Letter to BC School Board Trustees on Budgets

April 15, 2019

Dear British Columbia Public Boards of Education:

It is that time of year again where you are preparing, deliberating and voting on your next budget. We’d like to share some thoughts on the choices you will need to make.

BCedAccess Society is an organization serving families of school-aged children and youth with disabilities and complex learners, from all over British Columbia. Our parent/guardian support group has nearly 1700 members and continues to grow. We work together to provide support and to educate one another about the rights of our children to equitably access their education. In addition, we engage with other education stakeholders to make things better for children and youth with disabilities now and in the future.

This year, the Ministry of Education increased special education supplemental funding to Levels 1, 2 and 3 by greater than cost of living. Here are the increases:

Level 1 – 8.8%

Level 2 – 4.1%

Level 3 – 4.6%

We look forward to seeing how this money will be applied to improving equitable access to education for students with disabilities and complex learners. Our parent support group members will likely be at your school board meetings asking questions about this.

Our thoughts:

All children and youth have the right to equitable access to education.

The purpose of the BC Human Rights Code is to foster a society where there are no impediments to free and full participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of our province. It is also intended to promote a climate of understanding, mutual respect, and equity in dignity and rights, to protect people from discrimination, to provide those people with a means of redress, and to identify and eliminate persistent patterns of inequality associated with discrimination prohibited by the Code.

Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group badly for reasons such as their race, gender identity or expression, or disability. It’s important to note that absence of intention to discriminate is not a legal defence.

The BC Human Rights Code is guided by the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Canada’s Act is informed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Around the world, inclusive education is a goal and a pursuit and our country is signatory to agreements that say we will do this.

Catalina Devandas, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities made the following comments on April 12, 2019 after looking at inclusive education in Canada:

“However, I am concerned that most provincial and territorial policies are yet to implement fully inclusive education systems and that students with disabilities in other parts of Canada may receive considerably different levels of support. I was informed that many children with disabilities are still being taught in segregated classrooms or in special education schools, and I received worrisome reports that children with disabilities can be put on partial school days or temporarily removed from school, for periods of up to six months without access to education.

I also noted a disconnection between the State’s commitment to inclusion in legislation and policies, and everyday implementation in practice, reflected in long waiting time and lack of services for students with disabilities and their families, putting them under significant emotional and financial pressure. I was also informed that children with disabilities in segregated classes or those that have followed some kind of individualized education plan may receive a different certification or diploma than other children, which limits their opportunities for enrolling in education at higher levels.”

We know that school districts around BC believe in inclusive education and strive to work towards it in a collaborative manner.

Unfortunately, discrimination is still a regular feature of education in BC. It’s difficult to move from an ideal to a reality without a plan. We hope that every district’s strategic plan has a specific component that will effectively move them along the continuum to a fully inclusive education. This component should echo a similar component that should be embedded in the BC Education Plan.

A School Board budget is an excellent place to start implementing changes to move towards an inclusive model, to align with Canada’s agreement to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

Here are some suggestions we have for you to consider. This is not an exhaustive list and if you connect with other school boards around the province and across Canada, you will find that many are implementing effective strategies.

  1. Make your current EAs full time (a minimum of 35 hours per week)
  2. Properly equipped sensory rooms creating sensory sensitive spaces. Allocate extra funding for each school in each school budget that carries a directive for the Administrator to implement.
  3. Make assistive technology a priority and provide training and resources for teachers to implement them.
  4. Stop deploying specialist teachers as replacements for absent classroom teachers – hire the teachers that your district needs.
  5. Hire more school psychologists and conduct more assessments.
  6. Provide up to date training in current educational practices and put a call to action for educators and educational assistants to be in line with the prescribed training.
  7. Provide training for all levels of management on inclusion and support for students with disabilities.
  8. Ensure that all secondary students with disabilities have access to all academic courses to ensure that they have the opportunity to graduate with a Dogwood.

This means that all the sports academies, academic and fine arts specialty programs, and even French Immersion, are all programs of choice. As such they should be funded AFTER assuring that adequate services and supports have been provided to ensure
equitable access to education for all students, including students with disabilities.

This in no way means that we feel these choice programs are unimportant. And we want to see equity of access to these programs as well.

We encourage you to read these cases:

Moore v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia

as represented by the Ministry of Education and the Board of Education School District No. 44 (North Vancouver)

https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2012/2012scc61/2012scc61.html?resultIndex=1

http://www.ccdonline.ca/en/humanrights/litigation/Moore-Case-Key-Findings-9Nov2012

https://www.scc-csc.ca/case-dossier/info/sum-som-eng.aspx?cas=34041

Attorney General of British Columbia and Medical

Services Commission of

British Columbia   Appellants/Respondents on cross-appeal

v.

Connor Auton, an Infant, by his Guardian ad litem, Michelle Auton,

and the said Michelle Auton in her personal capacity, Michelle Tamir,

an Infant, by her Guardian ad litem, Sabrina Freeman, and the said

Sabrina Freeman in her personal capacity, Jordan Lefaivre, an Infant,

by his Guardian ad litem, Leighton Lefaivre, and the said

Leighton Lefaivre in his personal capacity, Russell Gordon Pearce,

an Infant, by his Guardian ad litem, Janet Gordon Pearce, and

the said Janet Gordon Pearce in her

personal capacity  Respondents/Appellants on cross-appeal

https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/2195/index.do

Darren Hewko, an infant, by his guardian ad litem,

Shirley Hewko, and the said Shirley Hewko in her personal capacity

Her Majesty the Queen

in Right of the Province of British Columbia

as represented by the Attorney General of British Columbia

and the Board of School Trustees of School District #34 (Abbotsford)

https://asntest.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/hewko_bc_11_03_06.pdf

CRPD Article 24

https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-24-education.html

Ultimately, we believe that it’s important to look at inclusion and the supports required for it as inextricably linked. We believe that with a sound plan, each district can move forward in their pursuit of inclusive education. We believe that your budget is a good place to start, and we look forward to seeing what you will implement for the future of children and youth with disabilities and their equity of access to the same educational opportunities as their peers.

Sincerely,

Tracy Humphreys

Founder and Chair, BCEdAccess Society