How to Find Out if a Teacher or Therapist is Certified

“How do I check if a teacher or therapist is qualified?”

“I bet she’s not even qualified!”

What do you do if an IEP isn't working?

I hear questions and sentiments like these all the time. And like many IEP issues, there’s much more below the surface. Let’s dig in.

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Why do you want to know if the teacher or therapist is qualified?

First, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Why do I want this information?
  2. What am I going to do with this information?

I’m guessing that the reason that you want this information is that you are unhappy with the services or education that they are providing your child. And you want to find a “gotcha!” so that you have an excuse to get rid of them?

Ask yourself, how often do you do this? If I check to see if my teacher/therapist is qualified, how is that going to make our IEP situation better?

I mean, do you go to the dentist’s office and ask to see their degrees and licenses? How about at the auto mechanic? We all avoid a certain restaurant when we hear on the news that they have numerous health department violations.

But how many of us walk into a restaurant asking to see those licenses? Nurses? Doctors? Bus drivers?

Am I making my point? Chances are you do not question the credentials of most other service people in your life, so why this one?

Personally, I see seeking out one’s qualifications as a huge sign of mistrust. So do some soul-searching and ask yourself why you distrust the school.

What can be done to restore it? Because chances are, if your trust in the school is so damaged that you are seeking out information online in hopes of catching them doing something wrong, finding that information isn’t going to remedy the situation.

Trust me, I get it. My son does not speak and has very limited adaptive skills. He cannot take care of himself, defend himself or even speak up for himself. It takes a huge amount of trust to put him in that van every day.

That trust can be gone in an instant. But if something was happening that I didn’t trust certain IEP team members, I don’t see how searching their qualifications online is going to make it better.

HQT Highly Qualified Teacher

The term “Highly Qualified Teacher” is actually a legal or administrative term. It first came about during the NCLB or No Child Left Behind era. NCLB was tossed out when ESSA became the law of the land a few years ago.

Highly Qualified Teacher was basically a criteria list of education and training that we (the nation) should expect all their teachers to have.

You can check your state’s education laws and guidance regarding what it takes to be a teacher in your state. Keep in mind–we are experiencing an extreme teacher shortage right now. When that happens, all rules usually go out the window when a school district needs substitute teachers or paras.


How do I check if my child’s teacher or therapist is qualified?

Easy. Just Google it.

No seriously. States have licensing and other criteria listed on their websites. I have all of them in a spreadsheet right here. OTs, PTs, school nurses, teachers, and most therapists have licensing boards and state licensing requirements that can be easily looked up.

You can read your district’s personnel and hire policy to see what they require. If you ask, you could get a copy of the latest union contract which will list the requirements. So will any third-party contracts, such as those done between schools and therapy providers.

Know that you are not going to win any popularity contests by doing FOIA requests for this information.

Also please know that you do not have “the right” to see a particular staff person’s personnel file. I feel obligated to say, because it comes up, that this has nothing to do with HIPAA or FERPA. If you “demand to see her qualifications per my child’s HIPPA” you are only going to look ridiculous and uninformed.

What does a Highly Qualified Teacher mean?

Please note: I am only talking about state licensure or state certification, as is required for most therapy and teaching jobs. If you are asking if a teacher has Wilson or Orton-Gillingham, so that the particular program is provided with fidelity, you’re going to have to ask.

Wilson keeps a list of its certified people online, but I’m not sure if it’s mandatory for every Wilson person to be listed online. If you are researching programs and getting them to put into your child’s IEP, make sure you list all the specifics.

And yes, I absolutely would check up on it. This can be as simple as asking in the IEP meeting, “How many certified Wilson instructors does the school have, and who are they?

Make sure that your child’s IEP is very specific about who is going to provide the services. Depending on the service or activity, they may use a para or COTA or whatever the case may be.

IDEA says that teacher training must be provided.

And here is the answer about HQTs (Highly Qualified Teachers) directly from the IDEA Q&A section:
Question C-1: May a parent file a due process request with violations other than the school’s failure to provide an HQT and then include the violation of failure to provide an HQT as a part of the due process? Or is the failure to provide an HQT never allowed to be included in a due process hearing?

Answer: Questions about whether a teacher is highly qualified are not ones on which parents or students can get any relief through a due process hearing. See 34 CFR §§300.18(f) and 300.156(e). The language in the regulation that nothing in this part shall be construed to create a right of action means that a claim that a teacher is not highly qualified may not serve as a basis for relief for an individual student or class of students under IDEA.

If concerns arise about whether a special education teacher is highly qualified, the Department encourages parents to try to resolve issues at the school level. It would make sense for them to talk to their child’s principal first, before doing anything else, to find out what the school is doing to ensure that the teacher gets the training that he or she needs to meet the highly qualified standards. If they are not satisfied with the steps the LEA is taking, they could file a complaint with the State educational agency (SEA). An organization or an individual other than a parent of a child served under IDEA may also file a complaint about staff qualifications with the SEA, consistent with the State complaint procedures in 34 CFR §§300.151 through 300.153.

Right to Know or FOIA

Yes, you’re allowed to do this. It is your right to do an RTK or FOIA inquiry. The schools are required to provide your child with meaningful progress via evidenced-based programming that is provided with fidelity. That’s a mouthful.

