Advocacy for Para Support for our SPED Students

Our families with students in special education, particularly those with autism, have been begging for resources for their kids for years now. We are grateful to see Dr. Glass and Dr. Leach making comments at taking another look at this ongoing issue and will keep you posted as to the experiences of these families as issues are corrected.

This article was written following the public comment given by both classified staff members and a Jeffco mom at the first January board meeting. We encourage you to read this. https://arvadapress.com/stories/citing-unsafe-classrooms-jeffco-special-ed-aides-call-for-hiring-changes,292133

We are encouraged by what Dr. Leach has been saying since her arrival this year and are grateful that she is paying attention and really listening to these issues as families bring them to her attention.

The paraprofessionals who work with our special education students are some of the most critical education partners in our schools. Our students desperately need their attention and assistance. Their testimony was both heartbreaking and concerning.

The following is the public comment given by a fabulous Jeffco mom who has direct experience:

Hello, my name is Lorri Avery. I am here tonight as a parent of a child in her fifth year in a center program in Jeffco schools. She was in an ASD center program for four years and is now an SSN program in 6th grade. You have seen me up here before because I have spoken with our parent group called JAASD (Jeffco Association of ASD Parents). I am also on my third year of being a board-appointed DAC member, a first year Jeffco PTA member, and I have spent hours volunteering in my older daughter’s classrooms. Again, I am speaking tonight as a parent of a child in a Jeffco center program.

Our specific topic tonight is staffing of center programs. We recognize hiring is hard for the entire state right now and we are not speaking about that issue. We want to talk about policies and guidelines Jeffco has created and enforces: right sizing and staff ratios. I have been talking about this to anyone who will listen for a few years now. Let me read an excerpt from the response to the letter I got last April from the BOE when I wrote a letter addressing this issue. Here it is:

“I understand that (a now former employee) has worked with JESPA leadership regularly and that rightsizing has been a regular topic of conversation. They navigate this process collaboratively to ensure that all employees rights, as well as students’ needs, are being attended to and have established some agreements with our Human Resources department going forward to make this process as seamless as possible.”

Well, this response gave me the impression that JESPA supported the concept of right sizing so I made an appointment with the president of JESPA, Lara Center, and she did not agree with this characterization of right sizing. JESPA is in total agreement with parents that the district’s staffing policies, including right-sizing and higher staff-to-student ratios, have created a crisis in Jeffco’s center-based programs. As a result, we are standing together to address these issues and to advocate for change.

First, let me read the specific wording in the document titled GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR ALLOCATIONS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION STAFF 2019-2020. Center program para educators are right sized twice annually in September and January to match guidelines.” What this means is if a student in a center program leaves after the start of the year – let’s say October 1st – the district reduces the number of paras in that center program. If a new student starts October 10th, the district waits until January to replace this position. As a result of this policy, the center program is left without proper staffing for three months! I have personally witnessed this right sizing policy in action for the five years I have been a parent of a center program child. It is unsafe, it is negatively affecting the adult relationships in the classrooms, and it does not provide an appropriate education for the students. I actually observed this exact scenario in October of 2018 when I was visiting the SSN class my daughter would be placed in for 2019-2020. This was a two-hour observation. The class had three adults, one of whom was a 1:1 para. This left the other two adults (one para and the teacher) responsible for the remaining 10 students. As the name of the program makes clear, each of these kids has SIGNIFICANT SPECIAL NEEDS. This means they have behavioral and/or medical issues severe enough that both the district and their IEP team feel warrant a special center program. These kids elope, wander or bolt. They throw tantrums.  Sometimes they are aggressive and violent with those around them. Some kids wear diapers, some kids self-harm, some kids need assistance eating or require a 1:1 for safety. I have yet to find anyone who can tell me why this policy is in place and who it benefits.

The other Jeffco staffing policy which negatively affects SSN programs was to arbitrarily change the staff-to-student ratio from 2:1 to 3:1.  Our JAASD parent group was told at a meeting about 18 months ago by a former cabinet member that this reduction in staffing was implemented because the district needed money elsewhere within special ed and this is where it was taken from. He also added that it was known that the change was not going well. Remember, this is a SIGNIFICANT SPECIAL NEEDS center program. The new staffing ratio is not only unsafe, but it also denies students the free, appropriate public education to which they are legally entitled. The teachers and paras are constantly on the defense trying to do their best with so little support. These teachers and paras are getting burned out quickly. Staff is actually getting hurt because they have kids with behavior issues (which is part of their disability which requires the paras/teachers to stay on top of things to prevent escalation.) Behaviors escalate more frequently due to inadequate staffing. I personally know about a teacher who had his finger broken this year in an inadequately-staffed Jeffco center program. I understand this information can be found through the risk management department if you want to dig deeper.

We do have difficulty hiring staff across the state. That is not what we are talking about. We are specifically talking about intentional policies Jeffco has in place that are making the situation in the classroom so much worse. The right sizing policy should be budget neutral. At the beginning of the year, the count for staff should already be in the budget. Replacing budgeted staff positions as they arise should not increase the budget.   Therefore, we expect that this adjustment can be made immediately. We shouldn’t need to wait even a day to see this policy ended.

 

If you’re interested in applying for support positions, you are needed! There are currently 35 positions listed for paraprofessionals.

https://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/employment/jobs/support_positions

“Love working with children? Our Special Education department assigns para educators to center programs in schools, where they team with certified teachers in the care of special-needs children. Some para educators are designated as “floats,” and move between schools, receiving mileage reimbursements for their travel. You may receive financial incentives for working in a Title I school.”

“To apply for one of these positions, visit the Jeffco Job Board and search for current openings under the job category “Hourly.” Hourly rates begin at $13.09/hour.”

“Contact our Special Education department at 303-982-6690 if you need additional information about becoming a Jeffco para educator or para ed float.”

You’ll want to help us work on the salary schedule as well so we can attract more people to these important jobs.