Friday, August 29, 2008

CUPE Local 2745 President Puts Adults Before Autistic Children

New Brunswick has made great progress in helping autistic preschoolers and students. In both age groups children receive ABA instruction by autism support workers (preschool) and teacher assistants in the schools. Premier Graham has partially completed a pledge to the Autism Society New Brunswick by training two of four classes of teacher assistants at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program. And yet there is determined opposition from some within the school system.

One of the most hostile opponents of the UNB-CEL AIT training of teacher assistants is Sandy Harding, President of CUPE Local 2745. Local 2745 represents a number of different groups in the school system, including teacher assistants. Ms Harding has expressed her opposition to the UNB-CEL provided autism training in conversation with me in the past. She has also stated it publicly:

" Unjustified layoffs in School District 2

June 25, 2008 11:21 AM

MONCTON – The Union representing the teacher assistants throughout the schools in New Brunswick is asking the government to put an end to the practice of laying them off each spring.

“This practice shows a complete lack of respect for some dedicated women who have been working in the schools for many years. This is appalling,” said Sandy Harding, President of CUPE 2745 which represents more than 3300 members across the province.

“School District 2 in the Moncton area just laid off 37 teacher assistants. Contrary to the schools in the northern part of the province where families are moving because of the economic situation, this region has seen an increase in school enrolment. There is no justification for such a large number of teacher assistants receiving their pink slip in School District 2. This represents 12% of the TA in that school district”.

“Across the district, close to 115 teacher assistants will be affected simply because of the bumping process that will take place”.

“Parents of autistic children and other special needs children have been asking for more stability in the schools. Instead of creating stability amongst the staff, the school district is creating a chaotic situation. The movement of teacher assistants is bad for the kids, the teachers and the parents.

“This type of practice is not what Inclusive Education is all about. It creates disruption in many classrooms and there is no stability and consistency for children that badly need it,” explained Harding.

“It is also unacceptable that some women are losing their job because they have been unable to take the additional training required to work with autistic children, called “Applied Behavior Analysis”. If the government is asking teacher assistants to have this certification in order to work with autistic kids then it should make sure that the training is available for them”, added Harding.

“The school district should rescind these layoffs and stop these ridiculous processes that disturb the livelihood of mostly low-wage women", concluded Sandy Harding."

In the first highlighted section above Ms Harding purports to speak for parents of autistic children. She has no authority or legitimate basis to speak for parents of autistic children. The autism society has sought stability but it is the bumping process that takes place, for union seniority reasons, at the start of each school year that creates the instability that parents are concerned about. For many autistic children change is very problematic. Some are getting used to a teacher assistant only to have them changed early in the school year. I know because my son went through that experience a few years ago.

Ms Harding goes on to refer to Applied Behavior Analysis and says "IF the government is asking teacher assistants to have this certification in order to work with autistic kids then it should make sure that the training is available for them". In the first place it is parents of autistic children and the Autism Society New Brunswick who fought to have ABA in our schools because of the solid evidence basis for the effectiveness of ABA as an autism intervention.

Further, the government has provided the training required. And many teacher assistants represented by CUPE Local 2745 have received that training. What Ms Harding objects to is the fact that UNB-CEL has entrance requirements for the training program and not all who apply are accepted. Some are unable to successfully complete the program.

The quality and integrity of the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program are keys to the success of the program and its acceptance by parents who want their autistic children to receive a quality education. The excellent instructional staff and course curriculum contribute to that success. So too do the entrance and graduation requirements for the program which are within the control of UNB-CEL and not the Department of Education or CUPE Local 2745 and they should stay that way for the good of our autistic children.

CUPE Local 2745 has taken the position that the seniority rights of teacher assistants lacking the autism training should prevail over the needs of autistic children in New Brunswick schools. The union has filed grievances when schools have tried to assign an autism trained TA to work with an autistic child instead of assigning the position to an untrained TA with more seniority. Their grievances and public pressure seem to be succeeding in some school districts such as district 2 in Moncton where untrained TA's are being assigned to work with autistic children instead of assigning UNB-CEL Autism Trained TA's with less seniority. In some cases the school has waived the exceptional circumstances provision that entitles the school to assign based on the child's best interest instead of seniority.

One of the highest principles in our legal system is that, in matters involving children, it is the best interests of the children that should prevail over competing interests. Parents appreciate the work done by TA's and respect their need for employment security. But not at the expense of our children. The professional literature is clear on the importance of ABA for autistic children. And proper training is critically important. In insisting on seniority over proper training for working with autistic children they are not acting in the best interests of our autistic children. Quite the opposite.


Maude said...

Dear Mr. Doherty,

After reading your comments about the ABA training, I am very disappointed in the Autism society. Your lack of respect for teachers assistants and the experience they have with autism children is very clear. TA's have many many hours of instruction and on the job training. The NBCC human service counsellor and teacher assistance courses have far more in-depth instruction on ABA and task analysis then the UNB-CEL course. I can not believe that you would not advocate in having ALL TA`s trained immediately in ABA to ensure every autism child would benefit. This is what the local is advocated and I say BRAVO !!!

Unknown said...

Dear Maude

Your remark about lack of respect for teacher assistants is incorrect. I stated my appreciation for the work of Teacher Assistants in my post. I also express my appreciation directly to the TA's who have worked with my son over the past 7 years.

Your claim that the NBCC human service counsellor and TA courses is superior to the UNB-CEL is also incorrect. Autism is a neurological disorder and requires autism specific trained TA's so that our children can learn safely and to the best of their potential.The UNB course is autism specific and course content and instruction is provided by UNB. Parents of autistic children across NB seek UNB-CEL trained TA's for their children.

As for advocating for training that is what I have done for several years as has ASNB and we are happy to have UNB-CEL training for our children.

The Local represents the work and job interests of its members. It does not represent the interests of our children.

Unfortunately Maude you, like Ms Harding, put the interests of untrained members of the Local ahead of the interests of autistic children.

Harold Doherty

Anonymous said...

All TA's working with any child that falls under the Autism Spectrum should be ASW trained regardless! I am sorry, but the NBCC course is junk and not at all prepares you for what you need to know and to apply when dealing with these children.
~ Parent of a child with Aspergers and CUPE Local 3550 member