The Department of Education is reviewing the number of educational assistants at Jack Hulland Elementary School, following a complaint made by the parent of an autistic child a few weeks ago.
Russ Hobbis, whose nine-year-old daughter Molly goes to Jack Hulland, said cuts to the school’s support staff have seriously affected her education.
Molly used to have a full-time education assistant at the school but now, in Grade 4, her behaviour without one has deteriorated.
The only education assistant that had been present was focussed on another student, and she was pulled from the classroom on Nov. 24, he said.
Meltdowns have become more frequent because she isn’t getting enough support, Hobbis said.
An internal review of the school’s EA deployment system, modelled after the way the Auditor General of Canada conducts its audits, was launched in late November.
Deputy Minister Valerie Royle said the amount of support staff – both EAs and remedial tutors – in the territory has doubled in the past 12 years.
In 2002 there were 81 support staff for approximately 5,500 students. This year, there are 177.75 positions for 5,135 students, she said.
Royle said education assistants aren’t allotted solely based on the number of students, but rather on need.
All 28 Yukon schools determine how many special needs students they have – including autistic children – and put their requests in for EAs to the department.
There are two kinds of allocations. One is school-based, for children with significant behavioural issues but who don’t need intensive support. The other is for students who do need intensive support.
Right now, there are 76 students who have an EA dedicated to them, and 16 others who share an EA with one or several other students.
Jack Hulland, with 301 students, has the most EA positions in the territory with 13.75, Royle added.
Whitehorse Elementary School, for example, has 425 students but only 5 EAs.
Jack Hulland had 15.75 last year but two students with intensive needs switched schools, bringing their EAs with them.
That has the same impact as making cuts, Hobbis said.
While the department is responsible for divvying up 177.75 classroom assistant positions among Yukon schools, the schools themselves have to deploy them to classrooms.
In an interview on Monday, Hobbis said children’s needs should be paramount.
“In the real world, what do percentages and numbers mean to the children who need help the most?” he said.
Lissa Best, a co-ordinator at Autism Yukon, said she’s heard this situation come up many times before, and it ranks among the top reasons for visits and calls to the organization.
She said autism is an issue that’s here to stay, so it’s important to communicate openly about it.
“Certainly more support is what we get begged for; there’s a constant need for that. I think the department has done a wonderful job at figuring out some people’s needs.”
Best said she recently heard a statistic that suggested by 2025, half of all classrooms will have an autistic student.
“That’s why we have to get this figured out,” she said.
“I think we need to all be comfortably in a conversation, as that’s what’s needed, from parents all the way up the minister.”
Royle said the review of Jack Hulland will look at how EAs are deployed and whether the system can be improved.
Parents shouldn’t expect any sweeping changes in the middle of a school year, however.
“That’s not good for kids,” she said, “but we may have to provide some interim resources to get through this year at Jack Hulland and then look at how the school does the deployment next year.”
Children with special needs also have many other resources at their disposal, such as learning assistance teachers, school counsellors, literacy specialists, psychologists, speech language therapists and others, Royle added.
“There’s a lot of support provided beyond the EAs,” she said.
“Every school would probably ask for more resources but we have to operate within a fiscal framework. All our resources are allocated.
“We have a budget for 159 EAs and then we’re cash managing another 18 of them. We’ve put every resource that we have into the schools.”
There’s an appeal process that parents can use, too, Royle said. The arms-length Education Appeal Tribunal exists to deal with appeals arising from departmental, school or school council decisions.
Contact Myles Dolphin at