Hartford: Paraprofessionals Say Reduced Ranks Pose A Danger
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
September 25, 2010
HARTFORD — — Sandy Reigal has been a paraprofessional for 32 years. She is used to classroom distractions.
But this week, not even a month into the new school year, Reigal told the board of education that her new workplace arrangement "isn't working."
At the Global Communications Academy, she is supposed to be solely assigned to a 6-year-old boy with a seizure disorder who is also on the autism spectrum. Reigal has worked with the first-grader since he was in kindergarten, and has seen him significantly improve his speech.
Now she fears for his safety while she's chasing another student around the classroom or down a hallway.
The school system laid off 65 paraprofessionals this summer, a loss that Reigal and other union members say has been felt deeply in classrooms where students with disabilities may have fewer people to watch over them.
"You can find him standing on tables, chairs… He might be tossing items in the air," Reigal said of the new boy she has been supervising at times. She said he appears to dunk his head in the toilet when he uses the restroom.
Meanwhile, the 6-year-old she is responsible for "decides to put things in his mouth," Reigal told school officials at a Tuesday board of education meeting. "This week it was an unused, sharp-ended staple…"
"While this is happening, is there learning going on? Of course not," Reigal said, as the young boy's mother listened in the audience. "You really shouldn't cut anymore."
A $10 billion education bill passed by Congress last month means that Hartford can spend $11 million in federal money now to save school jobs. But Superintendent Steven Adamowski has recommended reserving the funds until the 2011-12 school year when, he said, the school system faces up to a $40 million budget shortfall.
"In my view, doing anything less than that is like driving a car off a cliff," Adamowski said Tuesday. He added that board members are expected to discuss the grant money when they meet for their finance planning workshop on Oct. 5.
While pushing the board to restore lost jobs, leaders with the Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals also are concerned that more layoffs could loom.
Adamowski told union representatives Tuesday afternoon that the schools are 22 positions over the budgeted number of 250 paraprofessionals. David Medina, a school spokesman, said Wednesday that Adamowski did not mean to imply those jobs would be eliminated.
"We have paras with four or five children, which is risky," said Jackie Aviles, a union co-president. Some students are wheelchair-bound or cannot speak, Aviles said. "Right now everyone is so stressed out. It's only September. It's only been three weeks of school."
Medina said special-education students are receiving all services required by law.
Tomaro Cooper, for one, is happy with how her son has progressed in his Hartford school, working with Reigal. When he entered kindergarten last year, Daveon Williams had trouble understanding the sounds of the alphabet; his comprehension level was low.
Her son can now answer questions and express himself. And Daveon has made his first friend, one of the boys in his classroom. "I don't want to see him fall backwards," Cooper said.
While Reigal is chasing the other child, Cooper told Adamowski and the board, "my son's putting staples, thumbtacks in his mouth. Suppose my son had a seizure?"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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