The union representing 4,000 education support staff in Surrey says the shortage of education assistants means some students are left alone with tablets for hours. (Pixabay file photo)

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

Children sit with tablets for hours when EAs aren’t available, CUPE says

SURREY — After Surrey’s school district recently revealed a huge shortage of on-call teachers, the union representing education assistants say the situation is far worse for them.

On Nov. 22nd alone, 101 education assistant (EA) positions went unfilled in Surrey when staff were off sick or otherwise absent, CUPE 728 president Ryan Groundwater told the Surrey Now-Leader.

“The number of EA positions not filled grew from 44 in September to almost 800 in October,” said Groundwater, who represents the union representing 4,000 education support staff in Surrey, including 1,500 education assistants.

“And this month, we’ve already hit 700 EA positions not filled, with another nine school days to go.”

But it’s not just Surrey, Groundwater said.

“This is province-wide. It’s an epidemic.”

See related: ‘Troublesome’ on-call teacher shortage in Surrey

See related: Surrey must create 168 new classrooms, hire 300 teachers by September

Groundwater said the shortfall of education assistants means some cover five or six students at a time.

“Under these conditions, an EA may not physically be able to pay close enough attention to each student to catch behaviour before it escalates into a problem,” he said. “They are not able to give each student the attention needed.”

Groundwater blames the former Liberal government due to 16 years of “chronic” underfunding.

“We have to hold the former government accountable,” he said. “It led to these shortages… We have a more progressive government now but it will take time.”

Groundwater said the solution could lie in how EAs are paid.

“Currently full-time EAs in high schools work 32 hours and those in elementary schools work only 30 hours each week,” he explained. “By providing more hours for EAs so that they could earn a living wage, we would attract and retain more EAs in our system. Addressing incidences of violence in classrooms, of which EAs take the brunt, would also help draw more people into the field.”

Finally, he said he is “optimistic” there will be new funding in the NDP’s B.C. budget in February.

See also: ‘Schools need to be built now,’ says Surrey parent group

See also: Surrey to be short portables in September

The union’s vice president Marcey Campbell said she’s seen first-hand how the shortage affects children in need.

“I’ve seen so many kids that are basically left alone when their EAs are being pulled or not replaced. I’ve seen kids that have, unfortunately, sat in front of a tablet for a few hours because there isn’t that support for them,” she told the Now-Leader.

Campbell explained EAs support children with behaviour concerns, medical concerns, toileting or mobility concerns, children with disabilities like autism and ADHD and “even typical kids that sometimes just need a little bit of extra help are going unserviced.”

Campbell said while teacher shortages are often in the news, EAs tend to take a back seat.

“We’ve always kind of been on the back burner. That’s why we’re in this horrendous situation.”

The Now-Leader has asked the Surrey school district for comment.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Amy on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo city council wants more info about pilot project to lower residential speed limit

Staff will report back on ministry of transportation pilot that could lower speed limit to 40km/h

Best of the City: More than just the great outdoors

Living Forest Oceanside Campground voted Best Local Campground in Nanaimo

Pedestrian dies in motor vehicle incident along the highway near Nanaimo Airport

Police investigating scene where 37-year-old woman from Nanaimo died

Best of the City: Cannabis store’s customer service impresses

Mood Cannabis Co. finishes second for Best Customer Service in reader survey

Best of the City: Live-streaming in quarantine

Arts and entertainment community resilient in the face of a pandemic

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

Ahead of likely second wave, 60% of Canadians relaxing COVID-19 measures

Proportion of Canadians not following safety measures has dropped by 3 per cent in the past two weeks

Canada’s population tops 38 million, even as COVID-19 pandemic slows growth

Immigration, the top population driver, decreased due to the pandemic

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

Shawnigan Lake’s Kubica gets 25 to life for murder in California

Former Shawnigan Lake man convicted of killing woman in 1990

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

Most Read