Equitable Access for All

Author: Cathie Camley

There was a time when there was a sharp divide between those advocating for kids with high incidence disabilities and those kids with low incidence disabilities. Those families who had children in segregated settings fought long and hard to have their children included in regular education classrooms. With a dedicated effort they were successful and the Ministry mandated inclusion. Almost all segregated setting were closed and those children began attending regular education classes with their non-disabled peers. It was a huge victory.

Families who had children with high incidence disabilities attending specialized programs watched in dismay as their children’s highly successful programs were also closed as the philosophy of inclusion swept the province. They rallied their efforts to keep their highly-prized programs open with some success, but a lot of backlash.

Families with kids in low incidence categories saw those efforts as a threat to their children’s inclusion….a slippery slope back to forced segregation. They felt that all they had fought so long to achieve would slip away. High incidence families felt that their children had been sacrificed to a model of full inclusion that was harmful to their children and seemed contrary to Ministry policy that allowed for some specialized settings.

So, for almost a decade, there were two very polarized camps and the rhetoric from both sides would often turn quite nasty. There was a sense of absolutism and protectionism and neither side was about to give an inch. That tone has tempered over time but it has not disappeared – especially now when resources are so limited….or so we are told.

Our group is made up of families from both high and low incidence categories. Generally there is consensus on most matters. Yet, at times, that old fear-based division bubbles up again….not so much about inclusion, but about how fairly resources are distributed.

We have been conditioned to think this way because that’s what we’ve been told is the reality and, I would add, serves a purpose for the those who hold the purse strings. When the principal tells you that there are others worse off than your child so, no, you can’t get extra help; when you keep getting sent to the back of the line for assessments because you are told that others need it more urgently; when the teacher says your child does not bring in any funding so they cannot have a much needed aid….when we hear these things we are conditioned to believe that there’s only so much to go around….that if one child gets another has to do without.

If we accept that, then we give permission (like school boards do) for our children’s rights and entitlements to be flexible – indexed to the size of a finite pot of resources that keeps shrinking. Districts may grumble and even fume about it, but they make those cuts anyway.

If our families – high and low incidence – continue to accept that there isn’t enough to go around, if we complain but continue to accept less, or begin to squabble amongst ourselves about who is more in need – protecting what little we have at the expense of another – then we keep our thinking in the same boxed-in space as school boards, doomed to grudgingly accept there will be a smaller pot to scrap over each year. If we do this, it is at our own peril.

The equitable access clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is about ensuring that everyone gets what they need, be it a little or a lot. Forget categories, funding formulas, etc. That right is based solely on the individual identified needs of each person – not on the size of the resource pot no matter what you are told to believe. We cannot concede that simple fact when we advocate for our children. We must stand for equitable access for all.

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15 thoughts on “Equitable Access for All

  1. >That right is based solely on the individual identified needs of each person – not on the size of the resource pot no matter what you are told to believe.

    I’m a teacher, and unfortunately I believe this is simply not realistic. The size of the pot is finite so we can’t offer infinite resources. Could the pot be added to be changing things (E.G. taxes)? Yes. But it may never be enough to provide what every child needs. There has to be a cut off at some point.

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    1. I really appreciate a teacher weighing in on this topic, because teachers are such an important part of the advocacy puzzle for exceptional children. When teachers and parents advocate together, real change can happen.

      However, if teachers are also believing the scarcity model, and making decisions based on increasing scarcity rather than the needs of children, we are sure to find our schools becoming further strained and stretched.

      Charter and Human Rights are meant to protect the most vulnerable and ensure their access and accommodation is based on need. Many Provinces have withdrawn services to the point that we are not even meeting needs, which means we have crossed a bright line where we are no longer upholding a child’s right.

      There has to be a cut-off at some point – absolutely, yes. But that cut-off is when children’s needs are met. It’s really not impossible. Let’s not get sucked into believing we can’t meet those needs in one of the most affluent Province’s in one of the most affluent countries in the world.

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    2. Your comment that the size of the pot is finite is the very reason there continues to be inadequate funding and limited resources.

      The legal test for when a pot of resources has run dry and the legal obligation can be set aside to provide accommodations to persons with disabilities is when government can prove that by providing those accommodations it would place an “undue hardship” on government.

      It would be hard to claim we have reached a point of undue hardship when government currently has established a 100 million dollar “Prosperity Fund,” and a projected $377 million dollar surplus. The legal obligation to provide accommodations to persons with disabilities takes legal precedence over government’s desire to set up such funds or create a surplus.

      The longer we accept that the pot is finite, the longer our children do without their entitlement to equitably access a public education and government gets to divert those funds elsewhere.

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    3. > There has to be a cut off

      But the problem is that the cut off is happening at the point of needs, not wants.

      There are parents whose child cannot attend full time because teaching assistant staff are not employed full time. Parents who must come to the school to toilet and feed their children who are in wheelchairs. I’ve been asked to keep my son at home because the assistant is sick. This is about equitable access and needs not being met.

