Legislative Para Staffing Study Recommendations

IB ImageThe report's 11 recommendations are largely positive and, at minimum, establish procedures for better monitoring of paraprofessional training, professional development, and usage, especially with regard to language in Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) for special education students. The committee also made a number of recommendations with regard to enhancements of the School Paraprofessional Advisory Council (SPAC), which includes members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated unions.
 
A summary of the report's recommendations follows:
 
1. The Department of Labor (DOL) should make all final decisions and awards of the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration and State Board of Labor Relations available online. Further, because many of matters before both boards are resolved before final decision or award, searchable summary information on all grievances and complaints should also be available on DOL's website.
 
2. The State Department of Education (SDE) should collect information about Title I paraprofessionals annually, summarize the information, and post on its website. At a minimum, the posted data should include: 
  • the number of paraprofessionals covered by NCLB; 
  • the number who have not met the NCLB requirements; 
  • the number of districts out of compliance; and 
  • the types of actions taken by the districts.
Click here for SDE's website for paraprofessionals.
 
3. SDE's focused monitoring process should include an inspection of a random sample of IEPs to ensure that the language outlining paraprofessional services is written with enough specificity regarding the amount of time a paraprofessional is to provide support to a student and what that support entails.This will inform the consultant team, if that district is selected for phase-three assistance, on whether IEP specificity is an issue, and if so, allow SDE to provide technical assistance in writing IEPs. If the IEPs do indicate specifically what and how much paraprofessional assistance is to be provided, then the in-district focused monitoring sessions should examine whether the IEPs are being followed.
 
4. Regarding the Special Education Administrative Complaint Process, SDE shall:
  • seek to modify the state regulations pertaining to special education to include the process and procedures for filing an administrative complaint;
  • issue a policy brief about the availability and mechanics of the process and circulate it to organizations and groups interested in special education services, including the School Paraprofessional Advisory Council; and
  • make the Complaint Resolution Process, as well as the complaint form, available on its website in a manner that is easily accessible to the public.
5. SDE should establish a system or systems whereby one or more of the following takes place:
  • all final decisions on administrative complaints are written in a way that does not reveal the identity of individual students and made available on its website in the same way as due process final decisions;
  • a summary table is placed on its website and updated quarterly containing information to include:
    • type of complainant (parent, agency/advocacy organization, LEA, other); 
    • district or districts involved; 
    • nature of complaint; 
    • whether complaint is withdrawn, dismissed or going to final decision; 
    • date of final decision; 
    • if final decision includes findings of non-compliance the nature of the non-compliance; any corrective action ordered to be taken; 
    • the date upon which follow-up monitoring confirms that corrective action has been taken; and/or
  • interested individuals or organizations can, for a small fee, automatically receive copies of all final decisions on the merits on any administrative complaint, regardless of whether or not that complaint involves a request for due process.
6. SDE should develop and distribute a policy brief stating that IEPs should be drafted in such a way as to clearly identify the type of employee (i.e., certified vs. non-certified) providing services and supports and explaining how to appropriately specify the frequency and duration of such services and supports. The brief should provide examples of both appropriate and inappropriate language and clearly indicate where in the IEP this information should appear.
 
7. SDE should conduct a random audit of a sample of districts' rosters of substitute teachers and verify that each individual listed has a bachelor's degree, or that the district has a waiver for that individual. Secondly, SDE should assess whether the number of substitutes on the roster appears adequate to meet the needs of the district, given the size, number of schools, and composition of the student body. If the roster appears inadequate, SDE should further examine what those districts are doing to ensure adequate classroom coverage by qualified staff when teachers are absent.
 
8. To ensure at least some preparation for the requirements of paraprofessional positions, all school districts shall be required to provide a minimum of three hours of training, with pay, for all instructional paraprofessionals prior to the start of the school year. That time should be spent with the immediate supervisor of the paraprofessional, who will provide such information as necessary to educate the paraprofessional on his or her role and responsibilities and ensure full knowledge of all duties he or she will be expected to perform. If paraprofessionals are hired after the start of the school year, or, if there are reassignments during the school year, the districts shall provide the same number of hours of training prior to a paraprofessional performing new duties in a classroom and/or with an individual student or students.
 
9. SDE should redouble its efforts to inform districts about paraprofessionals having access to information contained in student IEPs. This could be done through reissuing the existing brief on this topic and distributing it to: all district Directors of Special Education; the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education; the Connecticut Association of Public School Administrators; the Connecticut Association of Schools; the Connecticut Council of Administrators of Special Education; parent advocacy groups; and other organizations with an interest in special education.
 
10. Regarding the School Paraprofessional Advisory Council (SPAC):
  • SDE shall be required to provide staff support for the council and its work;
  • SDE support staff should ensure that all SPAC meetings and agendas be posted at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting on the SDE website for paraprofessionals.
  • SPAC shall be expanded to include:
    • two paraprofessionals who do not belong to a union; 
    • a special education teacher involved in supervising a paraprofessional; 
    • a representative of one of the higher education institutions offering teacher preparatory programs: and 
    • a parent who has a child who is currently receiving, or in the past has received, instructional paraprofessional support.
  • SPAC shall elect a chairperson from among its members, and the term of the chair should be for two years;
  • SDE staff support functions should include securing a public meeting place for the council as well as posting the meeting location on the SDE website for paraprofessionals at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting; &
  • SDE should establish a list of current contact persons in each district who will be responsible for disseminating information to paraprofessionals in that district. The contact list should be reviewed annually by SPAC and updated by SDE.
11. SDE should develop individual briefs around topic areas contained in the Guidelines for Training & Support of Paraprofessionals and post them on SDE's website for paraprofessionals.
 
Click here for SDE’s Guidelines for Training & Support of Paraprofessionals.
 
The PRI Committee voted unanimously to adopt the study at its December 17 meeting. 
 
Click here to watch video of the full meeting, which includes the committee's staff presentation on its paraprofessional study.
 
When the 2015 session convenes next month, the PRI Committee is expected to raise a number of bills to implement the 11 recommendations. Those bills will then go through the regular legislative process and member leaders of AFT Connecticut-affiliated unions representing pareducators will be updated about those events as they are scheduled. We will also urge members to contact their legislators and to testify at public hearings in support of the related bills.
 
Jennifer Berigan
Legislative Coordinator, AFT Connecticut