School District 20 struggles with student support issues

Issues discussed include the need for education assistants

Much of the evening was business as usual at the regular open meeting of the School District 20 (SD 20) Board of Education at the Kootenay/Columbia Learning Centre in Trail Monday, with the exception of a number of issues concerning Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teacher’s Union.

After the Superintendent of Schools for SD 20, Greg Luterbach, presented enrolment statistics and class breakdowns for the 2013/2014 school year, Davidoff raised the question of the lack of educational assistants (EAs) in a number of classes throughout the district with students who had been identified as either Special Education students or those who received an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which qualifies them for EA support in the classroom.

“These aren’t all students with IEPs, they are students identified as requiring assistance,” Luterbach responded. “In some cases it may be students who are pulled out of class and are receiving support in other ways.”

Davidoff also raised concerns of teaching and support staff in the district regarding an apparent lack of EAs available for replacement of staff on leave or sick days.

“We have asked for the board’s protocols when EAs are not replaced,” said Davidoff.

“I have received emails from student support services having to do EA work when the EA wasn’t replaced. Is there a shortage of EAs?”

Luterbach responded by requesting a formal letter to the board presenting the concerns for it to discuss in later meetings.

“What I want to do in the letter to the board is ask them to identify the classes and ask what the designations are for the students,” said Davidoff following the meeting.

“We have a real concern about EAs and other CUPE staff not being replaced or instances of staff being approved for vacation or leave without being replaced. There are concerns all round, parents, students, teachers…. It is really difficult for some reason. The board is having difficulty hiring people to replace CUPE positions.”

Luterbach explained afterwards that the problem isn’t necessarily a lack of EAs within the district.

“We have approximately 60 EAs and have a long call-out list. But between illness, vacations, and leaves, we can go through the call-out list but if people don’t answer the phone or are unavailable for whatever reason and we’re shorthanded, the school has to shuffle EAs to try to find the best coverage,” he said. “We’re keeping tight around people being on leave without control. We have our team of EAs and it’s not that we’re not replacing them to save money, we do have a replacement budget. We’re running ads for on-call EAs and we’ll be interviewing for the positions in the coming weeks. We’re trying to do what we can to manage.”

However, Davidoff says the issues seen locally are an indication of a larger problem in the province.

“Our concern locally is that there is supposed to be protocols for every site and every student with an IEP. It’s up to each school site to determine the protocol. If the support is not available does the case manager have the authority to send the student home?,” said Davidoff.

“The government removed limits to the number of kids with IEPs in each class, it was formerly three, now there is no limit. When an EA isn’t replaced it can be chaos and teachers end up in a position where they have a hard time meeting the educational needs of the entire class.

“There is a disconnect between the government level of funding and the needs of the schools, the needs on the ground,” he said.

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