May 15, 2019
Dear Premier Horgan:
On April 12th, Canada heard comments from Catalina Devandas, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The purpose of the visit was to review Inclusive Education in Canada. Although some jurisdictions got positive accolades for the progress they have made; unfortunately BC and most provinces and territories were not on that list. In fact, this is what Ms. Devandas had to say:
“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.”
Our Exclusion Tracker data supports the Special Rapporteur’s comments. Far too many children and youth with disabilities are being excluded from school.
Long wait times, lack of services in all parts of the province, Evergreen diplomas are all familiar to parents of kids with disabilities in BC.
We have some really strong examples around our province of great inclusive educators and schools. Some of them are celebrated annually by Inclusion BC – you can see them here:
Others may not receive public recognition, but educators and administrators throughout our education system strive daily to provide the environment and supports all students need to thrive.
And yet as a province and as a country, we received what amounts to a failing grade from the UN. We are ashamed that this is how we are being perceived by the world, as a privileged province creating and developing communities that do not consider the social and emotional impact for years to come as a result of apathy.
We know this is not who we are as British Columbians, and we know we can fix this, together.
We have made great strides in Indigenous education. Graduation rates increased steadily over the past 15 years and by 2.1% between 2016-2018. There is still a long way to go in pursuit of equity for these students, but progress is an exciting development to be celebrated.
Graduation rates for students with special needs do not give us as much to celebrate because we have students receiving Evergreen certificates when accommodations would have made the Dogwood possible. We have also have less to celebrate because lowered expectations skews the data and exclusion remains an increasing challenge.
BCEdAcess believes the difference between these two groups is the existence of a mandate and a plan.
Your mandate letter to Education Minister Rob Fleming does not explicitly mention students with disabilities and complex learners or inclusive education. BCEdAccess is echoing the sentiment in every part of the BC K-12 education system; there is a crisis in education centred around this group of students.
Indigenous students are explicitly mentioned in the mandate letter and this has translated, as it should, into the implementation of the calls to action that specifically address the needs of that community.
As our Premier, we are asking you to stand up and say that inclusive education matters. We are asking you to update the Minister of Education’s mandate letter so that he can more effectively address the issues that prevent our schools from being inclusive for children who require additional support. With a mandate that purposefully addresses inclusion, the Ministry can work towards identifying, and solving, the various causes for exclusion.
We want to see qualified support for all children, schools staffed with the expertise needed to support every learner, timely identification of student needs, metrics collected on the outcomes of interventions, and the provision of accommodations required to fulfill the duty to make our schools equitable spaces.
BC schools were identified as non inclusive by the UN rapporteur. The rights of children with disabilities can be upheld in our schools starting with a clear mandate to do so. We know that you care about our kids. Let’s show the world that we want a Better BC for all children and youth.
Founder and Chair, BCEdAccess Society
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.
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 defense.
Cc. Rob Fleming, Minister of Education, Carole James, Minister of Finance