A mother from Steinbach admits she is fearing the worst for her boys, now that Educational Assistants (EAs) have walked off the job. Nearly 300 EAs in Hanover School Division hit the picket line Wednesday morning after an agreement could not be reached.
Miranda Hardy, who is Chair for the Woodlawn School Parent Advisory Council (PAC), has three sons attending two different schools. She notes one of her sons is autistic and is a flight risk, one of them is non-verbal and the other has major ADHD. Hardy says her boys require a lot of assistance, and this comes through the help of EAs.
"With this strike, they have no support," she says. "They are on their own and I fear the worst."
Hardy says she is concerned for all three of these boys. Her fear is that she will get a phone call from the school that her son with ADHD cannot do his work, that the school will not understand the needs of her son who is non-verbal, or that the school has no idea where her autistic son has run off to. Hardy says this last fear is not far-fetched, noting as recently as Tuesday her boy ran away from school.
Hardy says she is disgusted and floored that it has reached the point where EAs have walked off the job.
"EAs are a big part of the schools, they do a lot of the work, they help the teachers in the classrooms because the classrooms are huge," she says. "And I just don't know how this is going to work without them."
According to Hardy, both schools that her boys attend have reached out to her and her husband, letting them know that they are trying everything possible to help them in their situation. The schools have asked for volunteers and Hardy says she is trying to help out as much as possible, but admits she is a busy person as she chairs both the Woodlawn PAC and Happy Feet Early Learning Center.
"I have a lot of things on my plate," she says. "And now this is just added to the plate."
Hardy says her family has received unbelievable support since relocating to Hanover School Division. She notes they used to live in Hadashville but moved to Steinbach because of the great things they heard about Hanover School Division and their supports for children with disabilities. Now those supports are striking.
"I just don't understand why can't they just give them a little raise, everybody deserves a raise, with inflation today and everything, it makes sense for them and the amount of work that they do," says Hardy. "It makes sense for them to get a raise, so I fully support that."
Hardy says when news broke Tuesday night that the two sides had not reached an agreement, the thought certainly crossed her mind to keep her boys home from school on Wednesday. Instead, she opted to send them, and Hardy says her non-verbal son started to cry when she dropped him off.
"It was like he was lost," she says. "They rely on these people, these EAs every morning to greet them, to be with them."
Meanwhile, Carla Campbell is Chair of PAC at Green Valley School in Grunthal. She says this strike has her feeling lost. Campbell says as a parent, she sends her kids to school with structure in place in order for them to learn in a safe environment. And, she says EA's play a huge role in that.
Campbell says when her son realized what was about to happen this week, he asked if he could rather stay home to learn. Campbell points out that a couple of his classmates require the attention of EAs, and her son felt that without this support, there would be disruptions in the class. She says he was concerned that he would have a difficult time learning in that environment.
"He was very concerned about his ability to learn in that environment without his friends having the support that they have every day to help them through their day," she adds.
As Chair of PAC, Campbell says they are trying to be as supportive as they can during this difficult time. However, she notes there are restrictions with getting into the school to volunteer, as these individuals need their volunteer checks in place. Campbell says one of the biggest areas of concern that she is hearing, is with crossing guards and at recess.
"Parents of walkers have been asked to have their kids come home for lunch because there is not enough support on the school grounds to ensure safety for all the kids out there," she adds.
Campbell encourages parents to contact their schools and find out where they can help.
"Teachers, just knowing that they have parent support is going to help them plow through this," she adds. "They are already stretched."
But Campbell is not placing all of the blame for this walkout on Hanover School Division. She notes this is merely a ripple effect from what the Hanover School Division has been saying since the start of the year, which is that budget cuts are placing constraints on the division.
"I don't believe that our school division wants to willingly pay the least amount to the EAs out of all the school divisions in Manitoba," says Campbell. "I don't believe that they are actually making that choice. I believe that it's because they have to manage the budget that they have."
With files from Carly Koop
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