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Call for standards for special education assistants to be discussed at AGMApril 17, 2015

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A resolution to the BCCPAC annual general meeting calls for province-wide standards to ensure special education assistants (SEAs) have the training they need to support students with diverse learning needs.

A second resolution recommends the creation of a provincial body to oversee their conduct and competence, similar to what the B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch (TRB) does for other educators.

Currently, school districts are responsible for setting educational standards for SEAs and investigating allegations of SEA misconduct. “SEA training requirements and expectations can, and do, vary widely between school districts and parents have no independent body, like the TRB, to appeal school board decisions regarding the conduct of SEAs,” the resolution says.
A third resolution calls for an agreement between the B.C. Education Ministry and the B.C. Advanced Education Ministry to ensure that special-needs students who attend post-secondary schools have immediate access to the same support they had in high school.

All three resolutions were developed by parents with special-needs children, but have the backing of the BCCPAC board. They are among two dozen resolutions to be debated by delegates at the May 2-3 AGM.

Karen Nordquist, who proposed the first two resolutions, noted that SEAs work with special-needs children inside and outside the classroom. They are expected to manage behaviour, help deliver the curriculum and assist the students in developing social skills.

“They are often left alone with the most vulnerable children and they need to have a wide range of skills to support (them),” she said in an interview. “The fact that the level of training required varies widely amongst school districts and that there are no set standards for SEAs is pretty distressing.”

Nordquist’s proposal for an independent body to oversee SEA conduct and competence arises from her personal experience in trying to convince her school district to investigate allegations of misconduct by an SEA. She said district officials tried to cover up the complaints and she had nowhere else to turn.

The third resolution was drafted by BCCPAC board member Tracy Wright after she saw how her daughter and friends struggled during their first few months in university because the support they had in high school was not immediately available in post-secondary.

Post-secondary schools want up-to-date psycho-educational assessments before providing support, she said. While that’s understandable, special-needs students shouldn’t be left to struggle without that support  during the months it takes to complete psych-ed assessments, she added.

The resolution says the Education and Advanced Education Ministries should “create a clear and systematic way for graduating students with IEPs (Individual Education Plan) to have their adaptations transitioned to the post-secondary school(s) of their choice.”

Added Wright: “There are so many kids leaving high school with university dreams who aren’t able to achieve those dreams because of the many barriers.”

Inclusion BC, a non-profit organization that supports people with developmental disabilities, agrees there are not enough trained and experienced individuals working with children with special needs.

“Inclusion BC is receiving calls on almost a daily basis from parents whose children with special needs are being denied an education. Some children are sent home almost every day or suspended or restrained and secluded,” executive director Faith Bodnar said in an email.

“The entire school (system), including teachers, principals and district administrators, needs a better understanding of positive behaviour supports and needs to work together under legislated oversight.”

CUPE, which represents 26,000 support workers and education assistants in B.C., did not respond to a request for comment. But its website indicates that the union and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association are now surveying K-12 support staff to determine priorities for staff training and upgrading.

A CUPE survey in 2008 suggested that a significant number of SEAs had taken courses in first aid and crisis management, but less than half had formal training that would help them address students’ educational needs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Vancouver school board

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