Last week, the mother of a non-verbal 7 year old boy with autism made public a sickening incident that happened while her son was in his first grade class at Thomas A. Hendricks Elementary Community Academy on Chicago’s south side. Holley Cornwell-Vaca received a call from the school’s principal that a substitute teacher’s aide had hit her son, Paulie, after the boy kicked the aide, but the principal wouldn’t say exactly when or where the incident took place. She was told that two aides were suspended because of the altercation, but she says she wasn’t told by the principal, but instead by the media. Ms. Cornwell-Vaca said the principal would only tell her that the incident had transpired and that it was being investigated. She told WGN that she would not allow her son to return to the school.
Teacher’s aides, also called paraprofessionals, can have a wide range of duties that include working individually with students who require more one-on-one support and remediation and supporting the teacher in all aspects of classroom teaching, student discipline, class preparation and even grading. Under no circumstances are teachers, classroom aides, or other paraprofessionals allowed to use physical abuse as a means of discipline or restraint. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, paraprofessionals are required to be at least 19 years old and have either an Associate’s Degree, 60 semester hours of coursework (unspecified), a GED plus a score of 460 or higher on the ETS ParaPro test, or a GED with a score of 4 on both the ACT Work Keys Applied Mathematics test and the ACT Reading for Information test. They must also work under the supervision of a certified teacher. While many work with students with special needs, they are not certified as special needs educators, nor are they required to undergo specialized training to handle and respond to the specific needs of students with certain cognitive, behavioral, social or emotional conditions and diagnoses.
If you have a loved one that you suspect has been physically mistreated while a student at any educational institution, you should take action. Our schools are meant to be a safe environment where teaching and learning are conducted with mutual respect between students, teachers and other staff. Parents and guardians are an integral part of ensuring that our children’s education is a positive experience, and information should never be withheld by teachers and administrators, especially when a child is unable to personally communicate that something has happened.