Ken Krawetz, Saskatchewan's minister of education, said Thursday that there were no plans to make drastic cuts to the number of educational assistants in provincial schools. ((CBC))

Saskatchewan's minister of education says talk about cutting 75 per cent of educational assistants in the school system was only that: talk.

"That's not on," Ken Krawetz said Thursday. "I can state unequivocally that educational assistants are going to be a requirement in the delivery of programs. We can't do without them."

Educational assistants work one-on-one with students who need special attention and do everything from helping with math to changing diapers.

'Educational assistants are going to be a requirement in the delivery of programs. We can't do without them' —Education Minister Ken Krawetz

The assistants, called EAs for short, make it possible for students with conditions such as autism or fetal alcohol syndrome to be part of a general classroom and are currently an important part of the school system.

Darren McKee, an assistant deputy minister of education, said the current model had been examined and changes were suggested.

It was reported that could lead to cutting the number of EAs over seven years from 3,400 to just 800.

McKee said the government would move toward a system that would provide better support for children with special needs, including hiring a smaller number of additional professionals, such as speech pathologists and psychologists.

"Research tells us that this type of a model provides better service and better outcomes for those most vulnerable students," McKee said.

Krawetz added on Thursday that the idea is to have more of a team approach for special needs and insisted EAs would continue to play a role.

"There may be the need to add a professional to that team," Krawetz said. "Personally, I do not see a reduction a significant reduction from 3400 to 800 or whatever number was tossed out. That's not possible in a province like Saskatchewan."

EA work is critical: consultant

Educational consultant Trevor Bearance says the work EAs do is unmatched by anyone in the school system.

"There's things that an EA can do in a classroom which are invaluable," Bearance said. "There are things they can do outside the classroom that can benefit when you bring the child back in the classroom."

Krawetz says the number of teachers aides at schools will depend on the needs of children.

The future of EAs is already a burning issue in the Regina public school system.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Union of Public Employees said the EAs who help children with special needs in Regina schools are afraid they may lose their jobs.

The cuts started last year, when 55 contracts were not renewed, according to CUPE representative Malcolm Matheson.

Krawetz said the proposed changes were not a new government policy, but appeared in a discussion paper on how school boards might better serve students.