With their eyes on next year’s school budget, some Delta residents and parents want to see the district hire more education assistants for students with disabilities and a diversity consultant.
At a busy Delta school board meeting Tuesday night, speakers giving input ahead of the 2019/2020 budget frequently brought up the need for more educational assistants as well as support for Indigenous students.
Andrea Hilder, a local EA, said “there is a blatant disrespect for EAs in this district” from classroom specialist teachers, administrators, human rescources and the school board office.
“I have heard lots of talk about how valuable the position of the EA is in board meetings, the papers, from trustees and candidates last year,” Hilder told the school board. “Now it’s time to put money behind those statements.”
She argued that EAs who feel respect will be less likely to suffer burnout, increasing EA retention. She advocated for the prioritization of EA hours in contracts, as well as increasing working hours in contracts.
“EAs all over the district have had their hours cut,” she said, adding that some EAs work only 15 to 17 hours a week.
“There is no time to debrief, there’s no time to confer with a teacher or each other, and no time to prepare.”
Hilder also wants to see EAs who choose to stay in Delta rewarded with granted leaves-of-absence, and for schools to offer more opportunity for professional development as a way to show EAs they are part of the faculty, not just contractual workers.
As a mother of an Indigenous student, she also noted that the Delta School District needs more Indigenous teachers to work with youth to build vitally important relationships with their heritage and culture. She wondered where money previously dedicated to the Indigenous education department has gone.
“Quite frankly, my son does not need another non-Indigenous teacher in his life,” she told the board. “He already has eight of those.”
Hilder’s point was echoed earlier in the night by former Delta trustee Rhiannon Bennett, who said that though the school board motion to create a department to serve Delta’s Indigenous population was commendable, she still feels that some of the promises are not being delivered.
She, too, advocated for the hiring of more Indigenous teachers and said the restructuring of the education department has left a void once filled by Indigenous support workers.
“The work so far has been heavily focused on academic support for teachers and students, and there hasn’t been enough support provided for cultural and emotional family support,” Bennett said.
“Many of [the support workers] lived in the district for a very long time and were connected to multiple generations of a family … and a lot of the things that they did off the side of their desk hasn’t been replaced by the current structure of the department.”
Bennett also wants the board to dedicate money to anti-racism and anti-oppression training for district staff and trustees. She suggested staff already responsible for equity policies can work together with Indigenous department staff to get the training off the ground.
“This is an enormous undertaking and it is unfair to expect the current structure to continue,” she said, adding Indigenous staff alone would not be able to handle the additional work.
“If the district is really committed to this process, there must be a dedicated staff to oversee it.”
Lee Kosa, lead pastor at Cedar Park Church and father of a Ladner Elementary student, also addressed racism at Delta schools.
He recounted a recent incident at his son’s school where a window and a wall were defaced with racist comments. He recommended that the board create a district diversity consultant to work with district staff and teachers to address racism at Delta schools.
“Whether the intent was to target specific students of colour or not, the impact of these actions was real, scary and revealing,” Kosa said in his speech. “We have a problem.”
He brought up the example of Angela Brown, who was hired as a diversity and anti-racism consultant by the Vancouver school board after a racially-motivated murder at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary over a decade ago.
Besides focusing on professional development, Kosa said Brown’s work included updating Vancouver’s multicultural and anti-racism policies to prevent racism and promote inclusive employment practices.
“Angela did both preventative and reactive work,” Kosa said.
“She worked with teachers throughout the district, facilitating professional development in the areas of diversity [and] education. [Professional development] days were followed by five to 10 in-service implementation sessions, working with intermediate, primary teams, peer-helper supervision aides, modeling lessons and co-teaching.”
He added this month’s incident at Ladner Elementary is a growth opportunity for the district as well as the communtiy in general.
“As a parent, as a minister, a community leader and a human being alive in this cultural moment, this is the kind of work I believe we need to support in an informed, collaborative and intentional way, ” Kosa said. “Let’s not wait for something worse to happen.”
The deadline for residents’ input on the next school budget is April 16.