LANGLEY—“Great sacrifices are often made by these employees in order for them to do what they love doing, and that is working with our special children.”
That was a key message from CUPE 1260 president Donna Mason, who made a presentation to a Special Education Inquiry in the Langley School District last October.
The inquiry into learning conditions of children with special needs is co-sponsored by the Langley teachers’ union and CUPE 1260, which represents 600 school district staff. Mason says that she is looking forward to the findings, which will be unveiled on Thursday, January 17.
A key issue for CUPE members in Langley is a lack of time or assigned hours. “This means that CUPE members don’t get enough time to collaborate with teachers and other team members or to attend staff meetings such as school-based team and department meetings,” says Mason.
Support staff working with special needs students are generally considered part-time employees. Hours of work can range from 12 hours per week and up to the maximum of 35 hours per week. It is common for these employees to work five-hour days or 25 hours per week. Staff may also be working at a number of schools in the district to make up hours, which are usually still far shy of a 35-hour week.
Not surprisingly, many support staff who work directly with special needs students have more than one job in order to make ends meet. They may have tutoring jobs, or work in respite care. As Mason reports in Langley, and as other surveys of CUPE Special Education Assistants have found, this can add stress to their lives and contribute to burnout and in some cases has resulted in lengthy sick leaves.
Addressing the fact that CUPE staff are working unpaid hours to keep the system afloat is a key issue in Langley and elsewhere. Across the province, CUPE locals are looking at innovative approaches, such as the Langley inquiry, surveys of Education Assistants and public awareness campaigns to raise these issues.
BCTF Langley Special Education Inquiry