According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there were approximately 1.3 million paraeducators employed nationwide in 2020. Depending on the state and school district in which they are employed, paraeducators are known by a myriad of titles, including teacher assistant, instructional aide, one to one aide, personal care assistant, bus aides and others. Many times, they are assigned to help support special education classrooms and students with significant disabilities. Some paraeducators are assigned to work one to one with a particular student; while others may help the special education teacher deliver instruction to a small group of students.
With the increasing number of students with disabilities participating in general education classrooms, and an increasing number of students with complex needs entering school, paraeducators serve an important role in our nation’s education system. In this article, special education and school administration expert, Dr. Theresa Kreider explains the aspects of hiring practices, training, and supervision that are commonly scrutinized and contested in litigation.
Hiring & Training Practices for Paraeducators - Expert Article
The investigation of an educational abuse case will commonly consider whether this person should have been permitted in the classroom. The forensic process considers federal regulations, policies and requirements specific to the jurisdiction, and what information was available during the hiring process to determine what was known or what should have been known about the candidate.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) following the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), designates the basic qualifications for a paraeducator as;
- Possess a high school diploma or equivalent
- and have at least two years of college studies, have an associate’s degree, or have passed an assessment with standards set by the state in which they plan to work.
In addition to ensuring those essential qualifications have been met, the hiring procedures must also adhere to individual state legislation regarding criminal background checks. While in some states, a person with a criminal background cannot be disqualified for consideration of a job, schools must perform their due diligence in knowing what crimes disqualify a person from working in an environment with vulnerable children; and must also understand the role that the paraeducator serves to decide if other crimes may be a reason to disqualify the candidate from employment.
For example, it would be detrimental to pair a paraeducator with a history of impulsive behaviors or poor decision making with a student that has complex behavioral needs. While a crime like a recent DUI may not disqualify a person from working in schools; it does demonstrate a pattern of poor decision making. A position such as a one-to-one paraeducator for a student with complex behaviors where decisions must be made quickly, consistently, and many times independent of the classroom teacher calls for someone with quick but steady decision-making skills. Without that, the child’s behaviors may escalate to a point where physical restraint is necessary.
If a paraeducator is placed in situations for which they are not suited and/or have not been trained for, this may lead to unsafe conditions both for the student and the paraeducator.
Training and Certification Requirements for Paraeducators
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows appropriately trained individuals to assist the special education teacher in delivering instruction and/or assisting individual students in meeting Individualized Educational Program goals and objectives.
Issues impacting the safety of students with disabilities may arise, if the paraeducator lacks the training specific to the individual student and/or class to which they are assigned. Part of a forensic investigation involves determining if the paraeducator had training for the specific needs of the student and/or class to which they were assigned.
Schools and facilities must consider what kind of training and how much training is needed for each paraeducator. Most states have minimum requirements in the number of training hours that all paraeducators need, but particular emphasis should be placed upon the type of training needed for the specific student population being served.
For example, some paraeducators are hired to work with medically fragile students, and should, at a minimum, have CPR training. In such cases, paraeducators must also be trained specifically to that child’s needs and symptoms. A child with a history of seizures may exhibit certain symptoms prior to a seizure occurring, and if the paraeducator hasn’t been trained in this child’s specific needs, valuable time could be lost and be detrimental to the child’s health.
Other paraeducators may be assigned to work with a student that is aggressive and should have training in de-escalation techniques and if needed, physical restraint training. Again, it is essential that the paraeducator is trained on the specific child’s behavioral patterns. The goal is for de-escalation techniques to effectively be employed, avoiding the need to apply a physical restraint and the multitude of issues that may arise.
Supervision and Reporting of Incidents
Supervision of staff can be pivotal when evaluating notice in educational abuse cases. Proper supervision can often be used to correct bad habits before they cause negative consequences. It can also be the last chance to identify malicious activity that was not caught during pre-employment screening.
Federal law mandates that paraeducators work under the direction and supervision of a certified education professional. Many times, this falls under the purview of the classroom teacher for whom the paraeducator supports, but discretion must be given to establishing added layers of supervision. Classroom teachers may lack the supervisory skills necessary, and their ever-increasing responsibilities make it difficult for them to also supervise the other adults in their classrooms.
The role of paraeducator is fluid, meaning that often they are transferred to other schools within the district to meet specific needs of students. A centralized supervision approach may allow for the proper communication between schools and perhaps lessen the opportunity that a marginally performing paraeducator will be sent to another building.
Clear expectations, monitoring of progress in meeting those expectations, and clear consequences and/or progressive discipline when expectations are not met may decrease the likelihood of issues involving paraeducators.
PARAEDUCATOR INCIDENT INVESTIGATIONS
An investigation of an incident involving a paraeducator may include a review of the hiring practices, the paraeducator’s employment history, training practices, and more. Our experts will be able to provide a reliable assessment of potential incidents that may occur and if the actions or inactions of the school met the standard of care when educating students with disabilities.
For more information, contact the author of this article or submit an inquiry.
SPECIAL EDUCATION & SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION EXPERT
Dr. Theresa Kreider is a special education and school administration expert with over 30 years of experience in the field of public education. She has experience as a Director and Assistant Director of Student Services, collaborative support services teacher, and a teacher of students with learning disabilities and emotional disturbances. Dr. Kreider applies her expertise to forensic cases involving the safety and well-being of students, and disputes involving the adequacy of educational programs including compliance with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).