Aides v. Paraprofessionals v. Highly-Qualified Teachers…

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Three questions from a special education teacher are answered below with the citations from federal law.

Question #1: When IDEA 1997 was reauthorized as IDEA 2004, Section 1400 Findings and Purposes, Paragraph (E)(i) and (ii) were deleted in entirety.  Are teachers  no longer required to be highly-qualified in IDEA 2004?

Answer: In IDEA 2004, 20 U.S.C § 1400, Paragraph E incorporated (E)(i) and (ii). (20 U.S.C § 1400 (E)); Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 46.

(E) supporting high-quality, intensive preservice preparation and professional development for all personnel who work with children with disabilities in order to ensure that such personnel have the skills and knowledge necessary to improve the academic achievement and functional performance of children with disabilities, including the use of scientifically based instructional practices, to the maximum extent possible;

Question #2: There is an assistant in the classroom with a high school diploma, no college, and no paraprofessional certificate although she says she has passed a test. Can an assistant fulfill direct service hours on student IEPs with no special education teacher present, in an inclusive setting with only a general education teacher present?


Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left
Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.


Answer: An “assistant with a high school diploma and no paraprofessional certificate” is usually called an aide. Federal law – specifically NCLB and incorporated into IDEA – includes a legal definition of “paraprofessional.”

No, an aide cannot provide direct service hours with or without a special education teacher being present.

According to NCLB, all paraprofessionals shall have:

(A) completed at least 2 years of study at an institution of higher education;
(B) obtained an associate’s (or higher) degree;
(C) met a rigorous standard of quality and can demonstrate, through a formal State or local academic assessment —
(i) knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics; or
(ii) knowledge or, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness, as appropriate.  (20 U.S.C. § 6319(c)); Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, page 200)  [Out of print]

Question #3: Can an assistant with a Paraprofessional Certificate  fulfill direct service hours on student IEPs without a special education teacher present, in an inclusive setting with a general education teacher present?

Answer: No Child Left Behind limits the duties and responsibilities of paraprofessionals. A paraprofessional “may not provide any instruction to a student unless the paraprofessional is working under the direct supervision of a teacher . . ” A paraprofessional may not provide one-on-one tutoring at a time when the teacher is available. (20 U.S.C. § 6319(g)); Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, page 201) [Out of print]

Educational responsibility belongs to the teacher, not the paraprofessional. The paraprofessional is a tool used by the teacher to accomplish her responsibility of delivering an education to her students.

  1. I have looked everywhere, help me find the term dedicated aide in the law. I know it’s got to be somewhere.

  2. Can my son’s one one one aide (he has muscular dystrophy and in a wheelchair) be given crossing guard duty while my son is still in school?

    • To me that depends on his needs. These must be addressed while he is at school, but it is possible that they can be addressed by another person or in another way, during this time. Ask questions about this, if you have not done so.

    • The answer may depend on how this is written in your child’s IEP. If he needs the aide 100% of the time, then it’s hard to see how the aide can function as a crossing guard while also providing your child with one-on-one assistance. Handling this will depend, at least in part, on how your school district is organized re: who has the power to make decisions – the principal v. special ed director.

  3. Hi just wonder during the Covid 19 . We are told that our Special Ed teacher does not need to be present to teach the class. Is that true? He is teaching remotely.

    • Cindy, Not sure I understand your question. If you are asking if it is against the law to work as a para without a license, the answer may depend on your state education regulations about teacher and para qualifications. If your state has a law about licensing, school districts need to make sure that their staff have proper credentials.

  4. I am a SPED Para Pro and the teacher wants to leave me alone with the students all the time. I told her that I am not the teacher and that she needs to instruct the students I am there to support only am I right.

  5. Hi. I was wondering if paraprofessionals are allowed to be put under IEP as ones to address writing goal and instruct with (Framing you’re thoughts) program. IEP states 8x month for 30 minutes,provided by para. Thanks for your input.

  6. I am a teacher with a master’s degree and 25 years of experience in our district. Today in my classroom, a paraprofessional or aide (not sure which she is) told me to change a grade on a journaling assignment because she felt it should have been modified for the student. When I questioned the IEP manager, she said the aide has full control over modifications of assignments and grading for this student. Is that even legal?

