Sometimes it's a frustrating situation.
If a teacher's aide is observing a mentally disabled student in a third-grade class and a nearby student needs help with an assignment, the teacher's aide cannot legally help the other student.
Most teacher's aides -- who are commonly called paraprofessionals or paras -- are paid partially with federal funds. Government regulations are strict about the use of the money, as funds are allocated only to paras working with special-needs students.
"The frustrating thing is that we should be looking at kids with needs as a whole, and the federal government really doesn't allow us to do that," said Doug Eicher, director of special education for the Lawrence school district.
The Kansas Board of Education and many other local agencies are backing a possible change in the law that would give paras more flexibility in the classroom. Congress is expected to consider such a bill this spring.
Instead of a para standing idle while the disabled student works quietly on an assignment, the new law would allow the aide to assist a nearby student, help the classroom teacher or maintain classroom discipline.
Inclusion, which integrates special-education students into the regular classrooms, brings more paras to the Kansas school districts this year. A para is required to accompany each special-needs student in the regular classroom. The Lawrence school district now employs 100 paras.
Teachers, paras and students have had to get used to the laws restricting paras. The state board gives the aides little freedom.
"We've been somewhat open allowing paras to work with other children as long as it involves and benefits the goals of the (disabled) student," said Carol Dermyer, team coordinator for the state special education office.