While some staffers may need to update their qualifications to meet new standards passed by state legislators last year, Sequim School District seems to be on track with its paraeducators.
In April 2017, the state legislature passed House Bill 1115 that created a minimum set of criteria for employment standards for all paraeducators — employees who assist teachers and other school district staff — along with a Paraeducator Board.
It may also put in place more opportunities for staffers to get training they need to be qualified paraeducators.
Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal said the law was implemented on the federal level through the Every Student Succeeds Act, and that the district is following what’s being passed down by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
“It provides the opportunity for the paraeducators to get more training and have the right qualifications,” Neal said.
“As we get ready to hire more paraeducators, we have a policy that’s in place that allows us to stay in compliance with the federal statutes,” he said.
Sequim has about 80 paraeducators across the district, according to Elizabeth Joers, the Sequim Paraeducator Association president and paraeducator at Helen Haller for 10 years.
OSPI states that qualifications for paraeducators vary by district, and that some districts can require more education or higher credentials than what is mandated by the state.
State officials also said many districts require paraeducators to meet Title 1, Part A requirements because of the flexibility it affords as schools assign paraeducators to different duties. Paraeducators who work in Title 1, Part A schools in special education programs must meet the core competencies for special education and the requirements of Title 1, Part A .
Joers said all paraeducators employed at Sequim Schools already meet these requirements as many of them serve a variety of roles in Title 1, Part A programs and within the District.
“A lot of our paraeducators might work on the playground but rotate through educational programs as well,” Joers said.
Joers said when she was hired by the Sequim School District 10 years ago, paraeducators were required to meet highly qualified standards so they could switch back and forth between roles.
“Our district has already made it to be where you can’t be hired (as a paraeducator) unless you’re highly qualified,” she said.
Joers said paraeducators’ work ranges from one-on-one work with students with severe disabilities to providing assistance with programs such as Title 1 math and reading and supporting curriculum that is set by the district and teachers.
Sequim School District board of directors revised policies regarding paraeducators contracts at an April 16 school board meeting, unanimously approving changes to meet the federal bill’s new requirements.
The revised policy noted, “ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) eliminated the qualifications for teachers and paraeducators and now requires the State to establish standards for paraprofessionals working in the Title 1 schools or programs.”
To track with the change in the law, Sequim’s school board directors approved district policy language, directing it at paraeducators instead of highly qualified or Title 1 employees.
The qualifications for paraeducators also were updated to track with the new bill’s requirements:
• A paraeducator must be at least 18 years of age and hold a high school diploma or its equivalent; and then meet one of the following:
- have received a passing grade on the education testing service paraeducator assessment;
- hold an associate of arts degree;
- have earned 72 quarter credits or 48 semester credits at an institution of higher education;
- have completed a registered apprenticeship program.
The bill requires all paraeducators to meet the minimum employments standards by Sept. 1. It also created the Paraeducator Board to be administered by the Professional Educator Standards Board.
Joers said while this bill may affect other districts whose paraeducators aren’t up to speed with these minimum employment requirements, not much will change for paraeducators at Sequim schools.
“The main thing we’re going to change for our school district and all across Washington was to change the qualifications to be a paraeducator in general,” she said.
Joers said Sequim’s 80 paraeducators already meet qualifications this new law, she is excited about a possible paraeducator apprenticeship program that may be available to future paraeducators.
“(Legislators) were looking at making a paraeducator apprenticeship program, which I thought would be amazing,” Joers said. “It provides paraeducators with a general course of standard practices.”
This course would require school districts to provide four days of training to paraeducators who have not met requirement standards, but Joers said while this is is a good opportunity it also would require funding from the state.
“(Districts) would have to pull four days of every year, and a lot of those things are dependent upon state funding,” Joers said.
She said when it comes to the big picture for paraeducators, she hopes these new requirements will create a more serious career pathway for paraeducators who want to make paraeducating their sole profession.
“I’m hoping (pareducators) get looked upon as a profession,” she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to do anything different than provide that extra help to the education system.”
While this bill does not affect the salary model for paraeducators, Joers hopes these new standards are one step closer to creating living wage jobs for paraeducators.
“I know there are a lot of people who look at paraeducators as a profession because that’s where they feel their niche is,” Joers said. “A handful of our (paraeducators) are working toward their teaching certificates as well, so we can open up that opportunity for them more.”
Neal said while the district does not currently have an apprenticeship program in place yet, if the district decided it wants to provide the four days of fundamental training it would look into doing so most likely through grant money.
“At this time there’s not a funding plan so that’s something the districts would have to come up with,” he said. “Historically (the district) has done a good job of finding funding streams, so our community has less impact.”