After months of frustration and worry, South Surrey parent Lama Alsaafin says she is “flying with happiness” this week, following news her autistic son will be supported by the same education assistant who forged a positive connection with him earlier this year.
The confirmation was delivered Wednesday morning by the sought-after EA herself, Alsaafin told Peace Arch News moments after, adding she was “overwhelmed” to receive it.
But her elation was tempered by lingering anger over a process she and other parents have long described as traumatic; that of ensuring their special-needs kids’ right to education isn’t trampled by a system they feel favours seniority.
“The school district served the collective agreement more (than their legal duty to accommodate students’ needs),” Alsaafin told PAN by email.
“They caused unnecessary stress and trauma for parents who already had their plate full.”
And, the news is only a temporary reprieve from the stress, she said.
“In March, we need to reapply again,” Alsaafin said. “So, it’s a matter of time. It’s just a short while where we can breathe out, and then we need to go over and over with the same struggle.”
Alsaafin was among parents who spoke to PAN in June about challenges with continuity of support workers and consistency in support hours.
This year, Alsaafin asked the district in February to keep her son, Ahmad – known as ‘Moodi’ to his friends and classmates at Semiahmoo Trail Elementary – with his existing EA for the 2019-2020 school year. The pair had been connected just after Christmas, after what Alsaafin described as “a revolving door” of support workers – six in the first four months of the 2018-2019 school year, triggered by “multiple medical leaves” taken by the 11-year-old’s applied behavioural analysis (ABA) support worker.
Alsaafin’s request was made the same month that a Letter of Understanding formalizing the process for continuity requests was struck between the Surrey School District and CUPE 728.
Stipulating that a student’s EA must have been working with the child for at least six months in order to qualify for continuity, the LOU essentially quashed Alsaafin’s plea – launching what would stretch into six months of emails and culminate in a Teacher Regulation Branch complaint asserting the school district had breached Moodi’s right to safely access his education.
School district spokesman Doug Strachan said Friday (Aug. 16) the LOU also provides for the union “to set aside seniority in certain cases to support students” – an arrangement he believes is unique to Surrey.
Strachan noted a goal in supporting students with special needs is to help them be able to “comfortably relate, interact and ultimately learn from a variety of adults.”
He acknowledged there “can be occasions when a specific adult… has what is called ‘instructional control’ with a student; the student won’t respond to the same instructional methods, techniques and tasks if the student was instructed by a different person.”
However, continuity is not a goal, he said.
“Continuity may help as a short term measure, but it is not the goal, nor can it be achieved permanently.”
Alsaafin said Wednesday’s news doesn’t change her TRB complaint; she expects to receive an update on the investigation in September.
And, she still has questions around what transpired with her son’s case, including why the posting for his support-worker position was apparently removed from the selection made available to new and low-seniority EAs during a posting meeting Tuesday. She’s sure it wasn’t because a decision on continuity had been made.
“If it was granted (before the meeting), they would’ve called the EA before the meeting and tell her you need to take yourself out of the posting meeting,” Alsaafin said. “In our case, they didn’t get a call. She was pushed to get a different position, and she did.
“They pushed her to choose another posting, and today, the position is open… so it’s unfair process for the (other) kiddo.”