The Role of the Paraprofessional in the Inclusive Classroom. Polly M. Fernhout
California State University Northridge
The Individuals with disabilities education act (IDEA) states that students with special needs should be provided the necessary supports and services needed to access the general education curriculum. One form of this support is the use of paras (Marks, Schrader & Levine, 1999). Therefore, para may be considered to be an essential component of free appropriate education (FAPE) which every student with disabilities is entitled to receive (Etscheidt, 2005). Over the past decade, the use of paraeducators has increased as the number of students with severe disabilities who have been included in general education classes has risen. Many teachers see the paraeducator as essential support required for the student to experience successful inclusion (Giangreco, 2003; Giangreco & Doyle, 2002). Paraeducators are referred to in many ways: one-on-one, paraprofessional, additional adult assistant (AAA), teacher’s assistant, paraeducator, aide, individual assistant. Regardless of title, these individuals have become an important part of our schools (Giangreco, Edelman & Broar, 2001), helping the classroom teachers and providing more individual assistance to students. For the purpose of this paper, the term para will be used.
Students with disabilities who are included in general education classes continue to receive special education instruction from a special education teacher. However, now the special education teacher no longer spends time with the student every day of every week. It is now the general education teacher who spends most of the day with the student, along with 20-30 other students in the class. The general education teacher often has little if any special education training and therefore, paraeducators often spend most of their day with the student, and therefore, is often viewed as the person responsible for the student’s success and failures. There have been many inconsistencies as to the nature of the role, duties and responsibilities of paraeducators (Etscheidt, 2005) in the inclusive class. This paper will address the confusion surrounding what the paraeducator’s role should be in an inclusive classroom, as addressed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and as perceived by professionals and parents who support students with disabilities.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Paraeducator
In 1982, in Hendrick Hudson District Board of Education v. Rowley, the Supreme Court defined appropriate education as providing students with disabilities with “access to specialized instruction and related services which are individually designed to provide educational benefit” (p.3048). As the years progressed, the definition was expanded and describes educational benefit as being not only academic but also including non-academic benefit such as socialization and self-esteem issues (Etscheidt, 2005).
Both IDEA 1997 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) 2004 discuss the role of the paraeducator in a very general, non-specific manner. Under personnel standards, IDEA 1997 states: “Allow paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised, in accordance with State law, regulations, or written policy, in meeting the requirements of this part to be used to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities under this part”. (20 U.S.C. ???? 1412(a)(15)(B)(iii) (Giangreco & Doyle, 2002)
It then continues and specifies: “persons who work directly under the supervision of licensed professionals and who often deliver instructional and direct services to students and their parents” (GESSLER WERTS, ET AL., 2004, p.232).
The roles of the para...