Special Ed Connection
TIP OF THE WEEK: Explain clearly your policy on paraprofessional communication with parents
The parent of a student with a Section 504 plan brings a retaliation claim against a school district that she says banned her from speaking with her child's paraprofessional after she advocated on behalf of her child.
Upon finding that the district had a policy in place that prohibited paraprofessionals from communicating directly with parents, and noting that the parent was made aware of this policy prior to her advocacy, OCR dismissed the complaint. Prior Lake-Savage Area Schs. (MN), 119 LRP 13199 (OCR 09/17/18).
This Minnesota district prevailed because it had and shared a clearly established policy on paraprofessional communication with parents. The lesson: Whatever your policy, make sure you explain clearly to everyone what it is and why. Here's what to say:
q To parents. Inform parents that if they have any questions or want to discuss anything about their child's educational program, their first point of contact is the teacher -- not the paraprofessional, said Shawn DiNarda Watters, assistant professor and paraprofessional program coordinator at the University of Akron in Ohio. Explain to parents that the policy is for their benefit, said consultant Susan Fitzell. Tell them, "It's to protect you, as the parents, so there is no confusion," she said.
q To teachers. Parents may come to feel very secure with a particular paraprofessional because that paraprofessional has spent more time with their child than any other school personnel, Watters said. But this can become a problem for the teacher.
Explain to the teacher that if nine times out of 10 a parent who has an issue contacts the paraprofessional, it interrupts direct communication with the teacher, Watters said. "That hinders the teacher's relationship with the parents," she said. "The teacher is left out of the loop. Issues [can be] blamed on the teacher, and she will not be aware."
q To paraprofessionals. Arm paraprofessionals with knowledge so they don't feel pressured to cross professional lines when parents approach them with questions on anything from the other kids in the classroom, to the teachers, to what went on in the classroom down the hall, said Mary Schillinger, a former deputy superintendent and educational consultant with Collaboration for Success. Give them the wording they can use to respond, Fitzell said. For example: "I'm sorry, but it's really important for you to have a relationship with the teacher. I'd love to be able to support you, but this is our policy."
Remind paraprofessionals that they are not compensated for and not responsible for certain things, Watters said. "The paraprofessional needs to learn to state, 'I recognize your concerns, but this is above my control. You have to contact the teacher.'"