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)

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

Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks drew a large crowd to the Abbotsford Centre in 2019. Canucks management hopes the crowds return for the planned AHL team this fall, and early returns are positive. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Canucks: ‘Incredible’ early interest for Abbotsford AHL tickets

Team has had a strong response to both e-mail information and priority ticket lists

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Corina Rochon has been working the front lines of the pandemic in the intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She is also an instructor in the nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley.
Pandemic the most challenging of Abbotsford nurse’s 16-year career

Corina Rochon works front lines at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Dario Lopez comes to the Cascades from Madrid, Spain where he played in very competitive junior leagues. (Dan Kinvig/UFV Athletics)
UFV Cascades sign Spanish basketball talent

High-scoring forward Dario Lopez joins team for 2021-22 season

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read