Special Education: One-to-One Aide

When parents request a “one-to-one” aide or paraprofessional for their child with a disability, they are often frustrated by the school district’s response. Even when the district agrees to their request, parents may be dissatisfied with the results.

What is a One-to-One Aide?

Does the child need one individual who is assigned to work with the child during the entire day? Can the child be successful if several individuals rotate during the day? If the child’s IEP does not specify that one individual will be assigned to work with the child, the result can be unsatisfactory.

You need to clarify the settings in which the child needs the aide. That is, does the child need the aide throughout the entire school day? Does the child need the aide in specific classes or at specific times during the day? It is important that the classroom teacher know about the aide’s assignment so teacher does not “pull” the aide away to work with another child or group or children.

Does the child only need an aide for transitions? It is unlikely that the school will hire an aide only for transitions. In these cases, the school is likely to rely on existing school personnel to provide this service. However, these personnel are likely to have other duties that will interfere with their ability to provide timely transitions for the child.

If the child needs an aide for transitions, it is important that the child does not miss class time waiting for the aide to arrive. According to the United States Department of Education, allowing a child leave class early or arrive late to the next class, even if this is identified as an accommodation in the child’s IEP, is not acceptable.

What is the Role of the One-to-One Aide?

Schools assign one-to-one-aides to children for various reasons: behavior management, instructional support, assistance with activities of daily living, social skills training, task redirection, discreet trial training, etc. If the child needs the support of a one-to-one-aide to receive a free appropriate public education, the aide should be assigned to the child, no matter what the task.

What are the Qualifications of the One-to-One Aide?

Not surprisingly, parents want an aide who is highly skilled and qualified. Although cost should not be the deciding factor, the reality is that school districts accept significant expenses when they hire an aide.

In Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garrett F., the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that a small school district could not refuse to provide a one-to-one nurse to a quadriplegic child because of cost. Notwithstanding Garrett F., cost is a factor (albeit an unmentioned one). Some schools districts pay the minimum wage during the school year, pay nothing during breaks, and provide no benefits. It is difficult or impossible to find a well-qualified individual to work under these conditions.

In general, hiring decisions do not fall within the purview of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Hearing officers and courts are reluctant to consider a challenge to an aide’s qualifications unless it is clear that an aide must have specific knowledge and skills for the child to receive a free appropriate public education. Note: The No Child Left Behind Act includes new requirements about the education, training and duties of paraprofessionals.

An aide who will implement an applied behavioral analysis program to an autistic child requires specific training and ongoing supervision. Similarly, an aide who will provide instructional support needs knowledge and skills in the methodologies employed by the classroom teacher. The parents’ success in obtaining a qualified aide will turn on how specifically the IEP defines the child’s needs and how specifically the IEP defines the aide’s role in addressing these needs.

How Can Parents Make a Case for a One-to-One Aide?

Remember that the school district is only required to provide the services, program, or placement that the child needs to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  The IEP is the vehicle by which the school delivers a FAPE. The child’s IEP must identify the special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services the child needs to receive a FAPE.

How does the IEP team make the decision to include a one-to-one aide in the child’s IEP? In general, this decision is based on the child’s needs. The child’s needs are identified by an evaluation of the child. An evaluation includes standardized tests or assessments, parent input, classroom observations, teacher input, etc.

Comprehensive Evaluations Are Essential

The evaluation is the foundation on which the IEP is developed. If the evaluation is not thorough and comprehensive, it is unlikely that the IEP will meet the child’s unique needs. Since the evaluation describes the child’s needs, the evaluation also defines the services, program and placement that the child needs. Because standardized assessments carry such weight, you need to review these assessments carefully. Request clarification if you do not understand any part of the evaluation report. Because you cannot adequately review an assessment during an IEP meeting, you should request the report(s) in advance of the meeting.

Private Evaluations

If you believe the school evaluation is inaccurate or insufficient, you may obtain a private evaluation. The school is required to “consider” any private evaluations you provide. However, “consider” does not mean “accept” or “embrace.” However, if the school rejects the recommendations in a privately obtained evaluation, the school must state the reasons.[1]

Classroom Observations

It is impossible to overstate the importance of a classroom observation in the private evaluation. Classroom observations can be performed by the individual who conducts the evaluation or by an educational consultant. It is strongly recommended that more than one observation and consultation occur with the classroom teacher. More observations provide more information and give greater weight to the recommendations that flow from the evaluation.

Independent Educational Evaluations

Parents may also request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at the school district’s expense. If you request an independent educational evaluation, the school district must agree to your request or request a Due Process Hearing to defend the accuracy of their assessment(s).

In general, the decision about whether the school will provide your child with a one-to-one aide will be determined by an evaluation of your child. This evaluation may be conducted by school district personnel or by an evaluator in the private sector. Be sure the evaluation provides a complete description of the child’s unique educational needs and makes it clear that the child requires an aide to receive a free appropriate public education.[2]

[1] 20 U.S.C. §1415(c).
[2] Steedman, Wayne, How to Request a One-to-One Professional for your Child (2009) http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/relsvc.aide.steedman.htm#sthash.L8Asuy8Y.dpuf.

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