Union wants an end to exclusion of students with special needs

The union representing B.C. teachers wants a moratorium on the practice of excluding students with special needs from schools due to staff shortages.

Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, said the union has been pushing Education Minister Rob Fleming on the issue for months without success.

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“It’s not OK,” Hansman said in an interview. “That should not be happening whatsoever.

“A staffing shortage is not the fault of parents, it’s not the fault of the kids and there has to be better solutions put in place than sending students home.”

Hansman was responding to a report that students with special needs are being asked to miss school due to a shortage of educational assistants in the Greater Victoria School District. One mother told the Times Colonist that she was called at 8:30 a.m. one day last week and asked to keep her six-year-old son with autism at home from View Royal Elementary because the school was short of EAs and had no backups.

Fleming expressed concern about the situation Wednesday, but stopped short of promising action to end the practice.

“In British Columbia, every child should be able to attend school each and every day, no matter what their learning abilities are or what kind of additional needs they may have,” he said.

“So it concerns me when you hear that that’s not happening in an instance here in Victoria or somewhere else in the province.”

But Fleming said it’s the responsibility of school districts as the employer to make sure that schools are properly staffed and to recruit additional people if needed.

“That’s their job to make those calls,” he said, adding that the number of educational assistants in the province has increased by 1,000 over the past 18 months.

Fleming and the Greater Victoria district both said that it’s rare for children with special needs to miss school because of staff shortages. But advocates disagree, saying it’s a common and widespread problem in districts across the province.

Karen De Long, director of inclusive education at Inclusion B.C., said the group’s four advocates are inundated with requests for help from people whose children are being excluded from school.

“They’re all getting these calls,” she said. “The same ones. ‘My child is only allowed in school for an hour a day etc., because they don’t have the supports.’

“It’s certainly not rare. Not at all rare. It takes up most of our advocacy.”

The BCEdAccess Society, which began tracking exclusion last fall, recorded 228 reports of exclusion in 35 of 60 districts in just the first few weeks of the school year.

Tracy Humphreys, the chairwoman and founder of the society, said the EA shortage deserves more attention. She said EAs should be given full-time instead of part-time hours, as well as professional development and preparation time.

“Right now, you have EAs who have to work two or three jobs to make enough money to make a living, so it’s problematic and I don’t see a lot of movement to resolve the issue,” she said.

Fleming said the Greater Victoria School District has been hiring additional educational assistants.

“I think 35 just since November,” he said. “So they’re doing a good job adding new special education resources into District 61. Our ministry is certainly supporting that all around the province.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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