This is a powerful message from Kim McLeod, originally shared on her public Facebook page. Please read and share widely.
For two weeks in April, the BC Parents of Special Needs Kids – Action for Equitable Access to Education group invited parents and caregivers from across the Province to share their thoughts on public education. The survey was targeted towards parents/caregivers who currently have children who experience extra support needs attending public school, as well as those parents/caregivers who had removed their child with extra support needs from public bricks and mortar school.
The survey results should only be used as a reference point to further discussion regarding current opinions of parents who have children who have extra learning support needs in public bricks and mortar education in their community. Parents/caregivers who have children who are accessing a public bricks and mortar school (or had accessed in the past) were invited to participate via the survey being posted on a number of Facebook groups for parents who have children with disabilities. The survey was also posted on twitter and shared via email.
Three additional reports were generated for the communities of Vancouver, Abbotsford and Surrey.
Some highlights from the survey:
- The majority of respondents have children who are elementary school age
- Of the respondents who indicated they had removed their child from a bricks and mortar school, more stated they had been ‘forced out’ versus choosing to leave the public bricks and mortar system.
- Children being sent home early from school due to lack of support continues to be a concern, with 20% of respondents indicating this has been a challenge for them.
- Specialized services such as Occupational Therapy and Speech Language Therapy continue to be recommended for children, but families cannot get access to these in the public bricks and mortar schools.
- Deteriorating emotional health of child (anxiety, depression) due to lack of support continues to be a significant concern for parents and caregivers
The Ministry of Education recently invited parents to complete an online satisfaction survey regarding their child’s education. The survey was generic and only allowed for comments regarding special education in this province. We would like to encourage the Ministry of Education and all School Districts across the Province to consider designing a survey specifically for parents who have children with special needs, in order to get a clearer picture of the challenges (and successes!) they are experiencing in the public education system.
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.”
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:
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
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.
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,
The BC Parents of Special Needs Children – Action for Equitable Access to Education is doing a follow up on the Forced Out report from one year ago.
If you are a parent who has a child/children with extra learning support needs in British Columbia, we would love for you to take this short survey. The survey is focused on family experiences with public education in this province.
The survey will close on Friday, April 29, 2016.
Author: Cathie Camley
Ministry policy requires that Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) be reviewed annually. This usually happens towards the end of the school year. It is important for parents to be involved in the annual review in my humble opinion. Not only is the IEP reviewed to identify successes and what “next steps” should be in place, it also serves as a bit of a blueprint for the fall before a new IEP is written.
For students who are transitioning to another school in the fall, this is the time to ensure that plans and preparations are made for the new school to receive your child. Ministry policy requires that transition planning be included in the IEP. If it isn’t done already, now is the time to get it done.
For students moving from elementary to middle or from middle to high school, it is usual for the receiving school specialist teacher(s) to meet with specialist staff at the feeder schools to find out which students with special needs they will be receiving in the fall and what they need to do to prepare. However, there is no guarantee that the staff who receive this information will be on staff at that school in the fall. My advice is not to rely too heavily that this information will find its way to the receiving school’s staff. When kids fall off lists…this is usually the time it happens. Take the opportunity to ask when the new school sets up meetings for parents to discuss program and service needs and start IEPs in the fall.
This is also the time to review your child’s G-4 file. All students who are registered in the district have a file that is kept at the school where the child attends. This file will be sent to the new school so you will want to ensure the information it contains is up to date and accurate. The Ministry says parents have the right to review the file and that the principal, or his or her delegate, should accompany you to “interpret” the contents. If there is information you think is inaccurate or out of date, ask for it to be removed or brought up to date. If that request is denied, you may write a letter to the principal with the accurate or more up to date information and cc a copy to the G-4 file so at least you are on record. And then there’s always an opportunity to appeal a decision not to change the contents of a file if you believe that the contents will affect your child’s health, safety or education.
Some schools will host a visiting day towards the end of the year for students who will be attending in the fall so they become familiar with their new schools. For many of our children this one day may not be enough to provide a smooth transition so ask if it can be arranged to have you child come on more than one occasion.
Many of our kids have difficulty finding their way around a large physical space. If it is at all possible see if you can find out where your child’s classes will be and practice the route between classrooms on your visit(s). Walk the grounds too to locate doors in and out and where bathrooms are. Check out the lunchroom cafeteria and menu boards too if your child has dietary concerns to see what options are available. See if the receiving school will allow you and your child a walk though just before school reopens in the fall too….just a refresher of the site.
