'I feel so sad for my son': Parents frustrated over lack of educational assistants in Edmonton schools

“The thing that’s really difficult about our education system to begin with is if you want any answers it’s pulling teeth to get things done”

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The struggle over the lack of educational assistants in schools is nothing new for Michelle Young and her 11-year-old son Benjamin.

Young said her son has a learning disability and doesn’t read or write — the family hasn’t been able to get a diagnosis for him even after completing a psychological assessment with his school three years ago during the pandemic.

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“The thing that’s really difficult about our education system to begin with is if you want any answers it’s pulling teeth to get things done. It is worrying if your child is going to be bullied at school that the other children treat him differently because he acts different,” said Young.  

“I feel so sad for my son.”

Benjamin is currently attending Grade 6 at an Edmonton Catholic school. Young said he sees an educational assistant every other day, but on the days he doesn’t he is watching YouTube on his Chromebook.

She said her son’s current teacher is phenomenal but there’s little he can do for Benjamin in a classroom with 20 other students.

Edmonton parent
Michelle Young, left, and her 11-year-old son Benjamin. Photo by Supplied Photo

Getting her son the proper help he needs has been an uphill battle for their family. Last school year her son did not receive any help from an educational assistant. Young has called the superintendent at her son’s school division several times but staffing shortages have been a reoccurring issue.

Young cited an instance of one teacher lacking compassion towards Benjamin after her son’s second grade teacher told her that he would “not amount to anything.” She has since pondered the idea of transferring her son to a school where he can get the help he needs.

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“If you do not have an assessment or a backup from the school, you cannot transfer to another school that will help. There’s not a lot of schools in Edmonton that can help a child like my son. There are programs but, to get into them, it’s pathetic,” said Young. 

‘There’s not enough funding’

For Jenny Stokes, advocating for her child with special needs has become exhausting and a reoccurring feat, similar to Young.

“I had a lot of conversations with the school last year that I wasn’t happy about, but they just kept telling me there’s nothing they could do, there’s not enough funding, there’s not enough staff,” said Stokes. 

They’re spread thin, they’re doing the best they can. I do honestly believe that. The school is always open to meeting with me and listening to my concerns, they try to figure out different solutions.”

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This year, Stokes’s son, who attends an Edmonton public school, said an educational assistant is with her son most days. However there have been instances during the past school year where he hasn’t had one.

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Stokes says she was told by the school his teacher would be monitoring him and would be set up with a peer to support him which would “foster his independence.” However, her concern is that her son has autism and is “severely affected by it.”

He’s nonverbal, he needs full support to learn and peer support. While I like that he is connecting with his peers, I don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to be supporting his learning,” said Stokes. 

In an email statement from Edmonton Public Schools to Postmedia, the division said it is unable to provide information on staffing levels.

“What I can share is that our schools and staff strive to provide the best possible support for diverse student needs while working within the realities of our budget constraints.” 

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