By Sandi Rosenbaum, Special Education Advocate, Littman Krooks LLP
The New York State Department of Education has issued new proposed regulations regarding the use of 1:1 aides in preschool and school aged settings. The regulations, which also address other areas of preschool special education, are expected to be considered by the Board of Regents at its January 2016 meeting. Written public comments using the Public Comment Submission Sheet are being accepted through December 28, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposal language is as follows:
Amend section 200.4(d)(3) to require both Committees on Special Education (CSE) and Committees on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to consider, prior to determining that a student needs a one-to one aide:
- the student’s individual needs that require additional adult assistance;
- the skills and goals the student would need to achieve to reduce or eliminate the need for the one-to-one aide;
- the specific support that the one-to-one aide would provide for the student; other natural supports, accommodations and/or services that could support the student to meet these needs;
- the extent or circumstances the student would need the assistance of a one-to-one aide; the staff ratios in the setting where the student will attend school; and
- the potential positive benefits and negative impact of assignment of a one-to-one aide.
This proposed 5 part rubric for determining the need for a one-to-one aide adds much-needed clarification to current practice.
Too often, the discussion around whether to provide a one-to-one aide has been tied exclusively (or overwhelmingly) to a subjective analysis of Least Restrictive Environment. Proponents maintain that a one-to-one aide in a less restrictive setting class will afford the student much-needed access to typical peers. Detractors aver that the aide’s presence will foster dependence and stigmatize the student among typical peers, thereby paradoxically rendering placement with an aide more restrictive than a more supportive placement that the student is able to navigate more independently. Parents and school personnel often disagree on this point at the CSE and, indeed, the definition, implementation and supervision of the aide role heavily influences which characterization bears out to be more accurate over the course of the year.
This detailed framework for CSE participants will allow parents and staff to define the role of an aide in light of specific student needs. Importantly, it contemplates a potential exit strategy by asking the committee to identify skills and goals that, if achieved, would reduce or eliminate the need for a 1:1 aide. These can guide the selection of IEP goals in a given year, or serve as a “lodestar” for a multi-year plan. For instance, a student with diabetes may develop the awareness to identify his or her need to check for high or low blood sugar, and the ability to do so independently. The requirement to identify natural supports or accommodations that could meet the student’s need, instead of a one-to-one aide, allows for consideration of a gradual exit strategy by eliminating specific responsibilities of the aide. These natural supports may emerge naturally over time; for instance, as the student with diabetes and classmates mature, a classmate, rather than staff, may be able to escort the student to the nurse during an episode of low blood sugar. Or, natural supports may be deliberately introduced through the adoption of principles of Universal Design for Learning. A student who needs frequent refocusing may be able to sit on a dynamic cushion eliminating the need for a tap on the shoulder. Or, the teacher may incorporate movement breaks for all into the lesson plan.
Increased independence is important for all students for whom a 1:1 aide may be contemplated. Students headed to college need to be able to independently manage their workload (which may include keeping regular appointments at the college student support center). Students preparing to live on their own need to be able to get up and dressed and leave the house with everything they need for the day, whether for classes or work. For students with severe disabilities, being able to toilet independently, reliably communicate their wants and needs, and stay together with a group on an outing, will allow them to participate in adult programs with lower staff ratios and more fulfilling activities.
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