Teacher aides, teaching assistants and other School-Related Professionals are increasingly being tasked with toileting and diapering students with disabilities.
It’s a new assignment for many, and there are no standard protocols for how to handle it.
“Toileting requires training,” said Sandie Carner-Shafran, a NYSUT Board member from the Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association. “The students often need to be lifted, and they can be bigger than you, so you need training in how to do that safely. There are issues of privacy, as well. They may be differently abled, but they still should be afforded privacy.”
It’s a big issue.
As the state’s legislative session enters its final few weeks, NYSUT is working to introduce legislation to provide new uniform, statewide health and safety protocols for staff who provide toileting and diapering services.
“We need this to pass,” said Terry Spiva, Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals. “We need protocols to help keep the students safe and clean, to protect their privacy and to protect ourselves from liability.”
More than 70 NYSUT SRP activists gathered on Zoom Monday to plan for two days of virtual meetings with lawmakers this week on a fistful of crucial legislative priorities.
“We have so many important bills we’re advocating that will affect so many of our members,” said NYSUT Second Vice President Ron Gross. “These bills are priorities because they seek to improve your working conditions.”
Tammy Hughes, East Syracuse-Minoa Teaching Assistants, drew the connection between the toileting bill and another priority on workplace violence. She said one of her colleagues had received a concussion and another suffered a torn rotator cuff during violent confrontations while toileting students.
NYSUT is pushing a Workplace Violence bill, S.3011, which would allow school districts to implement a number of proactive school safety plans that work to prevent school violence rather than react to a violent situation.
The exact same bill passed both houses of the Legislature previously, but was vetoed by the former governor.
The volunteer lobbyists also will be advocating a bill to require a school bus attendant or monitor, in addition to a driver, on all buses transporting students in grades K-6. (S.3916-A/A.3871-A)
Having a second SRP on a bus would allow the driver to focus on the safe transportation of students, while the school bus attendant can address any issues occurring with students.
The grassroots advocates also will press lawmakers to support a bill to extend fairness in Workers Compensation cases. (S.6328/A.2317-A)
Public employees who are unable to work due to a job-related injury do not receive any financial relief from workers comp until after their case has been established and their benefits have been approved.
This process can drag on for weeks or months, while workers’ bills go unpaid and their savings are drained. The bill would allow civil service employees to use sick time, vacation time and other compensatory time pending receipt of workers comp benefits.
A bill to address Extreme Heat in Schools (S.1825-A/A.8214-B) is on the agenda, as well. It would provide relief from extreme heat conditions in schools to avoid the potential for heat-related illness.
Gross, whose Program Services operation includes SRP issues, urged members to talk about their experiences in school settings — with violence, with excessive heat, with any issues they experienced that illuminate the implications of these proposed bills.
“If the lawmakers don’t agree with you at first,” said Karen Lee Arthmann, a Rush Henrietta SRP leader on the NYSUT Board, “you are going to give them the real-world stories that are going to make them change their minds.”