One Port Coquitlam mom is looking for answers about why her daughter has had nine different special education assistants (SEAs) this school year.
Carmen Ekelund spoke to the school board last week on behalf of her non-verbal daughter Taylor, a Grade 9 student at Riverside Secondary. The teen is diagnosed with tubular
sclerosis, with side effects of epilepsy and autism.
"I'm sure you are aware children with autism require consistency far more than any typical child would. These constant changes with SEAs are not only unacceptable, but also disturbing to me," Ekelund said.
"I often hear that the school or teachers' main priority is to put the child's needs first.
I would like an explanation as to how you think these continuous changes in SEAs helps my daughter."
The situation is disruptive to Taylor and has a negative impact on her wellbeing, Ekelund added.
"These changes, in fact, negatively impact our entire family, as well as everyone that interacts with her," she said. "I'm close friends with many SEAs, many teachers. I have them to my home, and everybody is in agreement that this system has to change. It's not only detrimental to the teachers in the classroom, it's detrimental to the SEAs and most of all to the children. They don't understand these changes."
The result can be negative and sometimes violent behaviour, Ekelund said.
"You don't see the repercussions that this has on the family life or on a child that can't speak," she said.
"They have no other way of communicating other than through body language, through perhaps violent acts."
Ekelund stressed that she doesn't have a problem with teachers, SEAs or administration.
"My only complaint is with the inconsistency," she said.
School district spokesperson Cheryl Quinton said the movement of SEAs is a contractual issue, and she offered a response from the district's perspective.
"While we can appreciate that SEA movement can sometimes result in a number of changes in a school year, our No. 1 priority is that student needs are being met by qualified and well-trained staff. Due to contract obligations, continuity in SEA staff is often difficult and therefore we are not always able to fulfill requests to have a student supported by an individual SEA," Quinton said in an email Tuesday.
"SD43 takes pride in the high number of students with special needs who achieve success in our schools. The latest Report on Student Achievement noted that the district has made significant gains in graduation and completion rates for students with special needs over the past five years, and we are well ahead of the provincial average with this segment of our student population."
Board chair Melissa Hyndes told Ekelund that the board responds to delegations at the next public meeting.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for March 6.