CLOVIS, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Instructional assistants play a critical role in the education of students that require extra support and services to be successful in school – and Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) has over 200 vacancies.

It is a huge concern for the Association of Clovis Educators (ACE) which says not having these instructional assistants in classrooms means a teacher may have to shift focus to student safety, making it very difficult to teach anything.

“These are some of our most vulnerable students educationally, medically, and behaviorally and a lot of these students need a lot of support and the instructional assistants are an extension of the teacher (…) and they are super valuable,” said Kristin Heimerdinger with ACE.

This is due to a legal document called an individualized education plan (IEP) that is made for students that need additional attention. It outlines what their goals are and what services they need to receive in order to reach those goals. According to CUSD, these plans are reviewed annually – and can be modified at any time – and can result in the addition or removal of the need for an instructional assistant.

“This is where there is a big area of concern because when we can’t provide the people to help support the goals that are in that IEP then we are in danger of violating their IEP rights and violating the law. We are not in a position where have an option on what we want to provide these students,” said Heimerdinger.

As of Friday, CUSD shared with us that there are 205 of these positions open, nine of which are benefitted positions, something that ACE says could have serious consequences if not rectified by the district. They shared with us a scenario that they say is “absolutely in the realm of possibility”.

“The worst possible outcome for instance we have a student who leaves the classroom then we can’t find the student, and we lose a student. That is a terrifying proposition,” said Heimerdinger.

This is something that CUSD is trying to change. Since January 2022, officials have created over 115 benefited paraprofessional positions by identifying areas where hourly positions could be collapsed to create benefitted roles.

But CUSD says they are facing some of the same challenges as school districts across the country when it comes to maintaining their ideal level of staff for this position. ACE also shares the same sentiment commenting that some employees at the end of the day, just choose to walk away if they don’t feel they are properly compensated.

“If you can make more money being a server at a restaurant getting tips, you’re not going to want to come in a job where you have in some cases some extremely difficult children to manage. Our instructional assistants get spit on, they get bit, they get hit. Some of these kids are very difficult and need a lot of attention and a lot of love. You have to have a heart for the work. But even if you have the heart for the work you want to be well compensated,” said Heimerdinger.

Another challenge in filling these positions is that it’s what CUSD calls a “fluid” position. The overall number of instructional assistants needed changes regularly due to a variety of reasons. One reason is that since plans are reviewed so often, the need for an instructional assistant could change at a moment’s notice. Also, many working in these roles are students and or people with shifting schedules that move between positions based on availability.

In identifying these challenges, CUSD is trying several new approaches to attract applicants. This includes adding benefitted positions and exploring new online, newspaper, and job fair recruiting opportunities. Also, taking the initiative and reaching out to over 300 applicants that have applied online.

But despite their eagerness to fill this void, CUSD says their staffing target exceeds what is required by law. In the meantime, at schools that are still looking to assign these positions, other staff on campus are meeting the needs for support and supervision.