Basically, they cannot just teach whatever they feel like and use your child as a guinea pig. And sure, as an active parent advocate, you want to be on top of things. I get it! But what is this going to fix? If you do not trust the school, is this going to fix it?

Keep the focus on your child. If you are unhappy with their progress, then that’s what you bring up. Bring up your concerns as far as what your child is or isn’t receiving and not by pointing the finger at the providers. Trust me, you’ll get much further that way.

What are you going to do with the information? Print it off and go shove it in their face? You’d better be sure that you are right. What if they are in fact qualified, but that website just hasn’t caught up yet? Or, what if it’s just a mistake?

While nothing surprises me anymore, most school districts have HR departments to screen applicants. Most school districts are not going to leave themselves open to that kind of liability.

Well, I don’t think that this teacher is a “good fit” for my child.

Not every therapist or teacher who comes into contact with our kids can be a rock star. There will be duds. That’s a part of life. If it’s affecting your child, then yes, of course, it should be addressed.

But your job as a parent advocate is to see that your child’s needs are met, not to re-screen school employees.

What if you do the research and the person is in fact qualified? Then what? What are you going to do? You have to address what your child is or isn’t receiving, per their IEP. Or revise the IEP. The laws say that they have to provide qualified teachers, not good ones.

I’ve had good hairdressers and bad ones. And some that sent me home in tears. I’ve had restaurant meals that I still daydream about 10 years later and some that had me hurling over a toilet. But likely, everyone was qualified. Just some people aren’t good or conscientious at their job.

IEP Team Member Qualifications

Sometimes we have an experience with our child’s school and it’s so terrible that we find ourselves saying, “Surely this person cannot be qualified to do their job.” But, having spent many years as a people manager myself, I sometimes miss-hire. It happens.

They do well in the interview and then it falls apart. Or, we take on a new supervisory role and have to work with the team that is given to us.

So if we are having doubts about certain team members’ qualifications, what can we do?

First, let the internet be your friend. Get really good at using Google. If the position has a state license or certification, all of that information will be online. The person likely had to be approved by the school board and that information will be in the meeting minutes.

If the information is not online, you can always do a Right to Know request. You can usually find teacher contracts, position descriptions, and whatever else you need on the district’s website.

In this day and age of information spreading rapidly via social media, and because we are such a litigious society, I really would be surprised if most positions–teachers, therapists, admins–were not thoroughly vetted and researched prior to hiring. Then again, nothing surprises me.

What is your end goal?

More importantly, ask yourself why you want this information. What are you going to do with it? A big “gotcha!” at the next IEP meeting?

One area where I get a lot of qualification questions from parents is in regard to PCAs, paras, or aides. I’m going to just lump them all together and call them aides for the sake of brevity.

Yes, aides are some of the most unskilled and lowest-paid positions available in a school. And yet they are a position that can have the most direct contact and impact on our kids. As an aside, I think we should value these folks more and pay them more, but I could rant about that all day.

But rather than call into question the aide‘s qualifications, stay child-focused. What is your child getting or not getting? How is it affecting them? What needs to change? If they are not implementing the IEP, go that route.

That is much easier to document and track and have success with. After all, if you get an aide removed and they hire another one, if the supervisor isn’t making them implement the IEP, you’ve gained nothing.

I always prefer to stay child focused and use the IEP process. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a successful resolution to a problem by finger-pointing and questioning qualifications. If I end up in Due Process and asking for compensatory education, it’s my attorney’s job to question their qualifications, not mine. So, let’s move on.

IEP Qualified Programs

Per IDEA and case law, your district is required to give your child specifically designed instruction (SDIs) that help them meet their goals, which are designed based on their areas of need. And, those SDIs, whatever they may be, are to be research-based and implemented with fidelity. Whew, that’s a mouthful! But it’s so important!

Research-based means: founded on an accumulation of facts that have been obtained by research. But if you are not going to implement the program with fidelity, all that research goes out the window. After all, they don’t take data on what happens if people half-ass the program, right?

There are literally thousands of research-based educational and behavioral curricula on the market. For example, Saxon Math, Wilson Reading, and Linda Mood-Bell are some of the more common ones you might hear about. Every curriculum has a publisher. Someone has done the research and written the curriculum and has it published and for sale.

Again, look it up online. Because what you want to look for is the written protocols and qualifications. Wilson requires that its instructors go through some very specialized training. So, NO! This cannot be implemented by the bus aide in between bus runs for 20 minutes a day. (yes, I’ve seen that!)

If you cannot find the protocols, look for an 800 number or email and contact them and ask. Or, ask your school. You want to make sure that your child is receiving the curriculum with fidelity. Otherwise, it’s worthless.

I was chatting with a Mom the other day, and she said that her son’s school told her, “Let me show you how we do Saxon math.”

Seriously? And, they were doing it at half pace, so the best case scenario was that her son was going to progress 50% as far as his peers in a school year.

If your child cannot meet the requirements of the protocol (like covering one full math lesson each day) then it’s an inappropriate curriculum and protocol for them. The team has to find something else.

Child-Focused. Keep it about the child.

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