Parents of special needs kids concerned about consequences of TA strike

DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) – With contract negotiations for the Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants at a standstill, some area parents of special needs children said they’re in a bind, as many special needs students can only legally attend classes if a teaching assistant is present.

“Right now, my wife and I, we’ve been discussing who’s gonna take time off of work,” said Gary Hironimus, whose son Elden has autism.

“We have to figure out what we’re gonna do with him,” said Danielle Fields, talking about her son, who has autism and sensory processing disorder. “There aren’t a lot of daycare options in Decatur in general, and particularly for children with special needs.”

The teaching assistant union has said it will go on strike if a new deal isn’t reached by Tuesday. This presumably means many special needs children in the district will then be unable to attend classes.

“He has a routine,” said Andy Hynds, whose son Joel has global developmental delay. “He is used to going to school. School is where he thrives, and to have that routine cut off during the middle of the school year is going to be bad for him.”

Phil Shils added his daughter Lucia “would not be able to viably go to school because she’s completely dependent on others for every facet of her life”.

Paula Busboom, President of the DFTA, said Friday the teaching assistants are seeking a more reasonable contract, including better health insurance rates.

“I would like to see how a school board member could live on $20,000 a year salary, not qualify for unemployment, not get paid for Christmas break, not get paid for Spring Break, feed their family, take health insurance that they’re offering us at $900 a month, and still be able to afford to work for this school district and do the kind of jobs that we do,” she said.

Some of the parents of special needs kids said many people don’t realize the work the teaching assistants do on a daily basis.

“Sometimes the teacher’s aides have to assist them with normal functions, such as going to the restroom, tying their shoes, getting in and out of mobility devices,” said Hironimus.

“They feed kids by G-tubes,” Shils said. “They assist the teachers when there’s a kid that has a seizure. They make teaching these special needs kids in these classrooms doable. Without them, it’s not doable. The classroom can’t function in a safe and effective way.”

WAND reached out to the Decatur Public School District to see what their plan is for special education classes after the strike. The district responded they don’t have a plan because they are hopeful an agreement can be reached.