Dildeep Khaira says when it comes to support-worker cuts in the education system, it’s a “multi-faceted problem.”
“A lot of children in the (school) system are not diagnosed, so they come in the system and they need support but they don’t come with a designation,” said Khaira, whose child’s support-worker hours were cut by five hours a week.
“I get that school administration has to get through the day, they have to manage, they have liabilities, so what they end up doing is that support gets taken away from children who on the surface look to be doing OK.”
Each year, around the end of the school year, families are told how many hours of support their child will get for the upcoming school year.
And each year, hours are cut for numerous families and they end up fighting for those hours to be reinstated.
Cindy Dalglish, a parent and education advocate, said she’s heard of some families that received cuts of up to 50 per cent for the 2021-22 school year.
“The child is growing each year, but their support needs aren’t necessarily changing every year and the district will come back and say, ‘Oh, well we’re trying to inspire independence.’ It’s, like, OK, my child is not verbal, so that’s not changing year over year, so please stop trying to make them more independent than they’re going to be.”
“A lot of the time, the district isn’t even listening to their own staff at the school level. A lot of times, the staff at the school level will say, yes, they need this support and they’re getting told no, they’re not going to get that much support.”
In an email, the district’s manager of communications, Ritinder Matthew, said Surrey Schools is forecasting a seven-per-cent increase for the next year for $77,782946 for the 2021-22 school year, compared to $72,475,170 for the 2020-21 school year. She said EA hours are allocated based on each student’s specific needs, which are “evaluated regularly with supports adjusted in accordance with needs, throughout the school year.”
“School administration and the case manager, in consultation with members of the educational team, complete a thorough evaluation of the support requirements of each student that requires additional support. This evaluation is then shared with district staff, who determine hours based on each student’s specific needs.”
Khaira said she’d like to see more collaboration between the district and the parents.
“Not pointing fingers here, but schools must realize, and if parents are telling them something, they need to listen. They need to be all ears about the issues that we are seeing at home.”
But Khaira said she’s not sure if it’s lack of funding or lack of understanding or “just a general disregard of children who are needing these supports.
Dalglish said it comes down to where the values are placed.
“These students that they’re supporting are not valued, and therefore whoever is supporting them is not valued. If you think back to the ableist kind of ideas that these students are burdens to society and they are not worthy, that’s kind of where this all comes from. It starts so unconsciously and when it’s brought to the forefront, there’s no action.”
She said advocates have been trying for 20 years to get standards of practice for education “and they’ve gotten nowhere because they look at it as a cost burden.”
“Well, OK, everything costs money, but this cost burden is amplified when these children aren’t getting the support that they need because then they’re forced to be more … beholden to society for their adult support,” said Dalglish, noting the lack of support in the education could potentially lead to more welfare, substance-use issues and homelessness in their adult lives.
“It’s a vicious cycle that happens and it starts right from when these students are little.”
Asked if she thinks students who need support workers aren’t valued, Khaira said she does “feel there’s an undertone of that,” even if it “hasn’t been explicitly said to me.”
“For them what’s important is getting through the day without any injuries or any liability issues. For them, it’s not important. That’s what I get. They don’t think that these children might eventually contribute to society,” she said.
“We as parents know that if these children are given accommodations and given trained support, that they will eventually be those individuals who will contribute to society. We have confidence in our children.”