Friday, October 06, 2006

Educating Autistic Students - the 25 Hour Cap Obstacle

In New Brunswick graduates of the UNB-College of Extended Learning are starting to fill positions as TA's working with autistic students. With the new Liberal government pledge to provide more autism training for TA's and Resource Mentors each year for the next 4 years the pieces are in place for autistic students to receive a real education. ASNB, which helped establish the UNB-CEL autism program is confident that the AIT training is exactly what is needed to enable autistic student to receive a real education and not simply be subjected to a baby sitting exercise throughout their school attendance. It looks like clear sailing right? Well, yes .... and no.

Even once an autism trained TA is assigned to work with an autistic child some NB School Districts, including Districts 14, 17 and 18, refuse to let the autism trained TA work the full school week with the autistic student. Instead the autistic student must spend approximately 25% of their day with another TA, usually one without autism training. 25% of the autistic student's day is at risk of being wasted, and in some cases, of having the good work done by the autism trained TA undone by the efforts of a TA with no autism training or knowledge.

Some of the school districts insist that another TA, even if that person has no autism training or knowledge, be brought in to work with the student for parts of the school day to ensure that the autism trained TA does not surpass 25 hours a week. Thus, a severely autistic child who can learn only by the specialized methods taught at the UNB-CEL program, who has access to a UNB-CEL autism trained TA will not be permitted to work with that TA for more than 25 hours a week. The best interests of the autistic student in that situation are set aside in obedience to the 25 hour cap imposed by these districts. The cap is imposed by the districts in order to ensure that the TA's do not acquire status as employees under their collective agreement and under the Public Service Labour Relations Act. While the Department of Education suggests the cap as a guideline to the districts some districts impose the guideline without any exception and without taking into account the individual child's best interests. Even a severely autistic child who learns by the ABA or behavioural learning techniques must spend a part of the day with an untrained TA with no training or knowledge of ABA.

My own son is severely autistic and learns via an ABA based curriculum and methods. This year he has an autism trained and experienced TA with him for most of the day. She is excellent. But if we want to keep him in school after 2:00, until 3:10 like his peers, his autism trained TA can not remain and work with him notwithstanding the investment the province has already made in her training and notwithstanding that her skills are needed in order for my son to learn. The District has refused our request to extend the hours of my son's autism trained TA so that she can spend the full day with our son. They have informed us that they do not wish to set a precedent and if we do not like it we should appeal. At the school level teachers and principals have always been helpful and focussed their efforts on our son's best interests. At the district level though the educators are replaced by administrators more interested in protecting arbitrary salary cap rules than acting in the best interests of each child.

Although I am a lawyer by profession I do not like to be involved in legal appeals pertaining to my son's education. I prefer to work with the educators to whom we entrust our son's education and development. We have tried to work within the limits dictated by necessity and we have enjoyed a positive relationship with the school officials with whom we have worked. Now, with a district level issue involved, we must deal with an inflexible district policy. We are told we must appeal. We have requested an appeal under the Education Act. Unfortunately under that Act the appeal is to ........ the District which imposes the inflexible 25 hour cap.

Any predictions on the outcome of our appeal?

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