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Education assistants facing mass layoffs

June 7, 2016 – Prairie Spirit School Division is facing a $3 million budget shortfall, which will result in the layoff of at least 60 full time equivalent educational associates.

“These cuts mean less support in the classroom for students who are struggling. With less support for vulnerable students, all students feel the consequences,” said Grace Wudrick, president of CUPE Local 4254. “Children in Saskatchewan deserve better from their government.”

Massive cuts to student supports

August 2011 —Hundreds of educational assistants (EAs) have lost their jobs while the number of intensive needs students climbs steadily, according to numbers obtained by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Saskatchewan.

EA cuts hit home

Sept 2010 – CBC Saskatchewan reports that cuts to educational assistants are beginning to hit home for families in the Prairie Spirit School Division, where 41 EA positions have been eliminated. A lively online discussion follows their report.

Resources

Comparative summary: Support services staffing 2007 to 2011

Education Assistants: The Facts

Where is our education system heading?

Background

In 2007, the Regina Public School Board conducted Stakeholder Focus Groups to examine student support services, followed by a review of current research. The final results were compiled in the Student Support Services Review document.

In general, the focus group participants felt resources were spread too thinly, and communication and coordination needed to be improved. The research review focused on trends to make programming more inclusive. The Support Services Review offered recommendation to address these issues.

Significantly, resources to carry out the review recommendations were to be gained through re-allocation, not through adding resources. This involved a reduction in support to educational assistants and a range of other support positions, and a reduction in the number of Structured Learning Classrooms. According to theory, this would provide funds for beefing up training and hiring of classroom teachers, so that teachers would be prepared to take over the role of working with special needs students in the context of their regular classroom day. Today, staffing remains greatly reduced.

Provincial and national scope

The plan followed a Ministry of Education report that recommended a 75 per cent reduction of educational assistants over seven years, redirecting their work duties to “professionals” (teachers, psychologists, etc.). The stated intention is to develop a more inclusive, integrated approach to education. However, employees and parents have raised a number of questions about this  directive.

Noting that the number of special needs kids in the system more than doubled between 2000 and 2008, there are concerns that the plan amounts to a reduction in services to special needs children, leaving classroom teachers to struggle on their own with greatly increased responsibilities and demands.

Parent-advocates of special needs children in BC report that their system has gone through similar changes. While they support the idea of more inclusive instruction, they warn that if such changes are to be successful, they cannot be accompanied by a reduction in resources elsewhere. Separate learning spaces and specialized support staff remain important to the success of inclusive classrooms.

Actions

Some 100 people parents and staff attended a public forum organized by CUPE on April 29, 2011. There was a clear consensus in the meeting that parents do not want their children to be short-changed, in terms of the amount of attention and support they receive in classrooms on a daily basis.

Following the meeting, the Education Minister released a statement distancing the Ministry from its staffing recommendations.  The letter states they do not have a policy to reduce educational assistants, and that such decisions are the responsibility of local boards. The Regina Public administration has also released a statement saying they are viewing the guidelines provided by the Ministry as a recommendation only. Clearly the response of parents and staff has aided in cooling talk of further staff reductions, although resources have not been replaced.

The province has stated parents MUST be invited to participate in planning student services.

Regina parents to talk among themselves, review key documents, and keep their ears open for any opportunities for input provided by the board.

Parents who want to get in touch with other parents of special needs kids may contact RealRenewal for assistance.

Board publications:

2008 Recommendations

Stakeholder comments

Review of current research

Ministry of Education publications:

Enhancing Opportunities

Proposed staffing ratios

Perspectives from Rural Saskatchewan – Digital Storytelling Project

In collaboration with the University of Regina, Dawn Reich and Tracy Birss of Save Our Schools Saskatchewan travelled to Saskatchewan communities and helped people share their experiences with support services in rural Saskatchewan.

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