By Kodey Toney
Cuts Like A Knife
With a $900 million deficit in the Oklahoma budget one of the largest areas to be hit is the education department. This is nothing new, and it will continue to be an issue. While this is not the only area to be cut or affect those with disabilities, it is a vital category that I want to address. This is because it has come to my attention more than twice this past week with questions from parents and educators.
The issue is that administrators all across the state are looking for ways to cut budgets. One Tulsa news station ran a story about Inola Schools reducing their workforce in janitorial and food prep areas. They are working on cutting any of the “lower level” jobs. While these are very important, and any layoffs are a bad situation, the one that perked my ears up was the cut in paraprofessionals in many local schools.
I had a message in my inbox last week from a local parent asking me if they could take her child’s para due to the budget cuts. This gets complicated, but let’s take a look at it for a second.
The short answer is…maybe. Ok, that’s pretty vague and not what most want to hear, but you have to understand a few things first.
1. If it’s in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) that your child requires a paraprofessional then they cannot cut this without violating the IEP. Don’t forget that this is a binding contract and this would be a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If your school has agreed that your child needs someone to assist them throughout the day, and it has been signed off on in the IEP then they cannot retract that, at least not without a meeting to discuss and agree upon with the entire team. Though there is slightly more to this, in a nutshell this is the way the law reads.
2. Make sure what your IEP says. If it says that the child must have a para for the entire day then that is what they are required to provide. However, if your IEP only states that the child requires a para to help with bathroom breaks and at recess then that is all they have to provide. It is only as specific, or not, as it is stated in that IEP.
3. If it is not in the IEP, and your child has a general paraprofessional for the classroom that they are in then the school can terminate that service as they see fit.
This of course is not what is needed. The children need as much assistance as they can get throughout the day to help with certain aspects of their education. Don’t forget though that they only need to provide what is necessary. The child needs to learn to be interdependent not dependent on the para. They need to be working to do as much for themselves as possible without assistance, and the para only intervenes when needed.
If I’m looking for a silver lining then there are parts of this that could be a good thing. If it was not in the IEP, and your child loses their aide then this could help them become more independent. After all, as I’ve always said, the job of a paraprofessional is to work themselves out of a job, and make the child less dependent upon assistance.
If you are concerned that this is what I would suggest is checking the IEP to make sure what is specifies as far as a paraprofessional is concerned. If it doesn’t say that it is a full-time position then I would call an IEP meeting and see if you can get it added. The problem is that right now it’s going to be difficult to get the schools to include this if they are trying to cut budgets.
If you need assistance any aspect of this, you need someone to look over the IEP, need someone to advocate in the IEP meeting, or have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.