School Support Staff and the Law

Edwin C. Darden

While principals and teachers are the visible superstars of a school building, a low-profile group of employees plays a significant role with students, and can produce legal issues requiring school board and superintendent attention.

Depending on the district, they go by different job titles: aides, instructional assistants, paraprofessionals. They provide classroom support or special services. They assist teachers, give schools a way to comply with Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requirements in special education, and supply remedial help to struggling students and challenging work to advanced ones.

The following cases involve such personnel and portray legal and policy insights worth weighing. In one instance, the alleged actions of several paraprofessionals generated a discrimination lawsuit by the classroom teacher to whom they were assigned. In another, an aggrieved employee claimed the school system violated her constitutional rights by exposing her to a hard-to-handle special education student who caused her serious injuries. These are their stories.

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