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Parksville mom frustrated with SD69 visual language interpreter assignment process

District competes for positions in tight labour market
(PQB News file photo)

With the start of the school year fast approaching, Monika Stobiecka Lane became concerned her daughter would not be assigned a visual language interpreter.

Toward the end of August she was able to get in touch with staff at her daughter’s Parksville school but did not receive a definitive answer until Aug. 29.

Stobiecka Lane was relieved to get the good news, but frustrated it did not come sooner.

“I just feel like it’s not acceptable to be waiting until the last minute,” she said. “Is an interpreter hired? Is there one confirmed? Is it a shared position?”

School districts plan for each fall term by looking at what the incoming students’ needs are, according to Brenda Paul, director of human resources for School District 69 (Qualicum).

“And so depending on the needs, we would then determine what is the role that we actually need to go out and compete for,” she said. Paul added she does not speak about specific family situations, out of privacy concerns.

It’s a tight and competitive labour market out there, especially for sought-after positions such as a registered visual language interpreter (RVLI). An RVLI has different qualifications and is governed by a different body than a person with American Sign Language (ASL) training, Paul said.

“We’re lucky. we have someone,” she added. “Not only do we have someone that is in RVLI, but we also have a small pool of individuals who also are certified with ASL.”

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Paul said she believes the district is competitive because it offers an attractive compensation package and a stable structure where employees know they will have a regular work schedule, rather than waiting for a phone call to see if they will need to work on a weekend, as she said the case is in the consulting sector.

The school district goes to significant lengths to hire not just RVLIs, but also speech and language pathologists. It competes with others in both the public and private sectors and works with recruiters at a national level to fill staff positions.

“I think if you talked to any district in B.C., they would tell you that can be tricky for them,” Paul said.

School District 69 works with a K-12 public education recruiter and puts out advertisements that go across Canada. It also works through the recruiter to reach out to Douglas College, which offers a sign language interpretation program, along with a range of universities and associations.

The pandemic has exacerbated already existing staffing challenges. Paul said the labour market has changed because people have different opportunities, with some opting to scale back working hours, relocate or retire.

School District 69 does not have a specific number of interpreters it aims to have available, but there is always a pool of staff with ASL training for when a new student, who requires that service, joins the district, Paul said. When the staff ‘bench’ doesn’t have a needed skill, then the search is on.

Speech and Hearing BC, a not-for-profit organization made up of more than 1,200 speech-language pathologists and audiologists, recently published a news release expressing its concern about the availability of communication health professionals.

“British Columbia is falling behind the rest of Canada,” the release read. “Federal comparisons on access to support for everything from early childhood and school-age intervention, to hearing aid funding, to accessing speech-language pathology services for seniors recovering from illness outline that British Columbia is not keeping pace with other parts of the country.”

According to Speech and Hearing BC, children with language impairments have poorer academic and social outcomes. Additionally, they experience a higher likelihood of having a learning disability than children in the general population.

“To ensure all of our students have an equal chance, we must ensure communication health-care professionals are accessible and available,” said Becca Yu, president.

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Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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