Re: I need help understanding modern schooling
I don't know about your schools set up - even in 2nd grade dd1 has a few toys around her classroom. There was quite a bit in her K classroom.
As for the para - my Mom is a para. Sometimes she is assigned to the classroom as an overall helper. This mostly happens when classroom sizes are getting larger. Sometimes she is assgned to aide a specfic kid(s). Even when she is in there for a certain kid, she does her best to help the classroom as a whole. But if the child(ren) she is assigned to needs help with something, she helps him/her first.
Dd1 had an aide in her room in K. The aide was actually one of the boys in her class's aide. The boy mostly did fine from what I could see (I suspected he was on the spectrum but I don't know) - his aide needed to help him settle down occationally but he mostly participated fine. I often saw the aide help out with the whole classroom. On the field trip I actually had the boy in my group and the aide had another group of her own. She checked in with me periodically to see if I was having any trouble but otherwise kept track of her group.