    • It is good you are asking questions. It is also good and notable the para is empowered to advocate for a student without repercussions. Imagine a wonderful school district where paras and classroom teachers collaborate at a high level and use or create a best practice models to ensure success of the students. Many IEP managers have huge and complex caseloads and are overwhelmed. Good paras who are strong advocates are an asset. Do I understand your frustration? Yes. But, I think the para (under supervision of IEP manager) and you can learn a lot from each other and ensure student progress and success. Your many years of experience is noteworthy and also a great asset in the classroom. Paras learn a lot from experienced teachers and vice versa.

  7. I think that this is absolutely ridiculous considering I’ve been working with children for 28 years! The same training and classes are boring and unnecessary, especially when they are repeatedly the same training you have earned and knowledge from years past!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Is it legal for a school to pull a paraprofessional that is paid for with special ed funding, to substitute in a regular classroom if none are available?

    • This is exactly what is happening now in Albuquerque. There are no special education teachers and now they are employing paraprofessionals with mostly high school education who are now in charge of a special education classroom. And true. The school system receives Federal funding, but these mignons receive an extremely lower pay. One girl just graduated from high school. And we are 50 in education. I wonder why. I have questioned these decisions, but have been told by the district to “Possibly look for work elsewhere.”

    • I would like to know this too. We have paras pulled to sub for general ed, when they are paid from special ed funding.

      • Paras, admins (and parents and the National Guard) are in classrooms in an effort to prevent more school closures. From March 2020 when schools closed to the present, MANY teachers have quit and moved on to other jobs. Job recruiters are looking for teachers to work in other areas where the pay and working conditions are better, they have more autonomy, and are respected by their co-workers. I think it’s unlikely that most of these former teachers will return to the classroom in the near future. The teacher shortage is a crisis in some parts of the country.

        If there is an answer to your question, you’ll probably find it in your state education or special ed regulations. But given the teacher shortage, I don’t think anyone wants to do anything to limit the number of staff in schools or require them to be paid from a particular pot of $$.

  9. I am a paraprofessional and I am wondering who to get ahold of as the teacher in our classroom has not complied with any ot the 7 students IEP goals for about 8 months and the administration is aware of the issues. Several of the paras in the room have gone to the superintendent and principal on multiple occasions about the concerns and nothing is beng done. My student who has a math goal has not had math one day since March 21st of this year. Other students have had nothing or no data for their goals since school started last August. Just needing some very good advice

  10. Can a School District request that an IEP case manager uses the language additional adult support instead of additional paraprofessional support as the IEP team decided?

    • I believe that the wording use in the IEP meeting should be the wording used. I guess the IEP team could meet again and change the terms, but there could be legal issues for the school if they use certain people, such as non-employees.

  11. Can a child’s individual support para be pulled to sub in another classroom leaving the child without a para at all. How is this legal

    • This is a violation of the IEP, but campuses get desperate for subs, & do this. Politely reminding administrators of this would be a place to start, following up with something in writing, if it continues to happen.

    • As a para, I was pulled multiple times. Worse, I was at one point a para to 2-3 handicapped kids and they had 1-1s on their IEPS. I had to watch them in the cafeteria along with 20 other regular kids and deal with some having feeding issues. It was a madhouse in that cafeteria. That was all the last straw for me as it was a definition of insanity to work like that and not fully service the student. Paras complained and nothing was done to alleviate the staffing issue. Schools are desperate for paras and do not have enough. Thus, many schools do not put 1-1s in IEPS because of staffing. Some paras get pulled for diapering other students leaving their own student unattended in a classroom with no para support for 15-30 minutes or more if there is an emergency.

  12. Hello, if class goes on a trip and gets back to the school after the class assigned lunch period has already passed, can para still take 50min lunch away from students?

    • I doubt that there is any state rule on that. It probably comes down to district, and campus procedures and the administrator’s decision.

      • I know this is an old thread but if your lunch is duty free and unpaid, then yes, you are entitled to take your lunch away from students. That is a federal labor law and not up to an admin.’s discretion.

        Some districts will do comp. time. But if you are an hourly employee, you cannot be compelled to work without compensation.

        • Jeanine, Thanks for the information. District policies, & procedures should reflect this law. It is helpful to know that it is a federal labor law.

  13. “A paraprofessional “may not provide any instruction to a student unless the paraprofessional is working under the direct supervision of a teacher”

    I don’t understand the answer to number 3. Are you defining teacher as classroom or special education? Can a paraprofessional provide service minutes in a classroom with a gen-ed teacher present?

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