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(5.34) Are districts responsible for providing a student with a paraprofessional (instructional aide)?

(5.34) Are districts responsible for providing a student with a paraprofessional (instructional aide)?

The law does not limit the list of related services to those listed in the federal regulations or California Education Code.  Related services may include any service necessary for a special education student to benefit from her education.  [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56363(a); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.34(a).]  Therefore, the district must provide a paraprofessional if your child needs an aide to benefit from her education including situations where your child needs an aide to assist her in a regular classroom.  The district has a duty to educate special education students to the maximum extent appropriate with nondisabled peers.  [34 C.F.R. Secs. 300.114 – 300.115.] 

For example, a paraprofessional might be required to help a student with significant physical disabilities perform educational tasks (such as note taking), or to assist in a behavioral management program for a student with significant behavior problems. 

Just as it does for related service providers, the California Department of Education (CDE) must “establish and maintain” qualifications to ensure that paraprofessionals are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained, with the “content knowledge and skills” to serve children with disabilities.  These qualifications must be consistent with state-recognized certification, licensing, registration, or other comparable professional requirements for paraprofessionals.  These qualifications cannot be waived for a paraprofessional on an emergency, temporary or provisional basis.  [34 C.F.R. Secs. 300.156(a) & (b).] 

All teachers, including paraprofessionals assisting with instruction, must be “highly qualified” in order to comply with both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  [20 U.S.C. Secs. 1401(10)(D) & 1412(a)(14).]  All teachers of core academic subjects, including special education teachers, must demonstrate subject matter competence in each core academic subject taught.  Special education teachers, and those who assist with instruction, must also have the appropriate teaching credential.  [20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401(10)(D).]  These qualifications cannot be waived on an emergency, temporary or provisional basis and only apply to teachers who teach a core academic subject.  [34 C.F.R. Secs. 300.18(b)(3) & 300.156(b)(2). See also the California Department of Education’s Improving Teacher and Principal Quality webpage at: www.cde.ca.gov/nclb/sr/tq/index.asp.]

Paraprofessionals do not need to meet the NCLB requirements if they are working with 3 through 22-year-old students who have severe disabilities and who function at a pre-academic level and if instruction is not in a core academic subject area and is primarily for personal care and life skills.  [20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401(10)(D).] 

The paraprofessional should also be qualified to perform the particular duties needed to implement a student’s IEP.  Any required qualifications (for example, “trained in behavior modification”, “knowledgeable in algebra,” “fluent in signing”) should be written in the IEP, as well as the frequency, location, duration and type of services the paraprofessional will provide.

You may file a compliance complaint with CDE if you believe any of the “highly qualified” requirements have not been met by a teacher, paraprofessional or other service provider who assists with instruction.  [34 C.F.R. Secs. 300.18(f) & 300.156(e); see Chapter 6, Information on Due Process /Compliance Procedures.]