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(Canada) Labrador/NL: Autistic students fail to get proper support in school

Mar 28, 2022, CBC: N.L. families say students with autism aren't getting enough support at school

Shawna Hinchey, a St. John's mother, says her 10-year-old son — who has autism, ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder — was doing well in school before this year. Before he started Grade 6, Hinchey said, her son had a student assistant who was responsible for just one other student. Now, she says, there is one student assistant responsible for all of Grade 6 at her son's St. John's school and her son isn't getting the structure he needs. She dreads getting phone calls from the school. "I always have that brief panic of, 'Oh no, what happened now?'" she said…. A spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District told CBC News about 10 student assistants — who help students with special needs with transportation, medication, navigating the classroom environment and more — are assigned to the school of more than 540 students. Shawna and Mike Hinchey are two of the concerned N.L. parents who told CBC News their children with autism and other developmental disorders are not getting the appropriate support at school. Shawna said she contacted the school after her son was sent home without a jacket and was told the student assistant responsible for her son was busy with other students. … Jerry Earle, president of the union that represents the student assistants working in the Newfoundland and Labrador school system, said student assistants play an essential role in the school system but are undervalued and underutilized. "These student assistants are not getting the recognition for the valuable work they do, and it's detrimental to them and it's detrimental more so to the children." Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said shifts for student assistants can be as short as three hours a day, which leans to recruitment and retention problems. "Trying to recruit people for this work is extremely difficult, and then people that are in these jobs, if something comes up that they can actually support themselves and support their families better, then they move on." Earle said he's heard from parents who have had to keep their children home from school if a student assistant isn't available because they need that extra help to function in a school environment. "They have exceptionalities, they have a right to be in school; however, they can't be there without the student assistants."… In 2022, he said, the provincial government allocated an additional 100 hours to student assistants…. Paul Walsh, the CEO of the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said in a November interview that the society, the school district, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association and the Department of Education are working together to improve the province's inclusive education model. "Nobody says that it's perfect. Nobody says that it's meeting the need right now," he said. He said the society is also working to improve the school system for children with autism. "I do believe there's a commitment to fix it, but it will take work in partnership to make that happen."


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