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

COVID-19: Immigrants face language, financial barriers during crisis

Citizenship events halted, permanent residency applications still being processed

Victoria police safely recover items stolen from Sikh temple

A man broke into the Khalsa Diwan Society Victoria and stole religious and ceremonial items

Victoria police seek information on nine suspicious fires

The fires took place between March 5 and April 9 across Victoria and Esquimalt

Victoria reduces parking fees during COVID-19 health emergency

Parkades, parking lots and on-street parking to see reduced fees

Topaz Park camp for Victoria’s homeless desperate for volunteers

More hands needed to help enforce COVID-19 standards

COVID-19 death toll reaches 50 in B.C., while daily case count steadies

B.C. records 34 new cases in the province, bringing total active confirmed cases to 462

B.C. unveils $5M for mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic

Will include virtual clinics and resources for British Columbians, including front-line workers

VIDEO: Community rallies around Campbell River fire victims

Emergency Social Services volunteers logged over 100 hours in first day after fire

B.C.’s COVID-19 rent supplement starts taking applications

$300 to $500 to landlords for April, May and June if eligible

Reality TV show about bodybuilders still filming in Okanagan, amid COVID-19

Five bodybuilders from across the country flew to Kelowna to move into a house for a reality TV show

B.C.’s top doctor details prescription for safe long weekend

Yes, it includes hosting an online cooking show

BC SPCA seeks help for abandoned German shepherd puppies

Donations have ‘petered out’ as doors are closed due to COVID-19

Most Read