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Paraeducators and IDEA 2004: Recognizing and Defining the Role of Paraeducators

Paras and IDEA 2004Paraeducators, whose numbers total more than 770,000 in public school districts across the country, play an increasingly important role in improving student achievement by supporting and assisting certified and licensed educators in instructional and other direct services. More than 71 percent of paraeducators provide services to students with disabilities.

IDEA 2004—which uses the term paraprofessionals to refer to paraeducators—acknowledges the important role that you play in helping students with disabilities maximize their achievement. First in the 1997 amendments to IDEA, and now in the 2004 reauthorization, paraprofessionals who are appropriately trained and supervised (in accordance with state law, regulation, or written policy) are recognized as personnel who may assist in the provision of special education and related services to students with disabilities [20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(14)]. IDEA 2004 does not define the term paraprofessional nor does it define what paraprofessionals do.

The entire school community must understand the role and acknowledge your contribution as a paraeducator, as an equal and essential member of the education team. It is equally important that administrators and supervisors acknowledge the parameters IDEA 2004 establishes for you in carrying out your role. By law, you are only to assist in providing services to students with disabilities. You must also have the necessary tools—proper training and supervision—to meet the needs of students in the most effective ways.

How to Recognize and Define the Role of Paraeducators

Historically, you have provided your services in isolation with limited resources and support. This mindset must be changed to embrace you as an equal and essential member of the professional education team.

Paraeducator roles and responsibilities should be made clear. IDEA 2004 acknowledges the important role that properly trained paraeducators play, but it also seeks to place some parameters on how you should perform your role. Paraeducators only should assist in the provision of services under the supervision of certified educators, they are not to replace licensed educators. Further, to meet the needs of students with disabilities in the most effective way, you must have proper training and supervision.

You may need to advocate for the recognition and definition of your role. What can you do to help make sure that IDEA 2004 is implemented in your state in a manner that is good for you, your students, and your school? What can you do to help others understand and acknowledge the importance of paraeducators?

The suggested activities that follow are intended to be coordinated with the assistance of your local Association and UniServ staff. Study the activities below and discuss them with your colleagues, local Association leadership, and UniServ staff members. With the assistance of your local and/or state Association leaders and staff, develop an action plan to promote the recognition and importance of your role in supporting the achievement of students with disabilities.

Becoming Informed—Advocacy Activities to be Coordinated with Local Association Leadership

Review documents to ensure accuracy and appropriateness of content.

  • Review your state’s current laws, regulations, and written policies regarding the appropriate training and supervision of paraeducators. Make sure they have been updated to reflect IDEA 2004 provisions.
  • Review the language in your contract, school policies, and school mission statement to see if references to paraeducators and their roles are included. If not, use the relevant sections from IDEA 2004 to propose that new language be included. Make specific note of §300.156 in the IDEA 2004 amendments, which refer to personnel qualifications.
  • Determine whether there are written job descriptions for paraeducator positions in your school district and whether they appropriately identify paraeducators’ roles and the training and supervision required for those positions. Use such references to advocate for additional support, if necessary. If the job descriptions do not refer to training and supervision, propose to your supervisors and administrators that those job descriptions be revised to comply with IDEA 2004. [ Note : NEA recommends the use of results-oriented job descriptions, which, in addition to describing what a paraeducator does (the tasks), also describe what the paraeducator accomplishes (the results). NEA’s Results-Oriented Job Descriptions: How Paraeducators Help Students Achieve describes the development process and provides examples of paraeducator job descriptions.

Review common school district practices to ensure appropriateness of paraeducators’ roles and responsibilities.

  • Talk with paraeducators in your school district to determine whether they are assisting in the provision of services or working independently. Make clear to all paraeducators that IDEA 2004 requires that they assist, not replace , licensed educators, and that assistance must comply with the law.
  • Request that paraeducators in your school district make lists of assignments for which they feel inadequately trained or supervised. After consulting with your local and state Association leadership and staff, make sure the lists are presented to supervisors, administrators, and school board members, with the reminder that IDEA 2004 requires that paraeducators be appropriately trained and supervised.

Spreading the Word—Advocacy Activities to be Coordinated with Local Association Leadership

Help educate the school community about IDEA 2004.

  • Write an article for your local or state Association newspaper explaining how IDEA 2004 affects the role of paraeducators.
  • Circulate a letter to paraeducators, teachers, administrators, and school board members highlighting the most relevant sections of IDEA 2004. Reference §300.156 of the IDEA 2004 amendments, which permits paraprofessionals who are appropriately trained and supervised (in accordance with state law, regulations, or written policy) to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities.

Make sure that education team members understand the important role paraeducators play and how they might support paraeducators in carrying out their duties.

  • Make sure administrators, teachers, and other staff members know that paraeducators with direct and extensive responsibility for providing services to students have a “need to know” and should have access to relevant information about any student with whom they work (e.g., individualized education program—commonly called an IEP— that references special medical needs).
  • Speak with the special education teachers or other professional educators who convene IEP meetings in your school. Discuss the fact that, under IDEA 2004, individuals with knowledge about or special expertise in working with a child may be included on the IEP team [20 U.S.C. §1414]. Stress the importance of your presence at IEP meetings.
  • Ask for information about your school’s policy regarding contact with parents. If such contact is prohibited, ask for an explanation.
  • Consult with your UniServ director regarding questions, problems, concerns, or information on the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) about compensation for work (e.g., attending meetings) completed outside of school hours.

To next Section: "Promoting Paraeducator Training"


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