June 13, 2018 4:20 pm

Surrey parents threaten human rights complaint over special needs support

Parents of Surrey students with special needs want a guarantee their kids can keep their support workers next year.

The Associated Press / File
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Parents of Surrey special needs students are threatening to go to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over what they say is the district’s failure to keep their kids with the right support workers.

Jennifer Newby’s son is in grade two and has autism. He has been assigned an educational assistant (EA) rather than a specifically certified autism support worker (ABA), but she says the boy and his EA have bonded and work well together.

LISTEN: Surrey parents threaten human rights complaint over special needs support workers


That could change, she said, because due to the seniority process for the EAs’ union he could be assigned a different worker next year.

READ MORE: In B.C., special needs kids are accessing school as little as 1.5 hours, 2 days a week

Newby said her son requires constant supervision and help to avoid aggressive episodes and other behavioural issues.

WATCH: More complaints from parents of special needs students

She said in her son’s first two years of school he went through five other EAs before they found one that connected with him, and she’s afraid of what will happen if the worker is replaced.

“These EAs are filling this role even though they don’t have the 1,000 hours of ABA hands-on training that our kids really need. So we’ve kind of run the gambit where we’ve had these different EAs step in and try to fill the role and they just don’t fit with him,” she told CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show.

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READ MORE: Teachers’ union says it can do better after report details conflicts with special needs students

“We’re not asking for the moon, we’re asking to keep the people who are already employed and already doing amazing jobs.”

She said there are 30 families dealing with the same concern, and that so far only three have been guaranteed they’ll see the same support worker next year.

“I’m not sleeping, I’m on red alert, I’m eating junk food just constantly, I’m fried, honestly,” she said.

Newby believes previous court decisions have affirmed the requirement for educators to meaningfully consult parents on such decisions, and to prove that EAs can show educational control of a special needs student from day one.

WATCH: Special needs children kept out of schools

“Expecting an EA to step in in September and say, ‘Good luck,’ that’s not acceptable, I can’t accept that,” she said.

“I want them to put the best interest of our children first, ahead of worker rights, ahead of seniority. We’re talking about the foundation for the rest of their lives.”

READ MORE: The B.C. Teachers Federation is concerned the teacher shortage is affecting special needs students

Surrey School District spokesperson Doug Strachan said he understands parent’s concerns, and admits the district could have done a better job of communicating with parents about the process.

But he put the 30 requests for EA continuity in the context of about 3,000 special needs students in the Surrey system.

“Last year there was, I think, half a dozen requests for continuity. It’s not a huge issue, or a huge proportion of the students who have EA support,” he said.

He added that final decisions about continuity haven’t been made yet, as positions for next fall haven’t all been posted. Once they are posted and go through the union contract process, he said, many students may find themselves with the same EA.

LISTEN: Surrey school district responds to special needs complaint


“Those requests for continuity are subject to the posting process. But that’s not finished until June 29. We are quite confident that there will be many of those EAs remaining in place after that process.”

READ MORE: WATCH: Parents say union creates classroom challenges for special needs students

He said the Surrey School District is unique in an agreement it has with the union which allows for exceptions to be made on a student-by-student basis, and that the district and the union are still discussing cases for next year.

“The centre of it is the children themselves, the students themselves and what’s best for the student. That’s the primary focus of the criteria and the discussions with the union about requests for continuity,” Strachan said.

WATCH: Strong reaction to report on violent incidents involving special needs students

Strachan added that there have been a number of cases where parents asked to retain an EA only to find they preferred the new EA they were assigned the following year.

He said that there can also be benefits to students from switching EAs, such as being involved with more adults over the course of their schooling, rather than just having one person follow them through their entire education.

Strachan said the district superintendent is preparing a communication for parents in the coming days.

Newby said that response needs to come soon, but that parents do want to give the district a chance to respond before proceeding with the human rights complaint.

“We are giving him the opportunity to make this right before we file,” she said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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