This article contains the second part of the article "How to Obtain Paraprofessional Support.
While the first part of the article dealt with the strategy of identifying the student's support needs, this part of the article demonstrates how to deal with the "Independence" arguments and then how to get good paraprofessional support language into the IEP.
The Question of Independence: Invariably the educators on the IEP team will argue that they do not want to provide one-on-one support for a student because it is important that the child become independent. This position can be infuriating for parents, who want more than anything for their child to be independent and who resent the school’s self-righteous posturing. I have listed below some ways to deal with the “independence" argument.
First make a clear statement that you want your child to become independent and to eventually not need the educational supports which are presently essential. This helps position you as the advocate or parent on the side of working toward independence for the child.
Present an evaluation of the child’s present level of “dependence" upon educational supports. This evaluation may need to be acquired through an independent or private educational evaluation. It needs to be precise relative to the exact supports needed by the child, including information about the frequency, intensity, and the proximity of the supports. Make every attempt to be accurate in this assessment. Remember that the school is correct in their position that to over support a child is to handicap and reduce the independence of the child. The key is to provide just enough support to allow the child to be successful, but not so much as to further handicap the child. This is where I often use the “learning to ride a bike or swim" analogy. Training wheels for a learner bike or a kick board for learning swimming are appropriate supports and when they are no longer needed we fade them away. On the other hand we do not throw children who cannot swim into the deep end of the pool in order to make them independent swimmers.
Consider placement issues. It is ironic that sometimes the only way to obtain the supports the child needs is to move the child from self-contained, supported classrooms. Most school districts consider self-contained, supported (having a paraprofessional assigned to the teacher) classrooms to be adequately supported and thus in many cases they absolutely refuse to increase the levels of support in the classroom. Too often, the reality is that such V.E., Autistic, or other specialized classrooms do not provide sufficient individual supports for students. These classrooms often manage the students through the presentation of low expectations, low demands, and allowing excessive “down-time." One can argue very well that, in fact, these classrooms make the students dependent on the educational delivery model and make them ill-equipped to function in general society. Sometimes the only way to obtain the proximity, high-level support some children require is when those children are mainstreamed out of the school’s self-contained units.
Insist upon appropriate and trained support. Children with disabilities do not need a paraprofessional to continually hover over them, excessively prompting them. They need well trained individuals who have learned appropriate prompting techniques and who are careful to bring their support to the child only at the child’s carefully determined point of need. Knowledgeable experts should design the prompting techniques and should continually monitor the delivery of support services. All prompting and educational supports need to be designed to be scientifically and carefully faded over time.
From the above, you can see that just getting some paraprofessional time with your child is not sufficient. A poorly trained paraprofessional could actually harm you child’s progress toward independence. This is why the common school practice of “covering" the child with various individuals, who happen to be in the classroom at different times, cannot work. Responsible and professional support of a child with disabilities requires child-specific training in appropriate prompting, data collection, social facilitation, language facilitation and academic coaching. The issue is not so much how many different individuals are used to support the child, but the level of training, knowledge of the child’s support needs, and coordination of the effort.
Getting the support into the IEP: When IEP teams agree to reference to a paraprofessional on an IEP, they will almost always place the reference in the “supports to the teacher" portion of the IEP. Their logic is that the teacher is the person directly responsible for delivering education to the child. The teacher may use the paraprofessional in the educational delivery, but the paraprofessional is for assisting the teacher – not the child.
This are just word games as far as I am concerned. I have no problem with how the school describes the paraprofessional support it is going to provide, as long as the child is guaranteed very clear and specific support on his/her IEP. The fact is that just checking a box or writing in paraprofessional support on an IEP does not guarantee the sophisticated kind of support many children need. For this reason I feel that it is important to insist that somewhere on the IEP the IEP team agrees that the child needs a defined list of supports (similar to the list I have provided above), which list clearly specifies the supports in terms of frequency, intensity and proximity.
When I say this defined list of supports needs to be on the IEP, this can be done in a number of different ways. Most IEP forms do not provide a place for precise and detailed information about the “supplemental aids and services" a child may need in order to succeed in the least restrictive environment. The accommodations checklists generally provided do not present either the detail or the full substance of what is needed. In addition, many schools suffer from “formitis:" a bureaucratic malady, which paralyzes all ability to do anything that is not on “THE FORM."
Actually, the IEP may include by reference an agreed to, detailed, listing of the specific supports that the child will receive, including prompting, social and language facilitation, reinforcement, behavioral supports, etc. Alternatively, this information may be put on an IEP conference form. While I have heard uninformed school administrators claim that if something is not on the IEP Form, it is not on the IEP, this is simply not true. Conference notes or an agreed list of services should be referenced on the IEP form and made part of the IEP. I recently won a due process case where the judge (ALJ) was very upset because the school had failed to implement items which it had agreed to on a conference form.
Finally, it is improper for IEP teams to defer to any other committee or administrator on the question of paraprofessional support. If an IEP team refuses to make the “need" determination, claiming they are required to defer to another committee or administrator, I would ask them to put that policy in writing. If the IEP team persists in refusing to make the determination, then I would ask for an “Informed Notice of Refusal."
Mark S. Kamleiter, Esquire
Board Certified in Education Law
Special Education Law and Advocacy
2509 First Avenue S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
Phone: (727) 323-2555
Fax: (727) 323-2599
Email: [email protected]