Parents unaware of cuts to Educational Assistants

Ask Lindsay Moir:  Friday, October 17, 2008

Question:

We have just gone through a rather strange series of events regarding our son who has cerebral palsy and attends our local Catholic elementary school. He has no academic issues, but significant physical needs and the board and the school have always been supportive and for the past two years he has a RNA-trained Educational Assistant who has been terrific in responding to these needs.

 

Last week we received a very formal letter saying that a grievance had been filed by the EA stating she could not meet his needs and that her work refusal had created an unsafe environment and that we needed to keep our son home until this matter was resolved!

The principal said she was working on it, but in the interim keep him home, she refused to allow us to talk to the EA.

 

The board Occupational Safety Officer said he had scheduled a hearing after Thanksgiving weekend. He reluctantly agreed to allow us to attend but only as observers.

The superintendent has promised to deal with the issues ASAP — but wants us to wait till after the hearing

What do you think this is all about? Can you help?

(The answer to this question is a record of the resolution of this situation by the family, with me as the “facilitator.” Some minor details have been changed to make the response generic, but the process and the responses are accurate.)

Answer:

After a discussion with me, the parents wrote a letter to the principal which basically said that the “employee grievance should not deny the student the right to attend school since he posed no risk to staff and students.”

They requested an immediate meeting with the principal to “discuss how a safe environment will be provided in the interim.” Copy to the superintendent.

The superintendent responded. She set up a meeting the next morning at the school. The parents and I met with the pincipal and superintendent and an emergency plan was devised. The EAs in the school were shuffled and a temporary switch was made.

Mom came into school and worked with the new EA going over what needed to be done and “modelling” the care to be provided. The parents agreed NOT to interact with the original EA while the grievance was pending. The next day a VON nurse would come in and check that a safe environment was in place.

The student returned to class after the meeting, at approximately 11 a.m. that morning.

Last Tuesday the Occupational Health and Safety hearing was held at the board and we observed. The EA gave her testimony:

She testified that with a reduction of two EA positions at the school (and no reduction of special needs children) she was now responsible for supporting the academic and behavioural needs of four other students, three of whom were in other classrooms.

She felt that from her medical training she had an obligation to inform her supervisors that she was no longer able to provide a safe environment for the parents’ son. She believes that she can work (and has worked) with other pupils, but for two years she has operated on the assumption that meeting the parents’ son’s physical needs was her first priority, helping other students was a secondary priority. When no adjustment was made in her schedule, she filed a work refusal.

IN ESSENCE, THE GRIEVANCE HAD BEEN FILED ON BEHALF OF THE PARENTS’ SON!

Since the work refusal was NOT about employee safety, the grievance was DENIED

The hearing gave the family additional respect for the ethics of the EA — they had been angry and frustrated by her actions, but they now understood that she had the best interest of the student at heart.

The hearing gave the family ammunition that their son’s needs were not being met. In a subsequent meeting with the Superintendent, an additional EA has been assigned to the school till Christmas, freeing up the original EA to support the student with CP, as well as another special needs child in the same classroom. The Superintendent has promised to seek othe ways to increase student support in the school when the temporary allocation expires in December.

Reflections:

There seems to be a better mechanism in place to deal with EMPLOYEE safety, than there is for STUDENT safety.

If the EA had not had MEDICAL training and ethics, would this issue have ever been raised? The parents had no idea that anything had changed.

If there had not been serious safety issues (possibly-life threatening?) for the child, would the Superintendent put the additional resources in place? What if it was about behaviour management or academic support?

Despite the fact that Special Education dollars have been maintained, I am constantly hearing of massive EA cuts all across the province.

What is the price exceptional students are paying for this reduction?? Are parents made aware of any changes or dillution of support?

What was the response to the EA by the principal when the issue was first raised?

Parents should ask for a timetable of support showing who is providing what support at what time.

Lindsay Moir retired from the Ministry of Education in 1997 and has been assisting agencies, associations and parents in obtaining appropriate special education services for exceptional pupils.

Family Net welcomes your questions about special education in Ontario.

E-mail Lindsay at ask.questions@yahoo.ca He will answer as many questions as possible.