The Penner family is fighting once again this year to have their son’s educational assistant hours increased, after the district determined it should be cut to 20 hours a week, from 22.5. Pictured are Shawn and Kathryn Penner (front), with their nine-year-old twins Micah and Lena, both of whom have heart conditions and are on the autism spectrum. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

The Penner family is fighting once again this year to have their son’s educational assistant hours increased, after the district determined it should be cut to 20 hours a week, from 22.5. Pictured are Shawn and Kathryn Penner (front), with their nine-year-old twins Micah and Lena, both of whom have heart conditions and are on the autism spectrum. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

This year is not a ‘benchmark’ as Surrey parents say support-worker hours cut once again

But the district says it’s forecasting a seven per cent increase

Surrey parents are once again fighting for support-worker hours for their children in the upcoming school year.

Kathryn and Shawn Penner, whose nine-year-old twins Micah and Lena both have heart conditions while also being on the autism spectrum, are fighting to get the hours for their son, Micah, reinstated. For their daughter Lena, they’re planning to home-school her for the 2021-22 school year.

While both children are entitled to applied behaviour analysis support workers, Kathryn said, her son has only ever had an educational assistant. Her daughter previously had bell-to-bell support, but her son had fewer hours when he started Kindergarten and over the years it’s continued to drop.

Kathryn said Micah had 22.5 hours a week for the past two years, which works out to five hours a day over the course of the school week. It’s now been dropped to 20 hours for the upcoming school year.

“I don’t think that’s adequate. Frankly, I don’t even think what he has now is even adequate.”

She said he continued in the blended program “is a bit better in terms of functioning and he needs the structure of school, so we are planning to put him back to full-time, in-person learning, regardless of COVID. Just because that is what he needs.”

But the lack of support for their daughter Lena, Shawn said, has resulted in them choosing to pull her from school in February. “Primarily due to the lack of … support hours, she was just falling farther and farther behind her classmates,” he said.

But the district says funding for education assistants has not been reduced for the upcoming year.

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.”

When asked how that funding is being used if hours are still being cut, the district was unable to get information to the Now-Leader by press time.

But parent and education advocate Cindy Dalglish said this has become a yearly fight.

“They say they do this because they want to help that child get independence,” she explained.

“What they’re missing is that not all children are seeking independence as the mechanism for growth. What happens is, these parents now every spring, have to fight every time for people to get their hours back, and it is a fight.”

She said some are successful and get their hours back, but others are not, “and then their child is not regulated, not getting what they need.”

Dalglish pointed to a tweet from district Superintendent Jordan Tinney, where he said that since last March, “a light has been shone on equity in a manner that has us feeling a greater sense of urgency.”

“How can we (and must we) align our actions with our understandings and moral purpose? For all children.”

Dalglish said that was “really frustrating” to read “because parents have been showing up and talking about this for years. That begs the question, well if now you’re on board with equity, why are you cutting EA hours?”

Meantime, the Penners are still pushing to have their son’s hours reinstated. “It is getting to a point where I’m like, I shouldn’t have to do this every year. I shouldn’t have to say, ‘No, my kid needs more hours.’ Why did you give him more hours last year and now you say, oh they’re fine,” said Kathryn.

“I get that they say that they’re cutting or your child needs to learn more independence … I get, yes, my children do need to learn independence in some areas, but this is not how to do it.”

She said this past school year, with the pandemic and blended-learning options, shouldn’t be a “benchmark for determining how support hours should be.”

“The fact that they’re cutting it, frankly, is disgusting. They cut it every year. If they say, ‘Well, based on how things went this year, cutting the hours for support should be fine.’ No, that shouldn’t be fine because you don’t see what really goes on in the house. You only see what’s going on in front of the screen.”

READ ALSO: Surrey parents once again fight for student support workers hours, June 19, 2021



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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