Ahmad (Moodi) Alsaafin, 11, with his sister, Ayah and mother, Lama. (Tracy Holmes photo)

South Surrey parent takes continuity concern to teacher-regulation branch

Lama Alsaafin said she has filed a Sec. 11 complaint regarding her autistic son’s rights to education

At least one Surrey parent whose request for continuity in her son’s classroom support worker was denied has filed an official complaint with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation, alleging the denial breaches her son’s basic right to safely access his education.

Lama Alsaafin alleges the Surrey School District’s decision violates teaching standards, the Human Rights Code, their legal duty to accommodate, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the School Act and the 2006 Supreme Court Hewko decision – in which the Abbotsford School Board was found to have breached its statutory duty to meaningfully consult with the parents of an autistic child about his education placement and program.

“Right now, I can’t do anything, except file a Section 11 (appeal),” a frustrated Alsaafin told Peace Arch News.

Alsaafin’s son, Ahmad (known to his friends as Moodi), is in Grade 4 at Semiahmoo Trail Elementary in South Surrey.

READ MORE: Support a matter of continuity for Surrey’s special needs students

Over the past school year, the low-functioning, non-verbal autistic student’s classroom support has been “a revolving door of substitute workers,” Alsaafin writes in her complaint. This, despite taking her concerns “through the District chain of command,” all the way to superintendent Jordan Tinney.

The inconsistency – six support workers over the course of the school year’s first four months – was due to “multiple medical leaves” taken by Ahmad’s ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) Support Worker, she said.

By chance, the final Education Assistant (EA) who was connected with Ahmad after Christmas, clicked with the 11-year-old, making positive strides and building a relationship “from the first day,” Alsaafin said in a June 23 email to assistant superintendent Lynda Reeve.

However, Alsaafin was told her request for continuity for Ahmad with that EA for the 2019-2020 school year was denied as the ABA worker who held the posting initially had vacated the position and it was re-posted, to be filled based on seniority; that a prerequisite of applying for such continuity – as per a Letter of Understanding (LOU) that took effect in February – was that the EA had to have been with Ahmad for at least six months; and, that the continuity process had concluded on June 17, when final decisions were made.

Alsaafin said the district is putting the union’s needs over her son’s.

The sentiment is not a new one in Surrey.

Two years ago, the seniority-based process was the subject of a Human Rights complaint against the district and CUPE 728 by parent Nicole Kaler, who wanted to ensure her daughter, Maya, had continuity with her EA worker.

The complaint was withdrawn after it was “settled” with the respondents, Kaler told Black Press Media last June.

READ MORE: Parents fight for ‘systemic change’ in how Surrey students with autism are supported

And, earlier this year, Surrey mother Jennifer Newby spoke out after the LOU was struck between the school district and the union. It formalized a process – including the six-month minimum – for parents of children with special needs who wished to apply to keep their child’s EA for the next school year.

Newby said the deal, which took effect in February, sets out “very narrow criteria” around who can apply, and “does nothing” to alleviate parents’ concerns.

READ MORE: Surrey mom furious over new EA agreement

Alsaafin, who was among parents who spoke to PAN last month about continuity, emphasizing the importance of having “one person to work with my son,” said she feels her concerns are falling on deaf ears. Even additional information she provided regarding Ahmad’s changing health needs didn’t sway officials, she said.

“They discard everything,” she said.

In her complaint, Alsaafin said it’s clear the LOU “was intended to restrict the Continuity requests and prioritize the labor rights of CUPE workers ahead of the rights of disabled students.”

A Facebook post regarding a posting meeting held June 28 at the Bell Centre evoked some criticism on social media.

According to the post by Christine Long, EAs were being called up by year of hire to choose their student for the next year by little more than a numbered posting.

“This is the system the Surrey School District & CUPE argue is best for students,” Long writes in the post.

Commenters described it as “horrendous,” “disappointing” and “not cool.”

Surrey mom and education advocate Cindy Dalglish tweeted that she received more than 100 private messages following the post, with 92 of those “from EAs that are appalled by the process and stressed out by it.”

“What is clear is that the process for determining the EA that is paired with a child or children is not working. Not for anyone,” Dalglish said in one tweet.

A woman who answered the phone at the CUPE 728 office in Surrey Tuesday (July 9) said PAN’s emailed request for a statement from the union had been forwarded to the national office for comment. As of Friday afternoon, no response had been received.

District spokesman Doug Strachan said the week prior that he had asked for information regarding the number of continuity requests that were received, granted and/or appealed. As of this week, there had been no updates from the district.

Parent Rozann Pedersen said she is aware of at least 52 continuity requests and seven denials, on top of the “flat-out” rejection that Alsaafin received.

Pedersen noted that another concern was that many families that could have asked for continuity didn’t know it was an option to do so. Those made aware had just nine days “to get all their ducks in a row” to meet the criteria and application deadline, she added.

Alsaafin said Tuesday (July 9) that her complaint has been put in abeyance as part of the “pre-Appeal Dispute Resolution Process,” to give the supertintendent’s designate time to investigate what is being appealed and make a final decision.

In a July 7 email to the designate, Alsaafin reiterated her concern that “administrative staff showed me in every single email that they couldn’t care less to put the need ahead of the collective agreements.”

– with files from Amy Reid

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