View Royal Elementary mothers Jen Wark (left) and Cristina Gage, say their kids aren’t getting the help they need due to lack of funding. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

‘This is unacceptable’: Island parents frustrated over lack of support for students

Tight spending budget leaves educational assistants stretched thin

Two Greater Victoria parents are speaking out against the lack of educational assistants.

View Royal Elementary Grade 5 student Abby Wark and Grade 2 student Lincoln Gage are both on the autism spectrum. They’re well-behaved, aren’t boisterous in the classroom, but they require extra attention from educational assistants (EAs).

ALSO READ: Surrey union decries ‘epidemic’ level shortage of education assistants in B.C.

“Sometimes he gets shuffled between four to five EAs a day,” says Cristina Gage, Lincoln’s mother.

“This shouldn’t be the norm. I just want a basic education for my son and it hurts knowing he isn’t able to get that. It’s frustrating because he makes a connection with one and doesn’t know when he’ll see them next. It breaks my heart.”

According to her, Lincoln goes unsupported for an hour-and-a-half each day around lunchtime. She says he needs someone making sure he’s eating lunch and not hopping around the room. Last Monday, she claims he didn’t have any support throughout the afternoon.

One day recently, Abby walked around the schoolyard aimlessly without an EA during recess.

RELATED: Parents of drowned Sask. boy sue school board

At a Greater Victoria Teacher’s Association meeting on Sept. 23, View Royal Elementary staff noted the shortage is causing a “triage” situation.

“Our kids aren’t ‘runners’ or have extreme behavioural issues … so they’re left to their own devices,” says Jen Wark, Abby’s mother.

“This is unacceptable. No one’s taking accountability. They’re just in a big circle pointing fingers at each other.”

Both women have sent letters to the Ministry of Education, but have yet to hear back.

The Ministry of Education provided the following statement in response to an interview request from Black Press Media.

“Our ministry is connecting with all 60 school districts to make sure their practices align with inclusive education policies to ensure that all children have equal access to an education. In addition, we are working hard to ensure supports are in place after many years of underfunding in our school system by the previous government.”

In response to staff concerns, the equivalent of two additional teacher days a week have been added as a temporary solution.

READ MORE: 2 young B.C. pals spearhead autism awareness campaign

“This fix isn’t cost-effective,” says Jane Massy, president of CUPE 947, which represents the EAs.

“These people love their jobs and the pay is decent, but they don’t get enough hours to make a living. Until EAs have at least 30 hours on average, it’ll be hard to hire new faces.”

On Sept 30, SD61 will be re-submitting their enrollment numbers for View Royal Elementary to the Ministry of Education in hopes of receiving a bigger spending budget.

But even if the budget is approved, that doesn’t guarantee kids such as Abby and Lincoln will get the attention they need. View Royal Elementary will be responsible for deciding where the money goes, not SD61.

“We’re not asking for the district or school to go above and beyond,” Wark says. “We just want them to support our children like they do with the rest of the kids. All of our children should have equitable support.”

aaron.guillen@goldstreamgazette.com

@iaaronguillen
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