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    4. I’m a parent, have a Masters in Special Ed, and have experience in both the US and Canada. While I agree that there are always finite resources, having lived in a country with a federal special education law that encompasses rights, funding requirements, data collection, and systems improvement grants, I can tell you there can be great improvements to the current situation here in BC.

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  2. Thank you for your insight as a teacher. I understand what you are saying but my question for you is: what is that cutoff point and who decides it?

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  3. Here’s the tricky thing about rights. They don’t care about budgets or political talking points. A right is a right is a right. There is a reason North Van lost that court case when the dyslexic boys needs weren’t meant. The government is lucky that more people don’t sue.

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  4. Thank you for your comment. It’s wonderful to hear from someone on the ground. We’re glad to hear educators engaging in dialogue.

    I’m not sure if it was a problem with sentence construction and clarity on your part, but your statement says that a the human right to inclusion is not possible and that there must be a cut off.

    I hope you can come back to clarify. It sounds like you are saying a right is not possible. The right is already enshrined by UN Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, the Canadian Charter and the BC Human Rights Code, as well as anti-discrimination policies in most (all?) school districts.

    I wonder if perhaps you could return to clarify, as it’s of some concern to me that an educator would be saying a right is not possible and should be cut off.

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  5. We are no where near the cut-off point. We have a duty as educators, politicians and tax-payers to invest whatever it takes to have the best, most robust, accommodating and inclusive education in the world – because the investment is guaranteed in study, after study, after study as having nothing but incredible returns.

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  6. Incidentally, if we raised the BC carbon tax to 72c, up from the current 5.5c, we’d completely cover an ADDITIONAL $30,000 in funding per student in BC public schools. And, yes, some people would start making other choices, so then we’d have to recover costs from somewhere else…like perhaps costs saved for asthma and lung disease or even obesity. But that’s the thing. It’s all a choice. Tax breaks for frackers are over $1B a year, which would be the same as increasing funding for EVERY BC public school student by $2,000. Or we could double the land transfer tax and completely cover $30k in additional funding for students every year.The idea that these resources are finite is a game. There are resources. The government makes choices about those resources.

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  7. Retired Special Ed teacher, education advocate, trustee candidate.

    I see only one solution as I have gone through three strikes and been advocating for more funding since 2000 when the Liberals started cutting staff and resources. It has now been 15 years and generations of children have gone without. Please vote the New Democrats in 2017. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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  8. I am also a teacher and a mom of a special needs child and I have to say that there shouldn’t be a cutoff point until all our children are getting the supports they need. If the premier of BC can spend $500,000.00 on private jets, then shouldn’t my son get a support person? If we can spend hundreds of thousands on a new sports arena and its leaky roof, shouldn’t your child have a teacher who can attend to all the students in her class?

    It’s not just the special needs students who are negatively affected. If the teacher has to spend a lot of her time and energy trying to help my son, then your child doesn’t get as much attention as he or she should. And if the premier of BC had to send her son to a public school instead of being able to afford a very expensive private school, perhaps my child would be getting the education he deserves. All children deserve a quality public education regardless of their needs.

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  9. I see the “finite” aspects from educators perspective. I lean towards the simple argument that buying into that finite / limited resources perspective propagates the problem .
    Someone somewhere before me had fought furiously for funding for kids like mine, the funding ( which is 10 times more than a normal child) is accepted by the school then distributed as the school sees fit. The response I get when i question it is we have limited funding , need to spread out the resources for other special needs kids who are not diagnosed etc. For the most part school is very secretive about their practices in spreading the funding because obviously it’s a slippery slope for parents like me to see how the actual support translates (ie: my child was fed in special needs bathroom because special education room was used for storage , she used to sit mindlessly for half hour because EA also has to supervise other children at lunch, she is unable to have a lunch break where she is out and about with the rest of the kids because EA has to supervise other kids). Her disabilities leave her vulnerable to every decisions by school because she NEEDs that one on one assistance to participate . She is UNABLE to protest, to convey the practices to me or remove herself from the situation.

    I don’t have anything against the EA as I think they are pulled in many directions. I understand the school professional are not malicious but simply operating with the limited resources to achieve their overall goals. My issue is , not at the EXPENSE of my daughter. If schools’ response is sorry we have limited funding and resources . Then be open about it, work with us parents to reach solutions and not compound the problem. Parents are a force that could help put pressure and advocate for more resources , if Appropriate. If limited resources/ funding is the blanket reasoning given to parents for lack of support or distribution as seen fit by school for resources that are given for our children: Then school, government and other bodies need to be transparent about sharing the source of funding issues, where and how the monies are allocated and allow (even if limited) weighing in by parents / advocates who represent the children .

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    1. Schools are forced to work with the funding they receive and that forces them to make decisions that are not good for our children. But, it’s not the fault of the school district and it’s not the fault of the Principal. The blame lies entirely at the feet of CC and her government.

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