The schools are in a pandemic of their own but it’s a silent one! Yes, the public has heard about it, but unless you are actually working in the school system it’s easy to turn a blind eye to it. It, like COVID, started in the fall of 2019 and is getting stronger as time goes by. It’s called LOFITES! It stands for Lack of Funds in the Education System! It’s important to know that those mostly being affected by this pandemic are the students, many who by no fault of their own have various levels of behaviour and academic needs. Behaviour needs range from FASD, ADHD, ODD, autism, autism spectrum, extreme cognitive delays and learning disabilities, to extreme emotional behaviours and outbursts, high anxiety and toileting issues, to name a few. On the academic side, many kids are reading and writing as much as two grades below where they should be.
When I, an educational assistant, started working over 25 years ago in the education system, my job mainly involved helping all students with their reading and math skills, both in French and English, working in a special needs classroom, teacher prep work such as photocopying/putting booklets together for students, and putting up bulletin boards. Back then, class sizes averaged anywhere between 18 to 22, with maybe one or two higher-needs students in each classroom. Fast forward to today and my job involves working on a daily basis one-on-one with a student and/or small group of students exhibiting different levels of behavior along with low academic needs. Schools are facing many class sizes of 25 to 29 students per class. Not only have class sizes increased, but so have the needs of many students. A first-year teacher was faced with a class size of 29, with nine of those being on IPPs with various levels of behaviour and academic needs. For those of you who don’t know what an IPP is, it stands for an Individualized Personal Program. The next year, she was faced with a class size of 25 students and eight of them on IPPs with again various behaviour and learning disabilities. A seasoned teacher faced the same scenario. Class sizes of 25 to 26, which included seven to nine students on IPPs! These same teachers and all their colleagues will continue to face these same classroom dynamics. For many, the severity and number of students needs are extremely high in comparison to class sizes.
This is where the second part of the LOFITES pandemic comes in! An intricate part of our school system has been cut at the knees, so to speak, which helped these same teachers on a daily basis. GSACRD’s support staff in Morinville and Legal will have a different look come September. Sixteen educational assistants have totally lost their positions. Of those remaining, more than half of them have gone from full-time employment to part-time. EAs who for years had normally worked a 32.5-hour week will either be working 13.5 hours per week, half time or a few at 26 hours per week. It’s not only EAs that have been affected. Speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, secretaries and librarians have also lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
We educational assistants pride ourselves with the abililty and knowledge on how to make connections with the students put in our care (all students in general) on a daily basis. I have worked with fantastic dedicated teachers over my career, but I truly believe that students with extreme behaviours and academic needs ... without EA support ... will make it impossible for teachers to teach any number of students to the best of their abilities! Limited student support or no support at all is NOT in the well-being of the students in need, teachers or for society as a whole. It’s a disaster in the making. Our children are our future. It is our duty as a society to help all children become the best that they can be, no matter their circumstance. Now is the time to stand up for our children and call on your MLA, government and school board members to advocate for the funding desperately needed to help our students develop the abilities to become contributing members of our society. We are our childrens voices!
Diane Mochnach, education assistant,