Paraprofessional Shortages Affect the Special Education Program


By McKenna Hudson

For students in the special education program, paraprofessionals are essential. The job of paras is to give specialized attention to a specific student within the hour. With the lack of paras available to students, they are denied some opportunities that would normally be available. 

“A lot of our students are not getting the support they deserve,” special education teacher Lisa Pentecost said. “In and out of class, teachers are stepping up and trying to help out. On occasion, [the students] can’t follow their schedule, because we’re so short. Students will sometimes have to walk to other [students] classrooms with a para because they can’t go to their own class by themselves.”

Not only is North experiencing shortages, this issue affects the entirety of the Francis Howell School District. Currently, North has several openings for paraprofessionals all the while, the number of students in the special education program increases, creating an even larger demand for paras. Erin Steep, the associate principal at North, contributes the shortage to the nationwide demand for jobs. 

“They’re not certified teachers, they do [require] 60 college hours and having a substitute teaching certificate, so it’s a trained and specialized position,” Steep said. “But it’s not a super high rate of pay, and the job is intense so right now we’re struggling to find people.” 

Unfortunately, students are the ones paying the price of limited para availability. Some students may require special attention and are not able to receive proper support. Paras might need to read tests to students or conduct physical therapy for others. Without paras, the needs of students in the special education program are not being appropriately met. 

“I think they are pertinent in the success of students,” Pentecost said. “The paras that are working now are covering the jobs of other paras. So they’re really doing more than just their job. I don’t have a plan period, because I’m covering paras. We seldom get a lunch as teachers because we’re covering paras. It’s very stressful for everyone all the way around.”

Frustration grows from the special education teachers as the jobs continue to remain unfilled. The need for paraprofessionals is immediate and urgent and the success of the special education program hinges upon the teachers and support staff caring for the program.