Surrey Teachers Association says learning support teacher cuts are ‘unconscionable’

Surrey hiring 66 fewer learning support teachers, but district says more support being added overall

SURREY — While more teachers are coming to Surrey schools this fall thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that restored class composition and size language, there will actually be a drop in learning support teachers (LSTs).

Sixty-six fewer will be hired this year.

Surrey Teachers’ Association President Gioia Breda says the cuts are “unconscionable” and will be “devastating” to both members and students.

“The overall result of this reduction to LST is less daily intervention for those vulnerable students,” said Breda.

“These are groups of students with some of the most complex learning needs.”

LSTs, according to the Surrey school district’s website, “deliver a range of support services to students with diverse learning needs including, but not limited to, students classified in the ‘high incidence’ special education categories, English as a Second Language, and children without categories who are in need of learning support.”

Breda said there will also be significant impacts for LST teachers.

“Teachers working in learning support have invested time and money to take courses and gain the qualifications needed for these specialized positions,” said Breda.

“Career choices are being devalued and we are concerned that we may lose some of these teachers to other school districts during this time of transition.”

According to a recent report, the Surrey school district plans to add “69.5 full-time-equivalent integration support teachers, 16 in the B.A.S.E.S. program for children with learning disabilities, 6.5 speech and language teachers, 20 teacher librarians, 20 counsellors and 173 enrolling positions.”

Though, the report notes, “none of the above reduces the LST impact.”

“While the role of speech and language pathologists and school psychologists is essential, it is separate from the daily intervention provided by teachers under the Learning Support Team umbrella,” said Breda.

“The only reason I can see for BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers’ Association) to include these groups of professionals together is to save money because it results in fewer adults providing support.”

Surrey School Superintendent Dr. Jordan Tinney said the move won’t translate to less support for children in classrooms and noted there will still be more than 400 LSTs district-wide.

Tinney said the Supreme Court ruling will “bring back a bunch of teachers in new categories of non-enrolling, which we will call special education resource teachers. This new bucket replenishes many areas, but our LST (learning support teachers) ratios overall have dropped.” He assured that “children will be supported” via “smaller classes, less complex classes and increased specialized support like integration support and counsellors.

“The question that comes up is people say these LSTs supported a specific range of students, and now that those are gone, they won’t get support. But those students will get support from other teachers. What you have at the end of the day is an enormous amount of additional support.”

He acknowledged the “pain” for learning support teachers.

“No matter what, the district is coming and reducing your time so your personal assignment has changed. That hurts. It doesn’t help you that we’re adding a teacher librarian…. It really has impacted peoples’ jobs personally,” he said.

Meanwhile, the district is in a bit of a holding pattern as the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and BCPSEA work out teacher-ratios.

Tinney explains.

“The issue is in the grand scheme of things between the government and the BCTF, is given we have language from the past and a model of today, we have to look back and try to count how many teachers did we have back then as a ratio, and look forward today and say how do those ratios apply today?”

Tinney said there is disagreement between the BCTF and the BCPSEA between those ratios and the Memorandum of Agreement “requires significant interpretation.”

“We’re just on the delivery side,” he said of the district. “These are powerful and smart parties, they wrote an agreement, they both signed it, but when it unfolds at the district level it has to be interpreted…. We knew and always said the implementation of the MOA is going to come with significant challenges. We’re going to add lots of teachers to the system which is great news but that means change as well.”

Meanwhile, the province has just approved an order of 35 more portables to house Surrey students next September.

“What we really want is more schools, but we need the portables,” said Tinney.

More portables are needed as the district scrambles to find space for 168 new classrooms by September to restore classroom size limits.

Tinney said the district has submitted its plan to the Ministry of Education – which already includes turning some rooms into classrooms, such as computer labs – but more portables are still required.

On top of the 35 hoped to be funded by the province, the district has ordered an additional 10 portables and have another six that will be refurbished, noted Tinney.

amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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