Surrey School District building. (File photo)

Teachers’ union says Surrey is ‘sacrificing’ services for special-needs students

School district maintains learning and support continues during audit

The Surrey Teachers Association says services to students with serious and complex special needs are being put on the backburner this month as the school district focuses on a ministry audit of those services.

Describing the move as “very troubling,” STA president Matt Westphal said a grievance was filed last month in an attempt to quash the practice, citing concerns including that “the resulting denial of services to students with designations is discriminatory, and makes our members complicit in that discrimination.”

“We do not take issue with the need for an audit, or with the importance of passing the audit. But we vehemently disagree that services to students should be sacrificed for a month in the name of the audit,” Westphal told Peace Arch News by email.

School district spokesman Doug Strachan said Wednesday that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the grievance, citing respect for the process.

But he did dispute the assertion that the audit was impacting students.

“We believe student learning and support properly continues while the audit work is being done,” he told PAN.

Strachan described the audit as “one of several that are routinely done by the Ministry of Education every year of different districts.”

“This year, our district is in the audit.”

Westphal said a lack of funding and clerical support means staff including integration support teachers, school counsellors and school psychologists are “being taken away from their actual work for students” to focus on the audit. It’s taking place while individual education plans for students are still in process, he added.

Practices under scrutiny, Westphal said, include such “clerical” elements as whether files have salmon-coloured dividers.

He said examples of consequences for students include one school where students will have no learner-support-team services until January; and counsellors being unavailable to see students except in emergencies.

Strachan said the audit is “to ensure students are getting the services they need and that these services have been properly documented.”

“This is not clerical work; this is the core work of support teachers,” he said. “It is the work they do every day.”

Westphal said Wednesday afternoon that the union has yet to receive an official response to the grievance.

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