The mother of a child in Hanover School Division says her son is being discriminated against as the result of the Educational Assistant (EA) strike. EAs walked off the job Wednesday morning after an agreement could not be reached between their union and the Hanover School Board.
Jennifer Friesen says her son has a disability. She notes that because of this disability, she received an email earlier this week stating that her son could be at school between the hours of 9 am and noon. Friesen was told that she would then have to pick up her son at lunch. She was told that if the EAs were away, the school would not be able to accommodate her son.
Friesen says this is discrimination.
"I do know that it is in the Canadian children's rights to have access to education," she notes.
Friesen says for her son to be told to leave because he has a disability, while all of the other children are able to stay, goes against his rights.
"We can't pick and choose when people with disabilities should have the same access as others, and when it is inconvenient cut them first," states Friesen.
She notes this is sending a message to the child with a disability that they are lower-tiered individuals.
"It is true that they do require more support than other children, which takes more funding," admits Friesen. "But if we have already decided that they are valuable people, who deserve those supports so that they can receive the same access to education as everybody else, we should stick to that in good times or in bad."
She says if student hours have to be reduced, they should be cut evenly for all children, not only for those in a minority group. Friesen says for a school division that claims it is child-supportive and child centred, it does not currently have the proper support in place for students.
According to Friesen, her 13-year-old son is in a specialized reading program and his reading clinician has said that he is just on the verge of catching on and that there is a very good chance that he will learn how to read this year. Friesen says this is the last year that he is in this program, which means it is probably his last chance to learn to read. She adds that not knowing how to read could impact his entire life.
Friesen says she would like to see Hanover School Division come up with the funding in order to meet the needs of what EAs are requesting.
The reduced hours for her son are having a ripple effect in the Friesen household. Friesen says thankfully she has an accommodating boss who is allowing her to move around her schedule somewhat to free up some afternoons. But, for days when she needs to be at work, Friesen says she is scrambling to find family to help out.
"There's a lot of other parents who are going through the same thing as me," says Friesen. "There's a lot of people in the community that are struggling that may not even have as many family members here as I do, or have a job that can be as flexible, as my boss has allowed me to move some things around. So, I feel like there's some people that will be in a really, really tough place right now."
Catie St. Germain is another parent in Hanover, fighting a similar battle. St. Germain says her eight-year-old son has Down syndrome. She says he relies on an EA for constant one-on-one support in school. This includes everything from helping him with his subjects and walking him safely to the bus, to helping him with his lunch or making sure he is okay in the bathroom.
With no EAs in school, St. Germain says she has been given the option of either coming to the school herself to volunteer for her son or leave him at home.
"He has a right to an education and to hear now that he is not able to go or that we have to work day by day to make sure that they can accommodate," says St. Germain. "I know that they are trying their best, but in my opinion, it's not ever going to be enough unless he is in school like everyone else."
St. Germain says parents will stand and fight with EAs to be paid accordingly, however, this is all just another reminder that it is the children who are suffering no matter what.
"I just want to say ahead of time how much we absolutely love our school, we love the EAs that work with him," she says. "They make it a safe place for him and a happy place for him to be, which sometimes can be a bit of a struggle."
St. Germain explains that her boy can be stubborn and will sometimes dig in his heels if there is something he does not want to do. However, the EAs make school a fun place for him, which makes her job easier in preparing him to go each morning.
St. Germain adds they were fortunate enough one day this week when there was a substitute EA that opted to go into her son's school. She notes this allowed her son and another student to share an EA for the day. St. Germain's son was able to go for the morning but then she had to pick him up at noon so that another child with a disability could have the EA for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday of this week, Hanover School Division made an offer to EAs that would see an overall wage increase of 13 per cent over four years, with an average annual increase of 3.25 per cent. The division says that the union's proposal is for an overall wage increase that is greater than 20 per cent over the four-year term, representing an average annual increase of 5.17 per cent. The offer presented by the division remains open for acceptance until November 15th.
With files from Corny Rempel and Dave Anthony
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