Mother of special needs student upset over strike 'contingency plan'
Published Sunday, September 9, 2012 5:58PM MDT
The mother of a special needs student who will be forced to stay home starting Monday, when Edmonton Catholic school support staff go on strike, says she’s disappointed in the school board's contingency plan to help minimize the impact the strike will have on students.
“When we talked to the school we’re told for situations like my daughter basically the contingency plan is she needs to stay home or I need to leave my job and go to school with her,” said Jaime Caza, whose daughter Kailey can’t go to school without a special needs teacher’s assistant.
“It’s a safety issue. They need to find care for her to be at school on Monday. That is their job and it is her right to go to school.”
Kailey is an eighth-grade student at Sister Annata Brockman Catholic School.
There are just over 1,000 special needs students at Edmonton Catholic Schools who need some assistance from aides and about 25 students with severe disabilities who need assistance at all times.
Kailey is one of the 25 severely disabled students who may be forced to stay home during the support staff strike.
Kailey requires tube feedings because of problems with her lungs and stomach. If one clogs, it could be life-threatening – but her aide knows what to do if that were to happen.
“I just get to be with my friends and stuff and it’s pretty normal,” Kailey said.
“She’s just there in case I need her.”
Her aide is set to strike on Monday – so Kailey can’t go to school unless someone from her family or a caregiver is there with her.
Kailey’s mom says school is the most normal part of her daughter’s life and she thinks her daughter is being discriminated against because of her disability.
“(She gets to) be with kids her own age and she gets to forget for times that she has disabilities and that she’s sick and if mom and dad are right there, that’s taken away from her,” Jaime said.
“I’m just so upset about it. No Grade 8 child wants their mom, dad, or grandma to take them to school. She has a right to go to school.”
Edmonton Catholic Schools says it’s not discrimination – rather a matter of trained staff.
“It is purely the fact that we do not have trained health workers – even though our consultants have worked all weekend to try to secure those workers,” said Lori Nagy, spokesperson for Edmonton Catholic Schools.
Nagy admits while a contingency plan is in place for the strike – operations likely won’t run as they normally would.
“It is not going to be a normal day for any school personnel or students on Monday. It’s going to be a very difficult day because these are valuable employees in crucial roles,” Nagy said.
Support staff from the board will help fill some gaps. Principals are also allowed to hire temporary workers if needed. The board says arrangements have been made with the Edmonton Police Service to perform security checks for outside help.
Support staff including librarians, secretaries and teachers assistants are striking over wages and workload.
The union that represents the support staff says the responsibilities for secretaries have increased to the point that some are experiencing health problems. The union also says wages for teacher’s assistants need to be increased.
Of the 916 support staff who work for the district – 479 participated in a contract vote last week – and the board’s latest offer was rejected by 277 votes.
The district said it will be holding a proposal vote on a new offer on Tuesday and Wednesday – under the supervision of the Labour Relations Board. The vote would require all 916 support staff to vote on the offer.
Kailey’s family are planning on attending school with her for the week – but aren’t sure how they’ll be able to manage after that.
“I’ve made a schedule between grandma, auntie, dad, uncle and myself to switch back and forth with school hours here and there. There’s nobody that can do Monday so she won’t be able to go to school Monday afternoon. I’m working on Monday morning. The rest of the week we’re able to manage but what I’m going to do if it’s longer than a week? I have no idea. It’s going to be very difficult,” Jamie said.
“I suppose as a family we’re going to have to keep pulling together and embarrassing Kailey by going.”
The school board did end up contacting Kailey late Sunday, saying they will have a consultant meet with the family Monday to assess Kailey's needs.
The board may be able to provide a substitute teacher to attend school with Kailey.
With files from Amanda Anderson