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Educational Assistants and What ALL Parents Should Know

April 19, 2016

In February I blogged about lessons I learned the result of two workshops to Educational Assistants (EAs).

That blog went viral and as a result, catapulted me deeper into the challenges faced by those in the profession. I have since received numerous emails and messages from across Canada advising of the same issues throughout.

Educational Assistants feel like the second cousin the the educational system in a role where they work with students who otherwise could not attend school. They work with students who are not only developmentally and/or cognitively and/or psychically and/or academically challenged, but also other students whose issues include minor to extreme behavioral problems. Behavioral problems is actually code for violence and aggression.

Everyday in classrooms across Canada (and likely the US) EAs are hit, spit upon, crapped on (literally), punched, verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, and injured – at times emotionally and at times physically. As these incidents occur in the classroom, they are witnessed by the other students whose exposure to these events may either desensitize them to acts of violence and aggression, or alternately may traumatize them. The vast majority of parents have no idea what-so-ever as to what may transpire in a class that is co-served by an EA.

Not only are the other students subject as witness to these events, but the EA as the direct target is subject to personal injury, stress and mental health issues (PTSD).

Today I received a transcript of an appeal report of a decision made by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). I was appalled.

You can read the transcript for yourself and form your own opinion, but I was struck by the fact that the incidents reported were not in dispute; that the EA was the target of ongoing violent attacks by the student and that the worker was diagnosed with a stress related disorder as a result.

What was disputed was whether or not such violence was to be expected as normal and reasonable and within the scope of acceptability for the role of the EA. Happily the EA won the right of appeal. The report is graphic and details the undisputed experience of the EA.

What isn’t addressed in the report was the experience and incidental learning by the other students witnessing the violent behavior over time.

If you are a parent and have a student in a class served by an EA, ask your son or daughter what they witness. Consider what they report and consider what impact that may have on your child, whether or not your child is aware of any impact.

If you are an EA, I suggest you read the report. It is instructive in terms of appreciating the need for reporting and documentation. The report is like a master class in conveying the absolute need for the EA to document all incidents of violence and aggression.

Some students with behavioral difficulties just may not be suited to the mainstream educational system. This is a very unpopular thing for me to say, but it is predicated on the knowledge and belief that any social policy, such as mainstreaming, that does not allow for exceptions, will create bigger problems than those intended to serve.

These are very expensive children to support and they will require considerable resources and typically more resources than are available in the regular community school. Until this is recognized and appreciated, the student with the special need is not properly served, the students subjected to the behavior of the challenging student will have their education and possibly their health and well being affected and EAs will continue to be injured physically and mentally. If a student with such extreme behavior is to remain in a regular classroom, then more resources are required there to make it safe and suitable for learning.

I think that as soon as parents of students without special needs take notice, then things may change. Read the report and then consider if you want your child in a classroom where that kind or level of violence occurs.

All the students and workers require better.

Consistent with this blog, is this news article.

Here is a news article from April 20017: Evacuations and Kevlar: parents raise the alarm about violence in Durham schools

And I am a social worker who happily works with parents of children with complex needs.  Let’s truly meet their needs and not inadvertently put others at risk of harm.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this information? Want to spread the word about this situation? Please scroll down and share this article.

Please also read the comments below and feel free to leave your thoughts.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

  1. Greg Nicholson permalink

    It is the responsibility of Employers in the Province of Ontario to protect their Employees against Violence in the workplace from both inside and outside and to have policies in place, communicated and enforced. Why does this Provincial requirement not apply to our Educational facilities?
    We already have the well thought through and documented legislation in place. Why is it not being used?

  2. Ken Slawson permalink

    this is heartbraking that children and teachers alike have to take this kind of abuse from very sick and uncontrollable children, I don’t think or beleave they belong in a regular school system, the schoo; system is not a baby sitting service to give the parents a break, these kids need special help in a special setting, how did it ever get this far. please help these children, God only knows they need it without harming those around them.

  3. Norine permalink

    I worked in the education system as a busdriver and had incidences on my bus which were witnessed by all passengers and some were singled out and mistreated by a special needs student, I begged for someone to address the issue, eventually it was finally dealt with but the emotional trauma that all students went through I am sure is still in their lives as they are adults now. so sad that everyone gets impacted by these issues, and I strongly believe our education systems need to consider how these issues are effecting all students and workers, and quit putting so much attention on these special needs being included in our schools regular day and being included , in most cases they need to be included but in more severe cases I strongly believe there has to be a better way for both the needs child and the other students .
    There are long term concerns that these students going into the future, my question is Do these special needs students even realize the effect they have on the others that carry it into the future? And this includes all workers that have had to deal with these issues throughout their careers.
    These workers are not trained to deal with severe cases of physical and mental abuse.

    • Anne permalink

      I appreciate your letter of concern. I am in my 20th year as an EA. We love our bus drivers. Another front line unsung hero.
      You have been witness to the “broken” part of Special Education.
      It is an unending and growing concern.
      The Health and Safety ACT doesn’t really cover this area.
      These are unpredictable and physically able students…with learning disabilities and self control issues. No one wants to blame the student or the parent.
      And they can stay in school until they are 21. Full grown men and women.
      We get more rules, more seminars, more equipment to wear and use.
      But no extra support trickles down to the frontline.
      Another manager to study the increase of violence, more likely.
      Instead of assisting one or two students…I now juggle several.
      I don’t accomplish as much as I would like…but all are safe.
      Unfortunately the system is set up that the most violent and the extreme take all the resources.
      It has become a job of “getting through the day”…for yourself and your coworkers.
      Observing violence is almost as bad as receiving violence.
      Trying to force these square pegs into round holes doesn’t work.

      I wish I had the perfect solution for the next generation of school board workers.


  4. Keyera permalink

    I am in BC. I work as an EA, I have done so for the past 8 years. In 2017 my world was turned upside down when the student I was working with (a 9 year old might I add) grabbed ahold of my hand and began to twist. He ended up tearing a ligament in my wrist. It took 3 surgeries to fix the issue and because the ligament couldn’t be repaired I now at 26 years old have a fully fused wrist on my dominant hand.
    Our school and school board never reached out once to see how I was doing, to discuss the incident nothing. I had asked for more supports for this student long before he injured me and nothing was done. I definitely have PTSD from it, although it hasnt been diagnosed and I dont know that it would even matter if it was.
    All I can say is the school system needs EA’s but the school board needs to figure out how they are going to protect them because what they have going on right now is far from acceptable.

  5. Pam leavitt permalink

    I worked with a non verbal austic girl . She does sign language as a means of communication as well as prolotoqo. She is physically abusive when told no or redirected or if she doesnt get yo fo what she wants like hit or kick other students. Wd hk UK class but on fir short times and then back to her room
    Today was a day from hell. Thought I was in the boxing ring. But then there is the smart girl that is happy and smiling. Love her to death but really dont need a shit kicking at the age of 59
    I the 21 years I’ve been an EA this is the worst ivd seen and it’s only getting g worse. When the behaviour overrules the students that aren’t flights risks or aggressive get no help at all unless 1 of our special cases are not there. K wish more parents knew exactly what goes on. They might put up a fuss if their child’s learning environment is disrupted constantly. Thank you for the article

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