Special Education Paraprofessionals

Finally! You did it! You persevered, advocated, stressed, documented and finally…your child has a 1:1 aide or special education paraprofessional on their IEP. Note: If you are wondering How to Get a 1:1 Aide/Para added to your child’s IEP, that’s a different post. Read that one, do the steps, then come back to this one when you’re ready.

In my perfect world, we’d all be perfect parents with the ability to project and be proactive in all things IEP. But, that is rarely the case. So some of what I’m going to list out today might require some backpedaling. But no matter where you are on the journey, let’s go.

special education paraprofessional

You get what you expect.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, I feel like schools and parents really drop the ball after the 1:1 aide decision has been made. Often, a team decides that a child will get a para, adds it to the IEP in vague terms, and that’s it.

Then, a few weeks or months down the road, expectations are not met and everyone’s frustrated with everyone. If you have vague, undefined terms in your IEP, you’re going to get vague, undefined supports and results.

Special Education Para/Aide Definition

The mantra I repeat 800x a day: Write it down. The school is only legally obligated to provide what is listed in the IEP.

To avoid unrealistic expectations, or to bring everyone on the same page, you have to bring everyone on the same page-literally. That page needs to be in the IEP, or no one has any recourse.

Get it in the IEP. All of it.

Special Education Paraprofessional Duties

Remember the I in IEP. It has to be specific to your child. You can also ask your team to provide the job description that they use when they hire Special Education Paras. Or, the outside agency if they contract out.

Some examples of what you want included:

  • How the aide will spend their day with your child.
  • The required behavior supports for your child.
  • What you expect as far as qualifications and experience.
  • Any personal care duties needed.
  • What progress monitoring or reporting the parent and the teacher will receive from the aide.
  • Defined specific hours.
  • What happens if there is sickness, call-outs, substitutes, district unable to hire someone.
  • What will happen if a substitute is needed, or if a sub cannot be found for a particular day?
  • Who will be with your child while the 1:1 is on lunch and breaks (particularly for kids with eloping and other behaviors)?
  • What kind of data is this person going to collect and how often? How will the success of the 1:1 be measured?
  • How close will the 1:1 remain to the child, particularly for lunch, gym, playground (more social settings)?
  • What needs your child has that may require specific characteristics–such as difficulty with transitions.
  • Duties, responsibilities, supports, all of it!

As a parent, work with the teacher to make sure you share the same vision of what this aide is going to do all day, and write it in the IEP.

Substitute Paraprofessionals

Ok, here we go. Because I think in the Facebook group, we are currently answering this question at least 3x a day.

Your child is NOT entitled to a specific special education paraprofessional. Yes, you can request a specific person. However, the district is under no obligation to fulfill your request.

They have to provide a specific skill set or qualifications as outlined in the IEP. They do not have to provide a specific person.

This is why it is so important to get everything about the aide or para spelled out in the IEP.

If your child has been traumatized by a white male, and has PTSD episodes with unknown white males, that needs to be in the IEP.

Your child’s disability means that they do not transition well or handle change well, that needs to be in the IEP. Want them to notify you when there is a sub, so that you can start preparing them at home in the morning? Get it in the IEP.

I get it. I completely understand that it makes a school day more difficult for your child when they are hit with unexpected changes. However, I see parents spending an awful lot of time and emotional energy on expectations that they have no right to expect. Because it’s not in the IEP.

IDEA is what they have to follow. And IDEA does not say anything about what is best practice, polite, and common courtesy. If you have an autistic child in your care, and you know there is going to be a substitute para tomorrow, it would be common courtesy to drop mom an email. But if it’s not defined in the IEP, they are under no obligation to do so.

If it is, and they don’t, consider filing IEP complaints for IEP non-compliance.

Keep in mind, as you file your complaint(s), that paraprofessionals and aides are among some of the lowest paid positions in our society. I’m not saying that is an excuse to do a crappy job. But as far as the aide, she may be working 2 or 3 jobs. We don’t (as a society) value these jobs and that needs to change. But that’s a rant for another day.

Common Issues with Support Aides and Paras

This is a summary of common issues that I find parents have, as pertains to their 1:1 aide or para.

Can the school make my child share an aide?

Again, it depends on how it is written in the IEP. If it is not specified that your child receives 1:1 adult assistance throughout the duration of the school day, then yes.

