It’s a brand new school year, but full of more of the same problems for students with special needs.
With school only a week in session, parents are speaking out on some of the issues they face as schools in Vancouver are not offering adequate support for students.
Tracey Humphreys has three children with special needs, two of whom are attending private schools.
Parents being told to keep their special needs kids at home
She wrote a blog on the issues she’s come across as well as issues brought up while speaking to other parents with children who have learning disabilities.
These issues include the fact that parents in several districts are being told to keep their kids at home rather than bring them to school.
“It’s a fairly common practice, the idea of asking or telling parents to keep their kids at home in that first week, as it is very chaotic. So that was one of the big examples that were talked about. It needs to be child centered, and it needs to be decided by the parents. A lot of parents feel cornered or they are just told outright by schools that this is what they have to do, it’s not optional.”
Other parents are being told classes need to be organized and set, while teachers are still being hired, meaning their child is to be kept at home.
Shortage of special education teachers in several districts
Vancouver is a district that like many others is attempting to hire teachers to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling to restore class size and composition. Humphreys says this ruling has added additional pressure to districts.
“I think it’s absolutely worse, it’s also worse because there are so many new teachers and classes coming in. They generally decide that makeup of a class in the first week of school. It does create a lot of chaos. I’ve seen a lot of parents talking about how in other provinces, this is not the way it’s supposed to be done. It’s usually decided in August before things get rolling, and that would help to prevent a lot of these sorts of issues even in this first year with the new teachers.”
She adds there aren’t enough special education teachers, and kids with special needs are often left to fall between the cracks.
“The erosion of services over the past 16 years has had a really profound effect on kids with special needs, my kids. I have a child who has graduated and it’s too late for him but I’m hoping to see some change for my other two kids. One of the big things is that specialist teacher haven’t really been trained in this province in a decade or more because there were no jobs for them so why would they go for training for those positions? Now it’s difficult to hire them, they’re having to look out of province and get creative.”
Parents under pressure, some forced to leave their jobs to provide care during school hours
She adds these problems have added to the stress parents feel knowing schools can’t provide adequate support for their children.
“They don’t have the appropriately trained staff or not enough staff. So they will call the parents to come in. I can’t tell you how many parents I know who have had to leave their jobs and be creative and find work at home situations, or just not work and some people have sold their homes, some move to a different city, where it’s more affordable.”
“Inclusion is a mandate, not an afterthought”
Humphreys says the government needs to focus on psychoeducational assessments and ensure inclusion for all children in public and private schools.
“Education Minister Rob Fleming had mentioned an interest in increasing psychoeducational assessments and that’s exciting to hear because that would have a very positive impact on a lot of these issues because then the schools could be more prepared for what is coming. The other important thing here is that inclusion needs to be made aware to school districts that it’s a mandate, not an afterthought. Kids are being kept out of class, out of band, field trips, electives they have to take, and parents are out of work.”
She says with a new provincial government in power, she hopes to see some thoughtful and progressive changes which better benefit students and parents alike.
“It’s important for people to know there’s a new government that really supports this and wants to see things change for all kids in school. I think that this government needs to come out strongly in support of inclusion. Kids need to be at the center of decision making around education. Schools need to be prepared to greet every child on the first day of school.”
Humphreys and the group BC Parents of Special Needs Children-Action for Equitable Access to Education will be holding a conference for parents of students with special needs in Richmond on October 7th.