"Improve funding, resources and policy supports for special education", Niagara educational assistants tell McGuinty Liberals

    NIAGARA FALLS, ON, Jan. 30 /CNW Telbec/ - Niagara area Educational
Assistants (EAs) are urging the Ontario Liberals to have the political will to
enact substantive changes to education funding and resources allocated to
special education and make quality supports for special needs students and
safe workplaces for EAs a priority in this spring's provincial budget.
    At a media conference in Niagara today, EAs and Sid Ryan, the Ontario
president of the Canadian of Public Employees (CUPE) - the union representing
nearly 700 EAs employed at Niagara's public and catholic boards, and
17,000 EAs province-wide - outlined the challenges faced by EAs in our schools
and solutions to better special education programs for both students and
    Ryan said the funding model for education makes EA working conditions
"intolerable." The current formula does not give school boards adequate funds
to hire EAs for a full workday. Most EAs work six or six-and-a-half hours per
day. Often, in efforts to balance budgets, boards cut EA jobs, further
increasing the workload of those EAs who remain in our schools.
    "All these deficiencies in the funding model resulting in a shortened
workday, less EAs in the schools, and untenable workloads, coupled with the
high needs of students with severe physical and behavioural challenges, create
the perfect storm in exposing EAs to injury, abuse, stress and burnout," said
    At the same time, a failure by the Liberal government to fund agreements
with teachers for additional preparation time has resulted in the downloading
of supervision responsibilities on EAs, amounting to a hidden cut to special
education, said Ryan, that takes them away from their primary duties working
with special needs students. In some boards, EAs are doing more than
400 minutes a week of general supervision - a full day per week.
    Niagara EAs' Jacklyn Rocco (a member of CUPE 4156 - District School Board
of Niagara) and Randy Gunn (President of CUPE 1317 - Niagara Catholic District
School Board) spoke passionately about their commitment to working with
special needs students and how the McGuinty Liberals must do better in funding
the actual cost of special education, not just a small portion.
    They outlined how a lack of resources, policy supports and working
conditions in schools creates situations where EAs are exposed to health and
safety hazards on an ongoing basis. Back injuries from lifting immobile
students are increasingly common, they said. Students with severe behavioural
issues often lash out and kick and bite EAs who need hospital attention, they
explained. CUPE is now tracking the rates of injury in Niagara schools.
    Ryan called on the McGuinty Liberals to work with CUPE in developing
solutions to improve special education and the EAs' working conditions. CUPE
is recommending that the Liberals introduce the following measures:

    - Changes to the funding formula to adequately fund special education and
      allow school boards to ensure EAs work a minimum of a seven-hour day;
    - Province-wide policies on violence committed against special education
      support staff;
    - Set standards concerning training and safety equipment to improve
      health and safety;
    - Change the Education Act to include EAs and their roles and
      responsibilities in our school system.

For further information:

For further information: Sid Ryan, President, CUPE Ontario, (416)
209-0066; Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications, (416) 578-8774

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