Lockers can be challenging. Here’s a few tips that might help make things easier.Ask for a locker assignment beside a door so it will be easier to find. It’s hard to find your locker from a long row of lockers in a long hallway. Ask for a special lock for the locker. Some schools have locks with combinations that don’t require three numbers…just one. Ask if you can keep the lock over the summer so your child can practice with it. My own son carried his entire locker contents in his backpack for several months because he couldn’t manage his lock or even find his locker. An astute specialist teacher called me about his doing this. He was too embarrassed to tell me he couldn’t manage his lock.
Early in the fall, and once schedules are known, review with your child what will be needed for each day’s schedule and colour code supplies for each subject (duotangs, text books covers, etc) so that things will be easy to find and organize to take from class to class.
It does take some time for staff to become familiar with their new students and to draft new IEPs. At high school, where students have one teacher for every subject, it is more challenging for subject teachers to get to know students well. It is quite common for subject teachers not to know that some of their students have special needs – especially those with invisible disabilities. A quick visit helps as does a one page sheet you prepare that outlines essential accommodations helps to ensure there is an awareness that your child will need some support.
For students who are graduating, the Ministry requires that there be some transition planning articulated in the IEP to help you and your child learn about what is available in terms of programs, services, continued educational opportunities, employment, training, etc. .
This is far from complete, so I invite you to add to these suggestions in the comment section.
March 18, 2016
Dear Trustees, Abbotsford School District Board of Education
It has come to the attention of the Abbotsford Parents Action Group that the District of North Vancouver has submitted a motion for the creation of a regulatory body to oversee Education Assistants in the Province in British Columbia, to be voted on at the BCSTA Annual General Meeting in April 2016. This is in line with the motion that was accepted by the British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) also calling for the development of standards and a regulatory body to oversee Educational Assistants in this Province.
On behalf of the members of our Action Group, we would ask the Abbotsford School District Trustees to support this motion. Our vulnerable students deserve to have the best possible care and attention in our schools. The development of a regulatory body to ensure standards of care are upheld would be a positive step forward to ensuring this happens.
On behalf of The Abbotsford Parents Action Group
The Abbotsford Parents Action Group is a group of over 100 parents who are interested in ensuring all children get the support they need to access appropriate and equitable education in our community. We are committed to ensuring parents in Abbotsford have the information and support they need to be strong partners in their child’s education. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Dear Kootenay-Columbia Board of School Trustees,
We, the members of Parents of Special Needs Children –Equitable Access to Education, wish to acknowledge and thank the Kootenay-Columbia School District’s laudable decision not to remove students from their special education programs.
We whole-heartedly support the Board Chair, Mr. Ganzert’s, opinion that, “The entire funding issue in the public education system is disgraceful.” We agree that not only are the eligibility rules inflexible, leaving many needy children without support services, but it is our collective experience that even those of our children who do qualify, all too often receive an inadequate level of support which would enable them to equitably access the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers.
We are reminded of Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella’s words when speaking on behalf of the Supreme Court of Canada in their ruling on Moore v. British Columbia, when she wrote: “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. Therefore, we will be calling on government once again to provide a level of funding that would enable all school boards in British Columbia to meet that statutory responsibility as well as the Ministry’s own Special Education policy which clearly states that: “All students should have equitable access to learning, opportunities for achievement, and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs.”
BC Parents of Special Needs Children – Equitable Access to Education
A group of parents from the community of Abbotsford have come together to create a local extension of our Provincial action group with the intent on raising awareness and advocating for students who have extra learning support needs. They have written an open letter to the Abbotsford Board of Education and Abbotsford School District, and we are pleased to post it here. If you are interested in connecting with this group of parents, please email email@example.com. If you are not from Abbotsford, but would like to connect with our larger provincial parent action group, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open Letter to the Abbotsford Board of Education and Abbotsford School District
The Abbotsford School District commissioned a “Thought Exchange” at the end of the year last year, to provide parents with an opportunity to share their thoughts on their child’s school. Here is how the process works.
First, parents/guardians are provided with a link that takes them to a survey where they type in their responses to four questions. There is a set period of time where comments can be provided.
Then, all the of the responses are accumulated and categorized into common themes. A second survey gets sent out to parents/guardians where they can see the responses and essentially “vote” on the ones that have the most meaning to them.
Finally, the results are tabulated and a final report is generated that shares the things that parents identified as priorities for them. To learn more, please visit the Abbotsford School District ThoughtExchange page.
