More time needed to prepare for school, say educational assistants, youth workers
Harder to get replacements this year because people afraid to go into school, association says
Educational assistants and child and youth care workers say they are anxious about going back to school next week because they are worried about the health and safety of students and staff.
Colleen Dietrich Sisson, president of the Educational Assistants Association of the Waterloo District School Board (WRDSB), says many education workers have told her they wanted more time to prepare for school.
She says one of the big concerns from workers is being able to physically distance safely from students, especially after six months of staying at home. Dietrich Sisson says they are worried about the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
"I think the whole concept of going back to school for everybody involved is basically creating a lot of anxiety," Dietrich Sisson said in an interview with CBC News.
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Dietrich Sisson says educational assistants and child and youth care workers have been taking health and safety training for COVID-19 this week.
The training included sessions on how to ease anxiety and prepare workers emotionally and physically about going back to school.
Despite the training, Dietrich Sisson says she wishes the Ontario Ministry of Education would have provided more time for school staff to prepare.
"Everybody I can tell you, including myself, has worked nonstop throughout the summer preparing to go back," she said.
"It's been a huge, huge load on the school board. And it's been a huge load on our union and everybody's union pulling this all together in such a short period of time."
CBC News reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Education about what it is doing to support educational assistants and child and youth workers, but it has not yet responded.
However, in a statement sent last week, a spokesperson for the ministry said $10 million of additional funding will be specifically dedicated to supporting students with special education needs in the classroom.
"We are spending more money than any other province on special education. In order to further support these students, we have directed boards to ensure that students with special needs can be at school 5 days a week," the statement said.
Dietrich Sisson says the extra funding is good step forward, but not enough.
She says there aren't enough educational assistants and child and youth care workers, and more funding is needed.
"It's a challenge on any given day, because the bottom line is, we have work injuries too," she said.
"So when people are off, we try to get supply people in, and the supply pool is very low. It's going to be harder to get supply people in this year now because people are afraid to go into school."
'Experience is new to us'
Even with workers feeling anxious about going back to school, Dietrich Sisson says there are some educational assistants and child and youth care workers who are looking forward to the new school year.
"This whole experience is new to all of us, so it is going to be an interesting process," she said.
"I remain cautiously optimistic that we will work things out."