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Parents of disabled students in BC worry about September 2021

    As we get closer to September and the start of the 2021/2022 school year, parents of children and youth with disabilities and complex learning needs in BC are grappling with familiar concerns.

    Their concerns centre around the fact that their children are not being adequately considered in the planning for this Fall. COVID-19 and the Delta variant in particular are worrying to many, and we have yet to hear from the Ministry of Education about the new School District operational guidelines and how students and education staff will be included, kept safe and healthy. This puts pressure on the family structure and the relationship between families and schools/districts without clear communication.

    Earlier this week we took an informal poll of our Facebook group, which has nearly 4000 members. Only a small portion of the members had the opportunity to participate. We heard the following feedback: 

    99 parents/guardians are concerned about the health risk to their child(ren)/youth and/or family member(s).

    68% of participants feel that mental health support is lacking or nonexistent.

    65% of participants expressed worry that accommodations and understanding of their child/youth’s needs and/or diagnosis will not transfer over to the new teacher and EA.

    Additional concerns cited include:

    • A reduction in Education Assistant support hours
    • Unsure that their children/youth will receive any supports at all
    • Retraumatization
    • Part-time school has been recommended by the school or district
    • Transition support won’t be adequate for those returning after being away for a year or longer
    • Momentum gained by learning at home will be lost because supports and accommodations are inadequate
    • Children and youth are expressing worry about lack of COVID-19 and Delta Variant precautions
    • Increased concern of restraint and seclusion

    Some also noted that even with last year’s guidelines and precautions in place, in-person school was still too high risk for their child/youth. These students therefore have been out of school since March 2020.

    On the other hand, 29% of parents/guardians indicated their child or youth is very excited to return to ‘normal’.

    Our survey report from March 2021, Considering Leaving the System, said “Out of a total of 453 responses over half (52%) of the parents/guardians who responded have removed their child from in-person public education, and 6.7% are in the process of removing their child.”

    Because this will be the third pandemic school year, many families have made the decision to never return their disabled child(ren)/youth back to in-person public school. For some children and youth, their mental health has actually improved since leaving bricks and mortar because they are no longer impacted by the many challenging demands of trying to navigate an inherently ableist system. 

    Constant transitions can also be so challenging for disabled folks that going back to in-person public school may not be in the best interest of a child/youth and their family, especially if in-person independent school or online learning (previously known as distributed learning) is working well for them. The risk of the unknown is too great.

    Disabled people and their families have sacrificed and fought for decades in Canada to move education forward towards being inclusive. The segregation and exclusion due to both COVID-19 and a lack of adequate supports in public education has turned the clock back on this movement by many years.

    Another year of children and youth being excluded due to their disability is unacceptable. For families of children with medical needs especially, which often accompany disabilities of every kind, or who are immunocompromised or have family members who are. The reality that their children/youth are yet again being set aside without any indication of what the Ministry of Education will do to provide equitable access to education for another school year is unacceptable.

    It is our hope and expectation that the plan for the upcoming school year will include all students and account for their diverse needs, as is their human right. 

    Comments from parents and guardians: 

    “As usual, EA support is my number one concern. They will never give any guarantees about EA support, ever, even though it is my son’s most essential accommodation.”

    “Without vaccinations available for the elementary school kids, it looks like my kid will be out of school for 2 1/2 years now! He wants to go back, but his medical team says it’s just too risky without precautions in place.”

    “Negatives: my family member has cancer so it’s always scary to send them out into the world knowing the risks. Positives: I’m finally sending them back after a year of all the kids being home. More breaks for me and time for myself to regulate.”

    Many parents are passionately posting on social media and in support groups, writing letters to media and their MLA, attending protests, doing anything they can to voice their concerns and try to be heard. We are here to amplify those voices and remind the government that we should be using every layer possible to protect the most vulnerable among us, so that our children and youth can all gain fair and equitable access to education moving forward through this pandemic.

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