By Tracy Humphreys–
On Monday, June 10th, I presented to the Select Standing Committee On Finance and Government Services at Colwood City Hall. This Committee meets annually and makes recommendations to government for the next budget, in this case Budget 2020.
As always, the other presenters were varied and interesting. Jody Paterson of Board Voice noted that there were 4 presentations before hers all related to social care and social health in BC. I’m sure it will be similar as the Committee moves around the province.
I have been busy with presentations and meetings, and lots of preparation for all of them, over the last couple of months. I ran out of time to truly get ready for this presentation, and that left me nervous. My anxiety didn’t prevent me from presenting, but I don’t feel as good about how I responded to the question I received from MLA and committee member Nicholas Simons. It’s such a profound question that I think it may need it’s own blog post in future.
But I mention my anxiety and unpreparedness to hopefully encourage others. I did not have enough time to prepare, but I did it anyway. I fumbled over my words a lot, but I did it anyway. I mostly read from a script when I prefer to talk more naturally, but I did it anyway. I hope families see from my experience that they can speak up too. I’m not a natural or comfortable public speaker. You don’t have to be.
You can submit to this Committee in writing or do an audio or video submission, or even a survey, here:
Here’s the transcript (not the final version) from my presentation. You can see all transcripts from the Committee here:
Transcript (Blues) from the Hansard record:
B. D’Eith (Chair): Okay, we’re back with the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Next up we have BCEdAccess Society, Tracy Humphreys. Hi, how are you?
T. Humphreys: I’m good. Thank you.
B. D’Eith (Chair): Just a reminder that if you try to keep the initial comments to five minutes and then five minutes for questions….
T. Humphreys: Yes. I’ll do my best.
Thank you all for having me here. It’s nice to see…. I’ve seen a lot of you pretty recently, but it’s good to be back in front of you all again.
I just wanted to start by acknowledging that we’re meeting on the land of the Lkwungen-speaking peoples, where I also live and work. I was actually born on the land of the Sioux nation. I spent my early childhood on Mi’kmaq land, but as a settler, I didn’t know any of this until a couple of years ago, so I’m really grateful that we have an education system that has moved along in that regard and that my children know where they’re situated and the history of the land.
I’m the founder and chair of the BCEdAccess Society. We’re an entirely volunteer-run parent organization. We provide peer-to-peer supports for children and youth and parents of children and youth with disabilities and complex learners. We do systemic-level advocacy for equitable access to education. I hope that was clear.
Others will come to you with a specific dollar amount and ask. Supports for students with disabilities and complex learners in the education system are not quite so simple, unfortunately.
I was here last year. You may remember me. Everything that I said then is still relevant, but I’ll provide a written submission with more details on that along with some feedback directly from our families, because we only have five minutes.
Last year, I mentioned that it had been ten years. This year, it’s now been 11 years that this committee has been making, essentially, the same recommendations to government on inclusive education, and there has still been little action.
There has been some, though. Notably, recently, over the last couple of months, the select standing committee on children and youth with special needs has been taking testimony from organizations and individuals on assessment practices, wait-lists and transitions for neurodiverse children and youth. It’s been really compelling. I’m really glad that organizations and, particularly, families have had that opportunity to speak their truth.
When we want to find out what a child with disability needs at school, we perform assessments. When we want to know where we’re at as a system, we need to do the same. What’s working? What isn’t working? We have some really excellent practices by EAs and teachers and schools and districts around the province that are great examples of what is working.
An example of what’s not working is the exclusion of children with disabilities from school. We’ve been tracking data on this, and it’s a significant issue in B.C., as we suspected. Many children are only attending partial days of school, for example — some as little as an hour or two a day. We’ve had around 3,500 individual reported incidents of exclusion since September on this tracker, and I’m not sure how well advertised we are. It’s happening in every district in B.C. In fact, it’s an issue all around the world, according to my counterparts across Canada, in Europe, Australia, Thailand and more.
Once we see, though, what is working or not, a plan needs to be put in place. How can we replicate those successes? How can we do better? Are there specific issues like exclusion that need urgent attention? What are our hopes and dreams for education as a province? Can we build a better system, beginning with all students in mind?
Our current education system was built for children who don’t really exist. There is no typical student. UVic professor waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy contends that education in Canada is and always has been a colonial project. In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, we should be actively seeking to create a better system that enacts our true goals and includes all rather than try to patch up the system that we do have.
So I’m bringing back two of the recommendations that we made last year. The first one is that we’d like to see an audit of the education of students with disabilities and complex learners in the B.C. public and independent school systems, to be undertaken as soon as possible, similar to an audit of the education of Aboriginal students in the B.C. public school system, which was completed in 2015 and has resulted in some effective changes.
The second is that we request that the government establish a royal commission on education to comprehensively review and produce a vision, guiding principles and action plan for early learning, K-12 and post-secondary schooling, remembering, of course, to begin with inclusion of all students. The last royal commission on education was 30 years ago. The information and expertise already exists, with many of the leaders in the field of education already working in our own province.
I want to note that these recommendations reflect the overall budget consultation and priorities of this government. In our written submission, I’ve outlined the specific ways in which that happens. Implementing these recommendations would be a true step forward in achieving these goals.
I just want to finish by saying that the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that when government provides benefits such as education to the general population, they have an obligation not just to provide the law but also to take positive steps to ensure that members of disadvantaged groups such as persons with disabilities benefit equally from those services. Funding remains a major issue in ensuring that education is accessible for students with disabilities. Ultimately, education spending is a cost-effective, proactive and preventative use of our tax dollars.
B. D’Eith (Chair): Thanks, Tracy.
N. Simons: I appreciate…. Our eyes were opened and our hearts were touched by so much of the testimony we heard in the Child and Youth Committee. One of the things that seemed to get a lot of people’s attention was the impact of the lack of adequate funding, shall we say, to allow children to simply participate. Can you just describe, perhaps, the impact of the lack of education resources our teachers have to deal with?
T. Humphreys: I could talk about it from so many perspectives, but I think that the big impact is a societal one. When children are excluded from school, their parents, the family…. They get called in. Let’s say the school calls and says to bring their child home. They get called, and they have to drop everything. They might have a job. Employers don’t really like this when it happens repeatedly. Sometimes what will happen is that the person will eventually lose their job. There’s a breakdown in family relationships. There can be the end of relationships, which leads to single parenting, which is even more challenging.
So unemployed and parenting solo. The child is having struggles and challenges, and the parent doesn’t have the support in the home that perhaps would have been available at the school. So there are struggles in those relationships. Sometimes it gets pushed to the point where the recommendation becomes “maybe you should put your child in care so that we can better help them,” instead of providing help at the school level in the first place and in the home to provide a better situation for that child. The only way they can support them is by removing them from the home.
Those are some extreme cases, but they definitely have happened.
N. Simons: It’s hard to summarize in a short period of time.
T. Humphreys: Yeah, it is.
N. Simons: Thank you for being here again.