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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are not from Abbotsford, but would like to connect with our larger provincial parent action group, please email email@example.com.
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.