#EXCLUDED: 10 YEAR-OLD HARJAN HAS DOWN SYNDROME. HE GETS SENT HOME FROM SCHOOL OFTEN.
“One day he got sent home at 10 o’clock. The reason I was given, is because when he throws things, they’re afraid he’s going to hurt someone. They have to find some sort of way to keep him there.”
“We’re fully going to move back to a time when kids are segregated because they have medical conditions. And we know what happens with institutionalisation. It’s a huge issue for communities.”
THE FIGHT FOR INCLUSIVITY
“What I’d like to really see happen, as an administrator, in order to get the attention of the ministry of education, to really get that impact and to really make positive change, I challenge admin to instead of sending home the child that has disruptive behaviour, send the rest of the class home instead.”
Educator and education researcher, Shelley Moore, compares the current fight for inclusive education to a larger fight that took place midway through the last century.
“I compare inclusive education to the desegregation movement,” says Moore.
“You would never say that we’re not going to have people of colour in our classrooms, so if we look at the Canadian charter, this has equal weighting.”
Moore also points out, however, that some educators may not be intentionally trying to alienate students with special needs, but rather are simply uneducated on how to include them.
SOLUTION: THE VANCOUVER AND BURNABY SCHOOL DISTRICTS JOINTLY LAUNCHED AN EA TRAINING PROGRAM LAST YEAR
“If you’re in a situation where people are being excluded from class and you’re having to train your own cohort of employees it says something. It says there is not enough value placed on those students. If you have to do all this work to get people in the door to do this theres a problem.”
THE REVOLVING DOOR DILEMMA: LOW WAGES, LOW HOURS, INJURIES
Reports from around the province are indicating that the reason many students with special needs are being sent home from school, is due to insufficient staffing of education assistants. Every school district in British Columbia is responsible for the staffing of their education assistants. However, many districts struggle stretching their annual budget to adequately staff both classrooms and special needs services.
“There’s certainly a recruitment and retention problem with EAs, and that’s been going on for years, so there’s a lot of turnover,” says Patti Bacchus.
Bacchus says she believes part of the root of the problem is the low wages for education assistants.
“I think the reality is, we need we pay them better,” says Bacchus.
“Because the reality is, they can’t live on it, they don’t get enough hours, they only get payed while they’re working, and most have second jobs of some sort and then they get burned out.”
“Then they get another offer, and they’re gone.“
THE CERTIFICATION CONSISTENCY CONUNDRUM
“Right now there are no formalized standards for EA training, meaning districts can actually hire people who haven’t had certificate training,”
There is no regulatory body for EAs in British Columbia, something that many in the industry say makes for stark inconsistencies between public school districts.
An EA who holds a certain set of qualifications working in one district, for example, would not necessarily be qualified for an EA job in another district in another part of the province.
Erickson says in some districts, some people may even get hired as an EA without any specific training in being an education assistant at all.
“Some districts will only hire people who have certificates or diplomas, some districts will hire people who don’t, and I think some of that is due to the shortages that are happening. “
Erickson also points out, however, that there is currently a group of college and university EA programs, of which Langara is a part of, that share a certain set of basic standards. Erickson says the goal is to have some consistency in training and qualifications, as well as to ensure that courses can easily be transferred between the institutions if necessary.
Interview with BC Ed Access Chair and Founder Tracy Humphreys:
THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
B.C. Education Minister, Rob Fleming, claims the current government is trying to catch up from previous cuts.
“We are working closely with school districts and inclusion advocacy groups to ensure every child has equal access to opportunities and resources, no matter what their learning needs may be,” says Fleming.
Fleming also confirmed that the government is investing over $400 million to fund districts to hire 4,000 teaching positions, including 500 special education teachers and 190 more teacher psychologists and counsellors. Fleming also says an additional 1,000 education assistants are in the process of being hired, which has increased the number of classes with an education assistant by 37% in just over two years.
“We are on the right track, but we know there is more work to do to ensure students are getting the support they need to thrive in school.”