Educational aids

Parents of students with special needs worried about cuts to teaching aids


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After meeting with public school officials months before her son’s first day of kindergarten, Jenn Thompson was promised that her unique needs as a severely autistic learner would be immediately met by a teaching assistant.

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But it took 10 weeks before an aide arrived in her classroom at Beddington Heights School.

Even then, it wasn’t until Thompson volunteered in the class that she found help only creeping in for the last 15 minutes of the day.

“The promise is always that these students will be fully taken care of, but then that changes completely,” Thompson said.

“It’s extremely frustrating and disappointing. And it breaks trust. “

Thompson and other parents of children with special needs fear that impending budget cuts this fall could bring down students who are already struggling to get supports altogether.

The Calgary school board last week approved its 2019-20 budget with a funding gap of $ 40 million and up to $ 22 million in direct cuts to local classrooms. The Alberta Teachers’ Association said this could translate to up to 220 fewer teachers in a system that expects up to 1,800 new students next fall.

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Union meetings held over the past week also revealed that hundreds of support staff are unsure whether they will be back to work in the fall. As of June 21, 268 support workers were still looking for positions in the fall, including teacher assistants, psychologists and behavior specialists.

Thompson argues that while the CBE attributes the cuts to a lack of provincial funding, it refuses to cut administrative costs significantly, and students with special needs who already lack support will be left even further behind.

“All parents are afraid, but the school board continues to pit parents against the ministry. Why don’t they do more to cut the top, like the superintendents who earn six-figure salaries?

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“My son has the right to an inclusive education that meets all of his needs, so he has a chance to succeed, to grow old in a real job, so that he has a life. It’s good for him and it’s good for all the students around him.

Thompson said students like his son, specifically coded with special learning needs, are linked with annual funding of up to $ 60,000.

But even when that money is provided to schools, Thompson said it is often spent on other overhead costs as principals battle cuts in other areas, from librarians and support staff to resources at school. learning such as books and computers.

“I have seen this happen in several schools. Once the funding is granted, it doesn’t necessarily follow the child, ”she said.

“There are huge blackouts in terms of funding for coded learners. There is excessive spending and a lack of oversight. “

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Ashley Bristowe, whose grade 3 son is coded as severely disabled due to a rare chromosomal disorder called Kleefstra syndrome, also faced limited support at Hillhurst School.

“He has severe speech delays, he cannot initiate a conversation and it is difficult for him to demonstrate his intelligence,” she said.

But when Bristowe provided the school with her own development assistance, the school decided to let her go and replace her with a much less qualified educational assistant.

Bristowe remembers walking into her son’s class one day last year during a math class and seeing her son’s aide lean back in a chair dozing while her son son was spinning a ruler on his desk.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the class, the teacher was taking a math class with the rest of the students, completely oblivious to her son’s situation.

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“So after 22 years of experience as a caregiver, the school fires her and replaces her with someone who is first and foremost a babysitter. This is not true. My son, like all children, has the right to a public education that meets his needs.

Thompson and Bristowe argue that because educational assistants do not need any special training or education beyond high school, many lack the skills to support students with complex needs.

The lack of skill level, they add, simply allows the system to provide minimum funding for assistants with minimum skills.

The CBE would only provide an emailed statement on the matter, stating that although their budget for 2019-2020 assumes the same amount of funding as last year despite the growing student population, with students in need of support. Complex learning will be supported.

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Brad Grundy, CBE’s chief financial officer, said students with special needs are not tied to certain amounts of funding. But the schools who have a more complex student environment would receive more funding than those with less complex learners.

Principals have the autonomy to make decisions about how to deploy resources based on the educational needs of all students in their school, while ensuring that students with complex learning needs receive the additional support and help they need to the extent possible within the limits of available resources.

But Thompson and Bristowe said it’s precisely this kind of autonomy, without checks and balances over whether money intended for complex learners is actually being spent on educational assistants, that often causes students to fail.

There is a growing group of parents with special needs advocating for the responsibility of funding within our education system, ”said Thompson.

“There is a lot of money. It is wasted every day and it is our children who suffer from it.

eferguson@postmedia.com

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