Response to Article By Paul Bennett (July 7th, 2018 – Chronicle Herald) Regarding School-Based Specialists

I am concerned that you have published yet another opinion article by Paul Bennett that represents a one-sided perspective regarding the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s decision to alter the terms of contracts for school-based specialists.

What this opinion piece would have benefited from is perspective and input from a school-based specialist, such as a speech-language pathologist, school psychologist or school social worker. Since this opinion piece has neglected to do so with the goal of providing yet another outside opinion targeted at damaging the hard-working professionals of the NSTU, I would like to provide that perspective so that your readers can make an informed choice instead of being misled.

I am deeply concerned with a number of quotes from stakeholders taken out of context and applied to this opinion piece. For example, the direct quote from Jan Keddy, regarding “family centered practice”, used in this context, implies that school-based specialists do not follow the family-centered model of support, which is not the case. An author that quotes partial pieces from a statement in order to make his or her point is not following best practices for accurately quoting sources and may be doing so misleadingly. All school-based specialists are deeply engaged with family-centered approaches. During any given week, a speech-language pathologist will make contact with all families through home programming and communication through phone or email; parents attend therapy sessions and feedback meetings with school teams designed to ensure parent engagement is maximized. A school psychologist will be involved with parent communication to ensure strategies for support are able to be used at home, conducting demonstration sessions and engaging in frequent communication. A social worker will meet with families, attend meetings with family physicians and other specialists, and assist students in attending community settings and events. To imply that school-based specialists do not follow a family-centered approach shows the lack of knowledge this piece presents.

To further imply that school-based specialists do not work outside of school hours or during the summer is also false. School program planning meetings and parent meetings are almost always conducted outside of regular working hours to ensure all staff can be in attendance and to not take away from regular programming during the day. Specialists regularly work after hours to prepare materials, programming, update the records system, or write reports for parent meetings. Students are provided with home programming for summer months, with parents meeting with staff before hand to ensure demonstration and adherence to techniques. Most of our specialists participate in professional development over the summer months in order to keep their professional credentials up to date. Furthermore, outside agencies that provide these services do not treat students the entire year. For example, Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centers provide parent-training sessions that only run for a certain duration, and treatment blocks are pre-determined in length. It is not expected that these professionals treat the same students for the entire year, why would this be enforced on school-based specialists? Speech-language therapy can be taxing and students require breaks to practice their skills in outside, naturalistic environments. To suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding by the author of this piece.

Creating a division between specialists in terms of those working full-year and those not will only break-down the flow of support for students. In the process, specialists will seek work elsewhere. One only has to look next door to New Brunswick to see what has happened when these changes were enforced on their school-based specialists – there is currently a lack of trained specialists in the province who have chosen to work elsewhere because of these imposed work conditions.  I question where Mr. Bennett has found data suggesting that there are “48” speech-language pathologists across the province serving school populations, when this is simply not the case. Perhaps he means 48 positions now not under the union, which may be likely. Or perhaps he meant “48 positions that have had job rights taken away from them and can expect overworked job conditions”. There is no mention of the current working conditions for specialists; with caseloads triple the recommended size, moving staff to 12 months will not alleviate these caseloads nor provide more service for students.

In summary, families should be aware that the impression being provided by consultants and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is not an accurate representation of the current situation. All specialists provide family-focused care; all specialists work outside of daily hours and over summer break; all specialists are overworked and have huge caseloads that are not manageable; initiatives to provide additional staff are not working due to the loss of staff because of job conditions. Students will not get better service with these changes; specialists will be further overworked and our most vulnerable populations will suffer.

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