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Special Education Staff Shortages. What to do when the school can’t provide the 1:1 para support your child was promised.

advocacy iep parenting special education
Paraprofessional providing 1:1 support for young student with an IEP

Most parents of a child needing 1:1 para support can tell you it can be a struggle to even get the team to agree and add it to the IEP.  So what happens when they do agree but can’t provide that support?

IEPs are a vital tool for ensuring that students with disabilities receive the appropriate education they need to prepare for their future.  However, many schools across the country are facing a growing problem: staff shortages, especially those staff needed to provide FAPE for our students with unique needs.

What is the reason for special education staff shortages?

Staff shortages aren’t an excuse to dismiss the school’s obligation to provide a child with a disability the support they need.  However, it might be useful to understand there can be several reasons for a shortage of special education paras. One reason is that the demand for special education services has increased in recent years, but the supply of qualified paraprofessionals has not kept up. Additionally, the job can be challenging and may not be as attractive to potential candidates as other education or healthcare jobs. Furthermore, the pay and benefits for paraprofessionals may not be as competitive as those for other positions in the field. Finally, there is a lack of specific training programs for special education paraprofessionals, which makes it harder to attract and retain qualified candidates.

What can a parent do if a school is unable to provide the agreed upon para?

There are several ways a parent can exercise their rights and responsibilities when their child isn’t receiving a support or service provided in their IEP:

  1. Document your concerns: Keep a record of any concerns or issues you have regarding the lack of para support for your child. This can include notes from meetings, emails, and other communications with the school.
  2. Communicate with the school: Schedule a team meeting that includes the school’s special education administrator along with the district superintendent.  You want the decision makers in the room.
  3. Review your child's IEP: Review your child's IEP to ensure that the para support is clearly written and that the school is aware of your child's needs. You may even request to re-evaluate your child’s need for a 1:1 para, and to see if there are any other ways the school can provide your child the necessary support.
  4. Take legal action: If you’ve tried working with the school and you aren’t making progress you may want to consider taking legal action, which is one of your federally protected rights. This might include filing an OCR complaint, mediation or due process.
  5. Look for alternative solutions: If the school is unable to provide a para, you may want to consider alternative solutions such as hiring a private para, or seeking services from a community-based organization.

Regardless of the reasons, schools have legal obligations to meet the needs of students with IEPs, and you have the right to advocate for your child's education. Parents should work closely with the school and any other professionals involved to ensure that their child's IEP is being met.

Are there alternatives to 1:1 para support?

If the district is unable to provide the 1:1 paraprofessional support as written in the IEP there are several alternatives that can be considered:

  1. Small group instruction: Instead of providing 1:1 support, the student can be placed in a small group setting with other students who have similar needs. The teacher or paraprofessional can provide targeted instruction and support to the group as a whole.
  2. Co-teaching: A teacher and a paraprofessional can work together in the classroom to provide instruction and support to the student. This allows the student to receive additional support while still being included in the general education setting.
  3. Peer tutoring: Trained peers can work with the student to provide additional support and guidance. This can help the student build relationships and develop social skills.
  4. Assistive technology: Assistive technology such as text-to-speech software, speech recognition software, and word prediction can be used to help the student access the curriculum and communicate with their peers and teachers.
  5. Accommodations: Accommodations, such as extra time on tests, visual aids, and modifications to the curriculum, can help the student access the material and demonstrate their knowledge.
  6. Collaboration with related services: The student can receive support from related service providers such as speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists, psychological services, and social services.

These alternatives are not intended to be a “fix all” and might not be appropriate in every situation. 

It's important to note that related services and accommodations should be used to supplement the instruction of the student and not replace the 1:1 support. The goal is to find a combination of services, accommodations, and strategies that help the student access the curriculum and achieve the goals outlined in their IEP.

Any alternatives considered should be tailored to the specific needs of the individual student and the IEP team should work together to find a solution, whether temporary or long-term, to provide the needed support.  Furthermore, the alternatives should be closely monitored to ensure that the student is making progress towards their goals and that the services and instruction provided are appropriate.

Key takeaways.

Although the IEP process can have many moving parts, it is ultimately designed to support your child and you, and to provide certain rights during the process.  Sometimes, during the course of implementing the IEP we encounter challenges or roadblocks that feel insurmountable. I’ve been in the trenches personally when it comes to navigating the process and am dedicated to assisting other families in advocating for their child’s needs and building collaborative partnerships with their IEP teams in order to find solutions to those daunting challenges and roadblocks.  If you need help or have questions I’d love to talk with you.  Get on my schedule for a FREE CONSULTATION today!

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