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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IDEA 2004 guarantees a free, appropriate public education for all students, regardless of the nature or severity of their disability. IDEA 2004—which uses the term paraprofessionals to refer to paraeducators—acknowledges the important role that paraeducators play in helping students with disabilities maximize their achievement.

First in the 1997 amendments to IDEA and then in the 2004 reauthorization, paraeducators 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.

IDEA 2004 requires that states establish and maintain qualifications that ensure that personnel including paraeducators are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained and have the content and qualifications needed to serve children with disabilities.

IDEA 2004 allows school districts— which the law refers to as local education agencies (LEAs)—to use paraeducators to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities, provided the paraeducators are appropriately trained and supervised by qualified special education personnel. IDEA 2004 stops short of defining paraeducator training and supervision, leaving that determination to the respective states.

Why IDEA 2004 Is Important to Paraeducators

  • It continues to recognize the role of paraeducators in providing services to students with disabilities. Prior to the 1997 amendments, there was no recognition of that role in federal legislation.
  • It highlights the necessity for standards in the training and supervision of paraeducators.
  • It supports the involvement of paraeducators as part of the instructional team that provides educational services to children with disabilities.
  • It encourages professional development opportunities for paraeducators.

States, however, must adopt a policy that requires school districts to take measurable steps to train qualified personnel. Such training must comply with personnel standards for paraeducators in accordance with state law, regulations, or written policy.

IDEA 2004 authorizes State Personnel Improvement Grants [20 U.S.C. §1415]—a program that provides federal funds through a competitive grants program to states. Funds may be used to improve paraeducator knowledge of effective educational practices. These grants require states to include a plan that identifies and addresses state and local needs for preparation and professional development of personnel—which may include paraeducators—who serve students with disabilities.

Additional funding for paraeducator training may be available in school districts that use IDEA 2004 funds to provide early intervention services for students not identified as needing special education or related services but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment. Training activities include professional development.


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