Tucson Unified School District denies allegations in a widely viewed TikTok video that a school assigned a paraprofessional with lack of proper qualifications to substitute teach a special education class.
The person who recorded the TikTok video, identified only as Jay, said he was a paraprofessional at a TUSD school who was assigned to cover a special education class when the teacher was absent, despite not being a certified teacher nor having accreditations to substitute teach that class.
TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said that isn’t true and that the person in the video was never asked to serve as substitute.
“At no point was this person identified as Jay asked to provide substitute teacher coverage to any class,” Trujillo wrote in an emailed statement. “This paraprofessional, Jay, was assigned to this Special Education teacher’s classroom along with the six students and at no point was unsupervised or asked to provide teacher of record duties for these students.”
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Trujillo said he did not have the paraprofessional’s full name. The person did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.
In the March 15 TikTok, which had garnered more than 1.2 million views by Thursday afternoon, the paraprofessional stated it was his second day substituting in a special education class.
He said the teacher had given prior notification they would be absent that day, but the school didn’t contact a substitute teacher to fill in.
“They still didn’t get a sub ‘cause they know that they can rely on us,” the paraprofessional said in the video. “These kids are nonverbal. They can’t tell their parents if they don’t have a teacher, and so they get away with it.”
“Y’all need to look into TUSD ‘cause this is happening everywhere,” he said. “This is a human rights violation and no one’s talking about it ‘cause these kids can’t advocate for themselves.”
According to information provided by the district, the paraprofessional had been working at Roberts Naylor K-8 School for about four weeks.
Sabrina Salmon, the district’s senior director of Exceptional Education, said the school has two special education classes. When one of the special education teachers was absent, Salmon said, the principal combined the two classes to support students with one certified teacher and paraprofessionals.
That meant the special education teacher was in charge of a larger, combined class, originally one class with seven students and the other with six. There were paraprofessionals assigned to support that combined group, including Jay, she said.
Salmon said the district’s policy for handling teacher absences in special education classes is to provide substitute teachers, combine classes, or assign certified staff to cover those absences. The district also reaches out to contract companies to support staffing needs.
“TUSD does not assign paraprofessionals to cover classes without the support of a teacher. We assign other certified staff on that campus, central Ex Ed certified staff, or a contract teacher to cover absences,” Salmon said.
“Paraprofessionals support students under the guidance of certified teachers,” she added.
She said Jay was hired as a contractor, but “due to recent developments regarding inaccurate information shared during the application process, this individual is no longer employed with the contract company.”
Jay also said on the video that, if the school receives federal funding, then there must be a special education teacher in the classroom — a statement Trujillo said also is not true.
“An exceptional education student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) determines the qualifications of the professionals delivering education and related services to the student,” Trujillo said. “Whether a school receives federal funding or not has nothing to do with the school’s legal obligation to fulfill the requirements of a special education student’s IEP.”
Have any questions or news tips about K-12 education in Southern Arizona? Contact reporter Genesis Lara at email@example.com