May 19, 2017 10:48 pm
Updated: May 19, 2017 10:55 pm

WATCH: Parents say union creates classroom challenges for special needs kids

WATCH: Parents are calling out the union that represents special education assistants, saying seniority and collective agreements often trump the needs of vulnerable children. Nadia Stewart has the story.

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Nicole Kaler’s 16-year-old daughter, Maya, has autism and she’s thriving at school. However, her mom says that success comes after years of fighting.

“The reason she’s doing really well is — our school district goes to the union every year and asks special permission to have the qualified person that’s been with her continue with her,” Kaler says.

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A Special Education Assistant — or SEA — helps Maya learn at Elgin Park Secondary School in Surrey. Many parents, like Kaler, tell Global News they feel maintaining consistent in-class support for their children is often obstructed by CUPE, the union representing SEAs in B.C.

“Technically, as per the letter of the collective agreement…the position to work with her, even though it is such a specialized position, should be posted for the person with the most seniority,” Kaler explains. “I can’t allow the collective agreement to keep her from being in school.”

Kaler says her case is another example of a system failing both SEAs and the children they support. Her comments come in the wake of Global News reports about inadequate support to protect staff and children from inadvertent aggressive behavior.

WATCH: A North Vancouver woman who was a special education assistant says the safety of many people who work in classrooms is at risk because of lack of staffing for special needs students. 

She says it took filing a human rights complaint and appealing to trustees before CUPE and the District could come to a resolution in Maya’s best interest.

“The fact that they’d sit down with the president of CUPE to get his permission to do what’s the best for her? That offends me,” Kaler says. “Why are you asking him permission to do what she needs?”

Global News hasn’t yet received a response from the District.

No one from CUPE was available to go on camera on Friday, but, in emails, the union says it “strongly supports” inclusive education. A spokesperson also points out districts are equal parties to CUPE Locals during negotiations.

Paul Faoro, president of CUPE BC, says chronic underfunding is at the heart of this issue.

“When education funding is cut, or doesn’t grow as demands increase, it will always have an impact on kids,” Faoro writes. “That’s why we need a government that is actually committed to quality, properly funded public education.”

Still, Kaler says ‘underfunding’ has become a catch-all defense that doesn’t truly address the problem.

“It’s extreme to have to file a human rights complaint against your school district just because you want your child to go to school,” Kaler says. “We really need to stop and reassess how we staff people for our kids — especially these vulnerable children.”

Nicole and other parents worry even if there is a change in government, the situation still won’t improve.

“If we’re looking at an NDP government, I don’t know,” she says. “If we’re looking at a Liberal government, I have no idea—they’ve been fighting with the unions for so long. Has there ever been a cohesive relationship between governments and the unions in our schools?”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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