What to do when the school says “no para/aide!” at your IEP meeting {or that you’re not even to talk with them!}

I get this question/complaint a LOT. I mean, A LOT. It’s obviously a very common practice to exclude aides or paras from IEP meetings. And, in some cases, parents are even asked to not talk to their child’s aide/para.

So what do you do? I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching this, and there are no easy answers. It remains one of those gray areas of special education language, so you just have to work on achieving your goal.

What IDEA says about Paras attending IEP Meetings.

Big fat nothing! IDEA doesn’t define this specific issue. IDEA 2004 defines the mandated IEP meeting team members only. It also has that gray area of “anyone else who has specific knowledge about the child” blah blah blah.

So they are not required to be there. But can a school exclude them?

Based upon what I can find, yes. I cannot find any case law to support or challenge this idea. Of course, in my opinion, it would be best practice to have the child’s entire team there. But what is best practice and what is law/required can be two different things. Ask a lawyer if you have more concerns.

Why do you want the para/aide to attend the meeting?

Ask yourself this question. Why do you want them there?

If you want them as an ally for your child, a support system/person for you, because you know that they will support your requests during the meeting, then no. Find an advocate, a friend, a relative, someone else to be your support person. Yes, the para knows your child very well, sees day to day what is really happening.

But you are asking her to take sides puts her in an awkward position. You should have the data on paper to support your requests for your child. Find a support person who is not employed by the district.

Also, this is a cost issue for them as they are required to find a pay a substitute for the aide while they attend the meeting. Sure, one aide at one meeting is not a big deal, but district-wide it starts to get expensive, so this cost-cutting practice is very common.

This person likely spends more time with your child than any other, so you need their input. But this is a communication issue, not a meeting issue. If their feedback in the Present Levels is not correct or is absent, address it via the IEP process and collecting data. And not by having the para speak at the meeting.

If you still want it, ask. Put it as part of your parental concerns when you send that in. “Since Ms. Smith is with my son all day every day and is an integral part of his education, I wish to have her be present at the IEP meeting.”

Since you specifically asked for it in writing, they are required to address your request via a PWN. So if they say no, ask for it on a PWN and take it from there.

They said I cannot even talk to my son’s aide!

Ok, this one really grinds my gears, particularly if your child has a 1:1 aide. If a school has a policy like this, there is much to be insinuated from it, I believe.

Think about it–your child is spending 6 hours a day, 30 hours a week with a person, and you’ve been instructed to not talk to them, only the teacher? Wow. Talk about fostering a culture of mistrust!

Do you get any communication from them? Daily communication sheets? Anything? You should be. Or, at the very least, their accurate information and data should appear in the IEP. At some point, if they are lying to you, it’s going to show–the data or progress (or lack thereof) that your child makes will not match what you are being told. And…then approach it as an IEP issue. Because let’s be honest, you being allowed to talk to the para isn’t going to fix this, if it’s a deep problem.

Sometimes it’s just a weird chain of command thing. They want parents discussing issues with teachers, period. Don’t take it personally, again, very common policy. They may not fully trust their paras to not give out incorrect information or make promises they cannot keep.

Again, please do not ask these folks to take sides–they have families to feed too. Don’t put them in an awkward position, they did not make these policies.

Address the school board. Ask them to change the policy. Get other parents on board with you. Who attends an IEP meeting, as far as district personnel, is decided by the district (once they have met the IDEA requirements).

I do think parents should be able to communicate with the people who are spending so much close time with their kids. I’ve heard of many districts who do not allow any communication, not even a “did he have a good day?” or “did he eat his lunch?”

Bottom line–whatever communication that you need to go back and forth between you and the aide, make sure it’s happening. They can ask you to only speak to the teacher, but they are still required to meet your child’s needs. Communication, training and progress monitoring are all parts of the IEP–so use the process to get the information you need. The success/failure of your IEP meeting and your child’s needs being met should not be contingent upon one person attending the meeting. If that is the case, you need to review your approach to the IEP meeting and IEP process.

Take some time, write down all your thoughts and concerns, and request an IEP meeting to get this included.

Like everything else, read and use your IEP procedural safeguards. Most of all, the goal here is to get everyone’s expectations documented and on the same page. Otherwise there are unrealistic expectations on all sides, which only makes our relationships more contentious. (like we need that!)

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