NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – Niagara area Educational Assistants (EAs) are urging the Ontario Liberals to have the political will to enact substantive changes to education funding and resources allocated to special education and make quality supports for special needs students and safe workplaces for EAs a priority in this spring’s provincial budget.
At a media conference in Niagara today, EAs and Sid Ryan, the Ontario president of the Canadian of Public Employees (CUPE) — the union representing nearly 700 EAs employed at Niagara’s public and catholic boards, and 17,000 EAs province-wide — outlined the challenges faced by EAs in our schools and solutions to better special education programs for both students and workers.
Ryan said the funding model for education makes EA working conditions “intolerable.” The current formula does not give school boards adequate funds to hire EAs for a full workday. Most EAs work six or six-and-a-half hours per day. Often, in efforts to balance budgets, boards cut EA jobs, further increasing the workload of those EAs who remain in our schools.
“All these deficiencies in the funding model resulting in a shortened workday, less EAs in the schools, and untenable workloads, coupled with the high needs of students with severe physical and behavioural challenges, create the perfect storm in exposing EAs to injury, abuse, stress and burnout,” said Ryan.
At the same time, a failure by the Liberal government to fund agreements with teachers for additional preparation time has resulted in the downloading of supervision responsibilities on EAs, amounting to a hidden cut to special education, said Ryan, that takes them away from their primary duties working with special needs students. In some boards, EAs are doing more than 400 minutes a week of general supervision — a full day per week.
Niagara EAs’ Jacklyn Rocco (a member of CUPE 4156 — District School Board of Niagara) and Randy Gunn (President of CUPE 1317 — Niagara Catholic District School Board) spoke passionately about their commitment to working with special needs students and how the McGuinty Liberals must do better in funding the actual cost of special education, not just a small portion.
They outlined how a lack of resources, policy supports and working conditions in schools creates situations where EAs are exposed to health and safety hazards on an ongoing basis. Back injuries from lifting immobile students are increasingly common, they said. Students with severe behavioural issues often lash out and kick and bite EAs who need hospital attention, they explained. CUPE is now tracking the rates of injury in Niagara schools.
Ryan called on the McGuinty Liberals to work with CUPE in developing solutions to improve special education and the EAs’ working conditions. CUPE is recommending that the Liberals introduce the following measures:
- Changes to the funding formula to adequately fund special education and allow school boards to ensure EAs work a minimum of a seven-hour day; ·
- Province-wide policies on violence committed against special education support staff; ·
- Set standards concerning training and safety equipment to improve health and safety; ·
- Change the Education Act to include EAs and their roles and responsibilities in our school system.
For further information, please contact:
President, CUPE Ontario