Open Letter to North Okanagan/Shuswap Board of Education

May 11, 2016

North Okanagan / Shuswap Board of Education:

RE: “Students who attend alternate education programs are often the most vulnerable population in the school system.” – BC Government

I am writing in regards to the alternate learning programs slated for closure. I am writing as a Parent of a child in Public School System; and although not a child of the alternate learning program, I am still a passionate public school advocate and concerned community member.

I was drawn to the Salmon Arm Observer article on Apr 14, 2016. I note that in Asquith’s quote, “This restructuring was not a board decision. It was a committee of people working together to determine what is the best way to proceed with supports for students,” said Asquith. “This committee involved principals, alternate teachers, school psychologists, counsellors, parents and classroom teachers.”

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It is very interesting to me that nowhere in this committee does it include a student voice. These are the people being most effected by the closure, and deserve to at least have their voice and the opinions heard. Why this school is important to them! Their letters site mental health, social, physical and academic concerns. Should that not be a priority and a consideration in the slated closure?

It is also a great concern to me that Asquith says, “the goal is to build more learning resource teacher time, provide greater capacity with classroom teachers, more learning resource teacher time into our rural schools and additional school psychologist time to behaviour assessment time.”

Again I will state that although these goals sound good on paper; however, they are all focused on the teachers and teacher resources, not one line of this statement addresses the needs of the students of this program. This is a budgetary decision made by a committee on a report, that has not been made public.

I wish to site 3 areas for consideration:

The first is School Act (RSBC 1996) Chapter 412; Part 2 – Students and Parents; Division1 – Students. Under the heading:
Consultation

4 A student is entitled to consult with a teacher, principal, vice principal or director of instruction with regard to that student’s educational program.

I will again draw your attention to the fact that none of the StoreFront students were consulted in the impending closure of their school.

Secondly; is the Supreme Court of Canada on the right to equal access to education Moore v. British Columbia. The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed on the definition of ‘education as a service’ under human rights legislation to which children with disabilities are entitled to equal access. Speaking on behalf of the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella found, “Adequate special education… is not a dispensable luxury… it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”

I would argue that the students of our Alternative School are in need of special education. The brick and mortar traditional school does not meet their needs and they are entitled and due the necessary adaptations to have a successful and quality education. And should that adaptation be the StoreFront then so be it.

Finally, as per – the BC Government website, http://www2.gov.bc.ca/…/public-…/alternate-education-program
Alternate Education Program

Policy Statement

Alternate education programs focus on educational, social and emotional issues for students whose needs are not being met in a traditional school program. An alternate education program provides its support through differentiated instruction, specialized program delivery and enhanced counselling services based on students’ needs.

Rationale or purpose of policy

Students who attend alternate education programs are often the most vulnerable population in the school system. Alternate education programs have disproportionate numbers of children and youth in care, Aboriginal students, children and youth living in poverty or the street, gifted children who have difficulty in social situations, children and youth involved in drugs, alcohol and the sex trade, and youth with mental health concerns. Alternate education programs offer an opportunity for these vulnerable and at-risk students to experience success.

Authority

The relevant sections of the School Act with respect to the alternate education programs include the following:

The preamble to the School Act states:

WHEREAS it is the goal of a democratic society to ensure that all its members receive an education that enables them to become literate, personally fulfilled and publicly useful, thereby increasing the strength and contributions to the health and stability of that society;

AND WHEREAS the purpose of the British Columbia school system is to enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy;

I would ask that the students of the Alternative Program be able to express and voice their concerns in a person, or at least by written submission, for consideration. I would ask that these points above in conjunction with the students’ voices be taken seriously into consideration before the decision to close our School Districts alternative program.

And I would ask that we all remember the School Act states, “it is the goal of a democratic society to ensure that all its members receive an education that enables them to become literate, personally fulfilled and publicly useful, thereby increasing the strength and contributions to the health and stability of that society”. Let us hold up our most vulnerable youth so that they can reach their full potential.

Our schools need more funding and less cuts and that is a provincial issue to keep in mind as well.

In sincere hope,

Brandi Butts

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