Ontario is considering a new policy that could see school staff provide some health services to students, according to a provincial government draft obtained by CBC News.
The document, which is for consultation purposes, proposes that school staff perform tasks for students with disabilities. They may include cleaning catheters, manual expression of the stomach and bladder (to help extract urine), tube feeding, injection of medications, and oral or nasal suctioning.
When Nicole Lamont of Windsor first read the government’s plan, she thought it was “a joke”.
Her six-year-old daughter, Lilah, has a rare genetic condition known as spinal muscular atrophy type 1. Lilah has a tracheostomy (surgically created opening in her neck), is on a ventilator and is fed through a stomach tube . She also needs round-the-clock care from a nurse.
The thought of having an educator perform health-related tasks for her daughter at school worries Lamont and makes her uncomfortable.
“To be honest with you, I was just a little pissed off,” Lamont said. “All children with special needs already live in a world that is not made for them as it is. They already have to fight for every care they receive.”
Lamont and her husband have gone through months of training to bring their daughter home from the hospital, prompting many questions about how education workers will be trained if this project becomes a reality.
“RNs, RPNs, PSWs – they all went to school so they could learn how to provide that care properly,” she said.
The government’s plan outlines training for the different examples of health-related tasks that could be given to educators. Depending on the task, this could include instructions from a primary health care provider, parents or caregivers, or community health care agencies.
Government updates 38-year-old policy
A spokesperson for Ontario’s education minister told CBC News he is considering updating a school health care policy that hasn’t been changed since 1984.
“Our government is working with the Departments of Children, Community and Social Services and the Department of Health to provide supports for students who require health and rehabilitation services at school…to align with current best practices to better serve Ontario students. “, said Grace Lee, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “We will continue to consult with stakeholders and partners to ensure we are doing the right thing for the most vulnerable children in our schools.”
But a Windsor union called the proposal a way to cut costs by spending less on medically trained nurses and putting more on the plates of already overstretched educational support staff.
“My biggest concern is especially for the students,” said Tyler Campbell, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Education Support Staff Bargaining Unit in Windsor-Essex. .
“We should be focusing on education. We should be focusing on helping our most vulnerable students. We can’t do that if we’re doing small medical interventions in our schools,” Campbell said. “Educational support staff do all kinds of different scenarios during the day, but their primary focus has to be education.”
Education assistant ‘livid’ about draft policy
Fran Vangent says her 20-year job as an educational assistant has changed dramatically.
Adding some medical procedures to the mix simply wouldn’t work, said Vangent, who is part of the Greater Essex County District School Board.
“I was livid. I was absolutely livid,” Vangent said after reading the provincial government’s draft proposal. “I can’t even imagine.”
Early in his career, Vangent recalls a “very low-key” one-classroom work environment. Today, she is regularly brought to up to four classrooms a day. Heavy workloads and small staff all contribute to what Vangent describes as burnout.
She said that’s where the feelings of “guilt” and “like I’m not doing my job” come in. summer, did I get that, did I really need to take that 15 minute break, because if I had stayed in class, I might have been able to join him.”
The Department of Education said the policy review was triggered, in part, because families told them the outdated healthcare framework was a barrier to getting children with disabilities into school.
The province has heard from hundreds of families and stakeholders and expects to develop a finalized policy in the coming months.
But from Lamont’s perspective, educators shouldn’t be providing medical care because “they didn’t go to school for that.”
Additionally, she worries about accountability and wonders “who is responsible if something goes wrong.”