Special Ed Parents need EAs

March 3, 2008

Dear Trustees:

The Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) of the TDSB wishes to advise the Board of Trustees that we are concerned with the Board’s proposal to cut 282 Education Assistants (EAs) in the regular classrooms in the 2008/09 budget.  SEAC’s legislated responsibility is to make recommendations to the Board concerning matters that have an impact on the education for students who have special needs. 

SEAC members are aware that the 282 EAs that are being considered for cutting are not part of the Special Education Department, but are those who are assigned to serve in regular classes to assist students in the primary grades.

Many students with special needs will not have been diagnosed, nor their needs assessed prior to entering school.  These students would be attending the regular primary classes.  In fact, there are many disabilities, such as learning disabilities, that cannot be diagnosed until the child is in grade 1 or 2.  Additionally, the assessment process is time consuming, with average waiting periods of 5 months to receive professional assessment by school board staff. 

There are also students who, due to special circumstances, are not residing with their primary caregiver.  These students frequently have special needs but are unable to be diagnosed in the primary grades.  This is because they are often transferring schools due to their changing placements.  As a result they are unable to stay in one place long enough to have an assessment completed.

In addition, the TDSB has the largest percentage of immigrant students in Ontario.  Therefore, there are a significant number of students who arrive the first day without knowing how to speak English.  And, yes, a proportion of these students will also have undiagnosed disabilities and be attending regular primary classes.  The combination of these factors makes indentifying such students’ needs even more complicated.

The challenges confronting the primary teachers of today are far different than they were in our day.  The classes are not as homogeneous in composition; rather they are made up of a far more diverse student group, some of whom are challenged and in need of focused attention in order to succeed.  It is the responsibility of our education system to accommodate all of their needs, whether they have been formally identified or not.

The Educational Assistant’s role in the classroom is significant.  It is during the first years or school that the teacher and EA must work at meeting the needs of all students, including those identified above.  Without an EA to work one-on-one with the students who are struggling, the likelihood of some students’ needs being misinterpreted or inadvertently overlooked is far greater.

Therefore, the Special Education Advisory Committee strongly believes that the removal of EAs from primary classes would have a detrimental impact on this particular student population of children with (undiagnosed) special needs and will have a detrimental impact on the quality of education these students receive. 

The members of the Special Education Advisory Committee recommend that the Board of Trustees give serious consideration to the factors we have presented when deliberating on the issue of EA staff allocation.

Sincerely,

Christina Buczek     Chair, SEAC of the TDSB