Concerns linger about special education in Surrey

District maintains that Education Assistants, service to kids won’t be cut.

Some educators and parents in Surrey aren’t buying the school district’s assurances that special needs assistance for students won’t be cut back when the new school year begins in September.

“It’s all false,” said one woman in response to The Leader’s story last week in which Surrey School District officials said there were no reductions being made to assistance for students with special health or learning needs.

The woman, who works as an Education Assistant (EA) but did not want to have her name published for fear it would affect her employment, said three full-time EA positions, including her own, are being eliminated from her current school this fall.

Another EA said while there are seven EAs at her school this year, four are slated to leave at the end of June.

“We will have the same amount of students with same needs but with the cuts we now have 4 positions lost,” wrote a third EA in an online response to The Leader’s story. “Some students requiring a full 30 hours a week due to health or behavior concerns were cut to 8 hours a week. This means less EAs to support our kids in need.”

Last week, Deputy School Supt. Rick Ryan said district-wide, EA hours are not only being maintained, but increased for the 2015-16 school year, as there are plans to hire 35 more assistants.

He said EA hours received by principals to date may be inaccurate due to a problem with the provincial government’s student information system that has eliminated the Grade 7s leaving a school, but isn’t counting incoming kindergarten students with special education designations. (The province is currently in transition from BCeSIS to MyEd). That means there are about 5,000 EA hours that have yet to be doled out to Surrey elementary schools. As of Monday, the province was still working on the glitch.

Ryan also said the way the EA hours have been presented to principals is causing confusion because instead of simply receiving a lump total, for the first time, they’re seeing exactly how many hours are allocated to individual students – even though those hours can be shifted and used however and wherever a principal deems necessary.

“It’s a structural change and in the newness of it, it requires further communication with our administrators, and with the public, clearly,” Ryan said.

Ryan acknowledged EA positions may well be lost at some schools, but said others will be gaining EA hours.

“The position may go away, but it will materialize somewhere else,” he said, noting a posting meeting for EAs is being held next week. “I would be almost certain they would be recalled.”

In the meantime, some parents, it seems, are still hearing their children’s assistance may be reduced.

“I was told by the principal that my son’s hours were no longer in place for next year,” said the mom of a Grade 3 son with a major health issue.

Another parent said her son with special needs is entering Grade 2 next year and is slated to have his assigned EA hours reduced to eight from the current 20.

Catherine Sereda, director of instruction with the school district, again offered assurances that service to children with special needs in Surrey will not be reduced come fall.

“It’s also a two-part process: the initial allocation and then the opportunity for principals to make the case to us that particular students actually need more energy and time,” Sereda said.

She added that because of such conversations, over the past couple of weeks alone, the district has recalled 87 EAs and placed them in schools.