When the second stage of the process was going on, a parent noticed two very offensive (to her) comments. She reported the comments as offensive via the Thought Exchange tool and asked they be removed because they further marginalize and exclude children with special needs by allowing people to “vote” with their agreement. She emailed the Chair of the Board of Trustees to indicate her concern, but never received a response. She was disappointed that the next time she entered the survey the comments remained for people to vote on.
She held out hope that somewhere in the process, leadership would be shown and the comments would not appear in the final report. As you can see below, this did not happen. The results were released last week and are available for public viewing at the link provided above.
Here are the comments in question (click to enlarge):
Image says [sic]: special needs have created a reverse problem in the interest of inclusion. albeit I appreciate a handicap childs access to school, friends, education, etc. when a child is too severly handicap and require constant supervision to the adverse impact on other students then a line needs to be drawn. one child couldn’t be trusted not to hit the other students. this is too far! [12 people, 37 stars, 3 1/8 hearts]
Image says [sic]: Students with IEP’s consume a huge amount of time and resources. Teachers attend a number of IEP meetings per year, addapt work ot meet IEP goals and report on each of the students. This does not include all the extra class time these students demand through special instruction, behaviour and discipline issues. There should be only 1 or 2 IEP students per class. [17 people, 54 stars, 3 1/4 hearts]
[The people icon indicates the number of people who indicated their agreement with the statement, the star icon indicates the number of stars that were assigned to the statement, and the heart icon indicates the level of passion for the statement.]
Here’s the thing: all students have a charter right to equitable access to education. ALL students. Comments such as these go against the charter right of students. For more information, please read this article by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde and Faith Bodnar: All Children Deserve Quality Education.
Now, we can certainly empathize with why a parent may feel compelled to write such statements, however when a School Board allows such comments to stand and be voted on in support, then we have a problem. Comments such as the ones above offer the opportunity for others to pile on and further marginalize and exclude students who experience challenges and their parents. Further, they detract attention away from the real issue which is the ongoing lack of support for students who have special needs in our school district.
We are curious, would the District allow comments that went against a charter right of another group of people?
We took some time to review the results from all of the schools that participated in this feedback process. An overwhelming majority of the schools identified lack of support for students who have special needs. To be clear, this is the REAL issue. Interestingly enough, this process occurred at the end of the 2014/2015 school year. As we enter into the 7th week of the current school year, we have already heard a number of stories from parents who have children who are not being adequately supported in their school environment. Worse, when they try to advocate for more support they are stonewalled by bureaucratic policies and procedure speak and sent on a chase through a maze to determine “what next”.
We will hear comments such as “we are limited by funding” and we would actually challenge this, knowing how some of the dollars are being allocated within this District, we do believe there is the opportunity to do more. We might hear about a matrix that looks at all the data about kids who have special needs and be told this is how support is allocated throughout the District. Again, we have to challenge this. Since there appears to be a continuation of the problem of lack of support, perhaps it is time to revisit this matrix and create a tool that may be more effective. At the very minimum, it is time for clear, open and transparent communication with parents and caregivers about how supports are allocated in our school district.
Most importantly, perhaps it is also time for the Abbotsford Board of Education and District Staff to start having real conversations with parents who have children who have extra learning support needs and truly begin to understand their experiences. We are not talking about a one off public meeting where a budget is being presented for consultation.
We are talking about creating a safe space for families to come together to share their experiences in a meaningful way, not open themselves up to further marginalization at a public meeting. We are talking about regular, ongoing communications with families to get a picture of what it is like as they try to navigate the education system in our community. To be curious, ask us our stories, and make a commitment for action. This would also be a great way to put the Board of Educations Strategic Plan pillar of Parental Engagement into action.
We often think we require big solutions to problems, and the challenge with this is it becomes overwhelming. We rely on directives and mandates and policies, when really, the biggest impact for change starts with the smallest of steps. Opening hearts and minds to awareness, understanding and possibilities. What might we accomplish together if we take this step? What might this mean for the vulnerable children in our community who have a charter right to education?
We think it is time to find out. We do hope the Abbotsford Board of Education has the courage to take this small step. We can do so much when we are united.
We look forward to hearing from you via our email address below. We would appreciate a response from the Board of Education and the Abbotsford School District by November 6, 2015.
