason, superintendent of Buxton area school district MSAD 6. “Those are hard positions to fill.”

The USM program is to be entirely online and is aimed at helping people already working as ed techs in schools gain the credentials they need to become special education teachers.

“Because we don’t have enough special educators in Maine, we really want to find a way to build capacity from within the ranks of folks already interested in this type of work,” said Rachel Brown-Chidsey, an associate professor of special education at USM.

The program also includes an apprenticeship option, allowing program participants to gain credits toward an associate’s degree at Southern Maine Community College and a bachelor’s degree at USM through working as teaching apprentices at a collaborating school district.

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