Paraprofessionals play an instrumental role in schools as part of a team providing educational and support services to children. The teacher is the team leader and has sole responsibility for introducing new material. The paraprofessional reinforces the teacher’s lessons.
Here are some of the rights and responsibilities that paraprofessionals should know about.
Paraprofessionals must not be left alone in a classroom without a teacher when the teacher is called away for a meeting or is absent for the day. Paras must be under the direct supervision of a licensed teacher in or out of a classroom.
The only exception is the lead teacher assistant, a career-ladder position for paraprofessionals. Paras who are lead teacher assistants may fill in for a teacher during their absence for up to 10 days over the course of a school year.
School administrators cannot ask paraprofessionals to supervise the lunchroom, according to Special Circular 6R. Schools have other school-based personnel, including school aides and supervising school aides, who can be assigned this responsibility.
Paraprofessionals, including one-to-one paras, are entitled to a duty-free lunch period. One-to-one paraprofessionals should only be with their students while the students are having their lunch if it is mandated on the student’s Individualized Education Program/504 plan. In that case, the para should have a duty-free lunch at some other point in the workday.
If a paraprofessional has been assigned to be with their one-to-one student during that student’s lunch period and it’s not mandated on the student’s IEP, the para should report it to the school’s UFT chapter leader. If a para is unsure about the requirements on a child’s IEP/504 plan, the para should ask to see it. State law requires that paraprofessionals have access to the IEPs of students in their care.
Due process rights
In the 2018 DOE-UFT contract, paraprofessionals gained important due process rights similar to those of teachers. With rare exceptions, paras can no longer be suspended without pay for long periods while their cases are being investigated.
If a paraprofessional is arrested, the para must report the arrest to the Office of Personnel Investigations (OPI) and their school as soon as possible. OPI will determine if the charge constitutes “serious misconduct” or “sexual misconduct,” as defined by the DOE-UFT contract. If the arrest involves sexual misconduct, abuse of a minor, a felony involving drugs or violence, or any felony that takes place in a school, the para may be suspended without pay for up to two months while the case is under investigation. The DOE can request a hearing with a neutral arbitrator, and the suspension can be extended to three months if an arbitrator finds probable cause.
If the case is not deemed serious or sexual misconduct, the para must stay on payroll unless a probable-cause hearing arbitrator determines a suspension of up to two months is appropriate. While on suspension, the para should file for unemployment benefits and seek other employment.
Misdemeanors such as parking or speeding tickets, an open beer can in public, or a first offense of driving while intoxicated should not result in a suspension.
Only if the para has been indicted can the para remain off payroll for longer than three months. If the charges are unsubstantiated, the para will get full back pay minus interim earnings within 30 days.