Abbotsford Parents Action Group
Mike Bernier, Minister of Education, British Columbia
Special Education, Learning Supports – Ministry of Education
Michael de Jong, MLA
Simon Gibson, MLA
Darryl Plecas, MLA
Abbotsford District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC)
Abbotsford District Teachers Association
Henry Braun, Mayor, Abbotsford
Tyler Olsen, Abbotsford News
A common argument from community will be “those” kids shouldn’t be in school in the first place. Fair enough. We respect your right to free speech, but let us illustrate for you what this means…
Child is excluded from school and remains at home. No external supports in place to assist with behaviors. All on parent(s). What if parent is single parent? Well, too bad, now you have to quit your job because you cannot find a child care space. Which means you then have to apply for assistance yourself. Or one parent leaves their job and the family becomes single income. And the family still receives no external support to assist with escalating behaviors (because child and adult are now isolated creating a downward spiral of emotional wellness). Eventually, it can become so overwhelming that parent feels there is no other option but to place in care of Ministry. If they will agree….
In this picture, society as a whole has essentially given up on the child and the parent and said ‘You don’t matter”. Is this really the community you want to live in? Take the time to ask families their story. You might be surprised by what you learn.
It has been less than one week since we launched the BC Parents of Special Needs Children – Action for Equitable Access to Education website. We are incredibly grateful for the support and interest our advocacy group has received from parents, educators and the media.
A common question that has been raised is “who are you advocating for? kids with autism? kids with developmental disabilities? Who?”
This is a fair question,. We have not been able to address this in the media interviews we have given over the past week, hence this blog post.
The British Columbia Ministry of Education defines special needs in the following way:
The parents who have shared their stories with us over the past several months certainly reflect this definition – we are a very diverse group! We have families who have children with learning disabilities, children who are gifted, children who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities, children who have mental health challenges and others.
Tonight I want to write about the families who have children with invisible disabilities – these are the children who appear to others that they have no challenges at all, when in fact, these children are struggling in very real ways. These children might be experiencing a learning disability, significant anxiety or other mental health concerns, or they may be gifted. Sometimes these children and their learning profiles are not well understood – there is an assumption that they “look fine” therefore they are choosing to refuse to work, shut down, be the class clown, act out, etc.
A common theme we are hearing from the families who have connected with us is the lack of access to assessment to determine learning needs. Many are asking us questions about how to go about commissioning a private assessment – which costs anywhere between $1500 – $2500 – because assessment by the school simply isn’t available to them because their child does not have “severe” enough challenges.
Some might question why we would need an assessment at all – there are certainly arguments out there regarding supporting based on needs and that labels or diagnosis are not necessary.
But what happens when we don’t have an accurate understanding of the learning profile of our children?
What if we had the opportunity to really understand the learning profiles of our children and could make adaptations and accommodations to the academic material so they could be successful?
I can speak to the graphic above. When our son was in grade four, we paid out of pocket for a comprehensive psychological assessment that identified a number of concerns, including the fact that our son’s fine motor skills were in the first percentile – equivalent to a child in Kindergarten. This finding shed new light on why our son was refusing written activities – it was not all a behavior issue, as had been assumed for years, it was that he couldn’t write. Had we not commissioned this assessment on our own, we would never have qualified to receive one through the school district. Our son would be too far down the list.
When a child does not go to school…wait…let’s rephrase that. When a parent does not get their child to school, the community starts to judge. Assumptions are made about why that child is not at school, and most often it is related to parenting.
- “The child is just manipulating his or her way out of going to school.”
- “The parents are just being lazy, there is no excuse for that child not to go to school.”
- “Give him to me, I’ll straighten him out.”
- “There must be something going on at home”
- “She’s just trying to get out of school so she can stay home and play video games all day.”
I wish they would speak with my child. He will tell a different story about why he does not want to go to school. It is not about staying home and playing video games. It is about crippling anxiety that he cannot manage, that morphs into thoughts that he is a stupid, dumb, worthless kid who gets into trouble all the time, so why bother going anyway. It is about an overriding feeling that he will never be able to be successful at school, that he can’t do anything right. Not to mention the learning disabilities that slow his ability to understand the new concepts so he is always a few steps behind the other kids.
When I wrote the post Responding to School Anxiety, linked to in the above quote, we were actually seeing some positive progress for our son. Unfortunately, as the school year continued on, we were unable to sustain this. We made the decision to remove our child from school in January 2015.
I guess my point is this. It is hard to capture everything in a five minute media interview, especially when it is not something you are accustomed to doing! I want to assure parents that we are advocating for all children who have special needs – be it developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, mental health challenges, students who are gifted and more. Our kids deserve equitable access to education, and we will continue speaking up for them!
We are currently finalizing the details of a meeting with the Assistant Deputy Minister of Education and another staff from the Ministry of Education. We hope to provide regular updates and reflections over the coming months.
We thank you for your continued encouragement and support.