Letter to the Editor, By Bill Kilpatrick
Seeing the latest volley of cuts served up against our Ontario public sector teachers and the notion that they can “do more with less” is maddening. Full disclosure: my wife is a secondary school teacher and I am a former Educational Assistant (EA) and supply teacher with the Hastings Prince Edward District School board. I began working for the board as an EA in roughly 2003 and worked there until 2010 and have witnessed first-hand the changes that have been put in place by both Liberal and Conservative governments. I assure you none of those changes, from EQAO to integration to the current proposed changes, did or will make education better for our children.
The Ford governments proposed changes in class sizes, funding for support staff, and elimination of teaching positions will throw an already stressed system into utter chaos. From 2003 to 2004 I had the pleasure of working in one of the most amazing programs that I have ever seen. It was a “section 27” class at Queen Victoria Public School in Belleville. It was where I learned what it actually takes to meet the educational, social, and psychological needs of students. For those who do not know a “section” class ( They have all been eliminated and all those kids have been “integrated” into the regular classrooms) was a class for children who, due to behaviour issues and learning deficits, could not function in a regular class setting. Their behaviour made it impossible for a teacher to manage both their behaviour and the class in general, so they were placed in a section class to better meet their emotional, physical, and educational needs and teach them vital social skills to help them eventually integrate back into a regular classroom.
I’m writing this to give you, the reader, an idea of what it takes to provide proper supports and bring about positive change and meet the needs of young people and spoiler alert: it takes multiple resources and time. The current average class sizes in both elementary and secondary are well over 20 students and many of those students have an IEP (individual Education Plan) which means they have very specific learning needs, or a BMSP (Behaviour Management Safety Plan) which means they have very specific behavioural issues (ODD or ADD or ADHD), or both. Many of these students would have previously been placed in a section class due to their high needs, but now are placed in a regular classroom. Not to mention all the students without an IEP or BMSP who also have specific learning and emotional needs that need to be met. In a regular classroom the needs of all these students, your children, can never possibly be met and to ask a teacher to do this is an impossible task and will only be worse if the proposed cuts go through.
The in class supports that were made available in the section 27 classroom consisted of: a teacher, an EA, a Child and Youth worker and later in the year added an integration EA to the classroom and those are just the in-class supports. Those supports made the adult to pupil ratio at a maximum of 1:3. We were also partnered with Children’s Mental Health out of Belleville Hospital who provided a social worker for extra support. Every child and their family had to sign an agreement that they would agree see a psychologist that would assist with behaviour management in the home environment that would be very similar to the program that was implemented in the classroom in order to create consistency for the youth and provide parenting skills to assist with the difficult behaviours. We were also partnered with CAS and had ongoing contact with those social workers. We had team meetings every morning and after school, and weekly and monthly meetings with all the partners to share information and strategies. Although results were not always successful, compared to the time I spent working with Young Offenders, I witnessed actual changes in the student’s behaviour.
The changes I was able to witness were a result of the support mechanisms that were put in place, the low student to teacher ratio, and the support of the caregivers. This took tremendous coordination between multiple agencies including the school board, the classroom support staff, Children’s Mental Health, Psychologists, social workers and the student’s family members and even then, with all these supports in place, success was far from certain. The proposed cuts by the Ford government make this kind of coordination impossible and will ensure that student’s educational, social, and psychological needs will be far from adequately met, but even worse it will put the safety of everyone in the classroom at risk. This is not how you “put people first,” it’s how you condemn our future and ensure our kids finish last.