In many school districts, paraprofessionals helped keep students connected to learning after the COVID-19 outbreak forced schools to move to virtual instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. As administrators now consider how to safely return to school for 2020-21, many plan to continue to offer virtual instruction as an option for part-time or full-time learning. Thus, paraprofessionals will continue to play an important role for students.
Here are four things you’ll need to ensure are in place for paraprofessionals to work remotely with students in the fall.
1.Revisit paraprofessional contract language. You may need to temporarily revise your district’s paraprofessional contract language and agreements, said Mary Schillinger, a former deputy superintendent and educational consultant with Collaboration for Success. For example, any stipulation that paraprofessionals may not make phone contact with parents, either related to work issues or personally, may be suspended for the time being.
“During … distance learning, districts may be temporarily revising that agreement to allow a paraprofessional to assist in phoning parents regarding scheduling IEP [meetings] or their child’s need for technology for access to their distance learning opportunities,” she said.
2.Ensure paraprofessionals have access to needed technology. Students are not the only ones who may not have the proper equipment or resources needed to participate in virtual instruction.
“A lot of paraprofessionals are finding that [their districts] are using Zoom [and] Google Classroom. Their phones can’t do that,” says Colleen Hart, paraprofessional chair of the Boston Teachers Union. “They can call parents, but don’t have technology on their phones. It [has] created a challenge for them to be able to connect remotely with classrooms.”
Hart has been coordinating efforts to provide paraprofessionals with computers from school. She documents their names and employee ID numbers to keep track of who has what.
3.Require paraprofessionals to complete online training. “This is a perfect time for districts to provide online training for paraprofessionals,” Schillinger says. Consider offering this training through online modules as you gear up for the coming school year.
4.Continue to conduct professional development for paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals will continue to work under the direction of a teacher, counselor, or therapist, Schillinger says. “Training and guidance of paraprofessionals will need to be done on a regular basis, either in group virtual meetings or individually through an online meeting or phone call.”
Cathy Mastronardi, president of the Springfield (Mass.) Federation of Paraprofessionals, uses Microsoft Teams to offer professional development to paraprofessionals in a virtual group setting. There, they view a PowerPoint presentation each week and participate in online chats with their peers on the material. “The chats are very robust, they are very engaged,” Mastronardi says. “They’re collaborating about the content we’re presenting to them, learning about the topics, and becoming experts in Microsoft Teams.”
Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.