End the systemic shortage of SSA positions in Vancouver & meet the needs of all students

End the systemic shortage of SSA positions in Vancouver & meet the needs of all students

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Paige Raibmon started this petition to Vancouver School Board Trustees and

We write to share our grave concerns regarding the systemic shortage of full-time and on-call Student and School Assistants (SSA) in the Vancouver School District. The Vancouver School Board is not meeting its obligation to provide all students with equitable access to learning as mandated by the BC Ministry of Education.

David Livingstone Elementary School provides one example of the problems created by the SSA shortages. Students there have a variety of medical, social, academic and physical needs, including students with potentially life-threatening illnesses. The school has been designated to have five SSAs to assist students and teachers.

Yet, for three full months this year, the school had a maximum of three, and on many weeks only two, certified SSAs on site. On-call SSAs were not provided with any consistency, even though the vacancies were not unexpected or short term. On Tuesday, November 12, 2019, there was only one certified SSA at Livingstone. An SSA from another elementary school had to be seconded to Livingstone to ensure a minimum level of safety, and one parent had to take a week off work to ensure their child’s safety.

The District must do better.

Although two new SSAs were finally hired for Livingstone in December, we remain concerned about staff retention and hiring to meet future obligations (for incoming students and students with newly identified support needs).

We understand and support policies that allocate SSAs with priority for medical and safety reasons, but we believe this is insufficient to ensure that students can access their education. SSAs assist students and teachers in meeting a wide variety of safety, medical, academic, social, emotional, physical and other goals.

Similar situations abound across the District. We believe strongly that allocations of SSAs from one school to another merely move the problem around; all over the District, there are children whose needs are not being met.  We want our kids to not just survive, but to thrive.

The Special Education Services Manual of the Ministry of Education states that “British Columbia promotes an inclusive education system in which students with special needs are fully participating members of a community of learners. Inclusion describes the principle that all students are entitled to equitable access to learning, achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs.” Without a full complement of SSAs to fill both full-time and on-call positions throughout the District, the Vancouver School Board is not meeting its legal obligations.

We call upon the Board and staff of the VSB to take immediate and significant policy and budgetary actions to train, hire, and retain SSAs, both in the short and long term. Such actions should include increased wages; improved benefits; more training; and a cultural shift that recognizes and respects the commitment that SSAs bring to some of our most vulnerable students. Legal requirements and moral obligations demand nothing less.

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