Last week, the provincial government announced a new Alberta Education helpline parents can use to find answers to questions they have about at-home learning.
The release specifically stated that this helpline will be particularly helpful to parents of children with disabilities.
While it seems like a good thing that the province is providing a helpline to support parents, we must remember that the need for a help line is—at least partly—the government’s doing.
At the end of March, Adrianna LaGrange, the education minister, announced that the government was temporarily cutting education funding to redirect more money to fighting COVID-19.
The Alberta Teacher’s Association estimated that the cuts could amount to as many as 26,000 jobs, including educational assistants.
Jason Schilling, ATA president (and—full disclosure—a former client of mine) stated:
“Teachers and educational assistants work closely together to facilitate student learning. Their work was still being utilized to support students in need of accommodations and those with inadequate access to technology. We continue to have concerns about how students with special needs will be supported through this time—many parents are struggling and need as much help as possible.”
Educational assistants support teachers in designing and implementing programs that help create a healthy learning environment. They work with speech and language problems, sensory impairments, behaviour disorders, and children with English as a second language. Through their work, children with a range of exceptionalities overcome obstacles and achieve their full learning potential.
Here are some people affected by the loss of educational assistants:
Educational assistants worked side-by-side with students, developing relationships with them, building trust with them, encouraging and empowering them. These students knew who the educational assistants were; there was a sense of permanency and consistency.
There’s no guarantee when parents phone the helpline that they’ll get the same person each time, or that this person is familiar with the family’s needs and has developed programmes to help address those needs.
It’s hard to believe that a helpline will adequately replace the critical work educational assistants do.