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Fuoco appeal moves to mediation

Former Harwood paraprofessional Denise Fuoco is appealing the school board's ruling to uphold the decision of Washington West Supervisory Union Superintendent Brigid Scheffert to terminate Fuoco after she failed to prove her "Highly Qualified Professional" status by passing a federally required exam.

The Harwood Union School Board's unanimous vote to uphold Fuoco's dismissal followed a grievance hearing held December 9 that included Vermont NEA representative Stuart Russo-Savage and Carla Bell from the Harwood Educators Association.

Under the terms of her contract, Fuoco has the right to seek mediation if the grievance wasn't resolved with the initial hearing; from there, she may choose to submit the grievance to final and binding arbitration.

Fuoco said that at a meeting earlier this week, NEA and union officers met and agreed "to move forward with the next step." The NEA has 30 days to file for mediation from Tuesday, January 4.

The decision to uphold Fuoco's termination followed an executive session December 9 and public comment from several concerned parents of special needs students, Harwood faculty and staff who all spoke to Fuoco's skill and high level of professionalism.

Fuoco was fired after she failed to take a federally required standardized test to earn the "HQP" designation, a task made difficult in her case due to her dyslexia.

She has worked in the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) for the past several years including seven years spent working at the Moretown Elementary School prior to joining Harwood.

While at Moretown, Fuoco was allowed the accommodation of submitting a portfolio of her work in lieu of taking the written test; she filed a grievance with the Harwood School Board after she was told that the accommodation would no longer be afforded to her and that she would need to take and pass the federal exam.

Under section 1119(c) through 1119(h) of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) the federal requirements for Title I, part A, "instructional paraprofessionals" to achieve HQP status, paraeducators must have a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent.

In addition, they must have completed at least two years of study (defined as a minimum of 48 credit hours) at an institution of higher education or obtained an associate's degree (or higher) or meet the standard of quality and demonstrate it through a formal state or local assessment.

According to the Vermont Department of Education, "The latter option (II-C) may be fulfilled through standardized assessments such as Parapro or Paraeducator.net, or through a locally developed portfolio process LEAs may also choose to accept comparable HQP documentation from other school districts or states."
Sheffert said that the portfolio standard is significantly higher and would have to be implemented for all paraprofessionals in WWSU. In addition, she said upholding the state and federal regulations is essential to maintain funding directly tied to them.

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