In the News

Public acclaim comes rarely for school support personnel, but back-to-school season last fall provided a windfall of publicity for school bus drivers, bus attendants, cafeteria workers, custodians and paraprofessionals in southwest Florida.

A splashy front-page spread in the Charlotte Sun featured a back-to-school campaign initiated by the Charlotte County Support Personnel Association, which let the newspaper’s staff writers and editors, along with other members of the community, try to perform the jobs of school employees for a day. “I’ve Been Back to School” is in its second year as a joint effort with the Charlotte Florida Education Association and the Charlotte County schools. “Little did I know what a huge responsibility [it] would be” to work in the school cafeteria, wrote Sun correspondent Debbie Flessner. Most impressive about food service workers: “Each and every one of them was kind to the students and to one another, and extremely hardworking.”

Driver Roger McKeon and bus attendant Ethel Rice were two PSRPs senior writer Christy Feinberg spent the day with, part of “a small army of quick-witted, team-minded, safety-conscious professionals who have a great responsibility twice a day: safely driving students to and from school.” These workers arrive every day at the transportation building by 5:30 a.m., working a morning shift and returning for an afternoon shift that often ends after 5:30 p.m. Drivers and attendants, Feinberg noted, are the first staff to notice if kids are sick or upset, and the last ones to see them at the end of the day.

 A study of paraprofessionals by the Connecticut Legislature cites paras’ vital role in special education and makes recommendations for improved training and staffing levels. AFT Connecticut successfully advocated in the last legislative session for the state General Assembly to study paraprofessional staffing in public schools. The resulting 11 recommendations would set procedures for better paraprofessional training and deployment.

California public schools are now required to stock emergency epinephrine auto-
injectors for students with severe allergies, and “volunteer staff” are required to administer them. Although the new law includes some training provisions and civil liability protections, requiring staff to make life-or-death decisions outside of their expertise is a lot to ask, says Paula Phillips, president of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees.

Last year, AFT convention delegates approved a resolution Phillips introduced asking for federal regulation of medical procedures in schools. Our California affiliate has been pushing for state legislation that would assign a nurse and a mental health professional in every public school.

New Mexico paraprofessional and AFT Vice President Kathy Chavez was among three Latinas who spoke at a national conference in February, briefing participants on community engagement and legislative priorities such as immigration reform. Chavez is president of the Albuquerque Educational Assistants Association and executive vice president of AFT New Mexico. She began her career as a bus driver and went on to work with medically fragile children at Casa Angelica. Among her accomplishments is helping pass state legislation that set a minimum pay plan for educational assistants.

PSRP Reporter, Spring 2015 Download PDF (913.38 KB)
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