The Impact of Special Education Litigation Upon the Key Factors of Job Satisfaction, Level of Stress, and Self-Esteem that Lead to Teacher Attrition and Retention -- Mary Jo Ann DeSio
Mary Jo is an adjunct faculty member at the University of LaVerne.
This research study reveals the stories of 19 special educators who participated in, or were summoned to testify, in one of the forms of special education litigation in the state of California. For most participants, their involvement was in a due process hearing conducted by the Office of Administrative Hearings under contract with the California Department of Education. There is very little information in the literature relative to the social-emotional effect upon special education personnel preparing for and testifying in a due process hearing.
The possibility of being involved in a due process hearing or lawsuit is an ongoing concern that lurks in the subconscious of teachers and administrators (Johnson & Duffett, 2003). Furthermore, "An unwarranted charge and/or the prospect of dealing with litigation can create enormous anxiety and anguish, sometimes enough to derail a career" (p. 3). The purpose of this research study was to explore specific experiences of special educators that may have an effect upon their morale, self-esteem, and stress levels resulting in burnout or decisions to leave the field. Of particular focus was the effect of special education litigation as a catalyst to attrition and retention in special education. This study attempts to fill a large void in a little studied area of special education research.
The study involved the collection of qualitative data using techniques of ethnographic inquiry. Creswell (2003) suggested that when researchers carry out qualitative research to explore a problem or issue that requires detailed or in-depth understanding, direct communication with the individuals who have lived the experience provides the most valid data. The research participants agreed to a one-on-one interview in which they responded to six questions relative to their perceptions about the litigation, and the ways in which they were affected by the experience. A cross-case analysis revealed categories and themes that emerged from the data. The findings indicated special educators are affected by stress and burnout in ways that lead to lack of commitment to the field of special education.