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(Canada) BC: Report finds complex needs students often excluded from school

Sept 15, 2023, CBC News: B.C. students with complex care needs increasingly excluded from school activities, report finds

Advocates call for more training for educators to ensure all children can access school or school activities

Sonja Kennedy's teenage daughter has care needs that Kennedy says cause her to be excluded from school, and while her child's needs are complex, Kennedy says the solution doesn't have to be.

The 16-year-old attends school on southern Vancouver Island and has both autism and a rare genetic condition that means she must be fed the majority of her nutrients through a gastronomy feeding tube.

According to Kennedy, amending government policy and training more education assistants would enable her daughter, who loves school, to attend more often.

Kennedy told CBC's The Early Edition that a Ministry of Health policy was relayed to her less than a month before the 2023 school year that all tube-fed kids have to be fed formula from a machine despite this not being part of her daughter's diet.

"The government or state or Ministry of Health doesn't have the right to dictate what goes into my child's body at school," said Kennedy.

She also said there are not enough education assistants (EA) trained to work with tube-fed children, meaning her daughter has to miss school when there is no EA available.

"The absences have gone up, and so if nobody is there to hydrate or feed my child, my child can't have her education. She can't attend school, and so there have been multiple occasions where she hasn't been able to attend."

Exclusion of students like Kennedy's daughter is on the rise, according to a new report from BCEdAccess Society, a registered non-profit that advocates for children with complex needs.

The report looks at incidents of exclusion reported by parents of students with disabilities — anything from having a shortened school day to not having inclusive lessons to not being invited on field trips.

The data was collected from 406 respondents (primarily parents) and 70 students who participated in a survey. The society found that during the 2022/2023 school year, there were 5,973 incidents, up from 4,760 in 2021/2022.

Tracy Humphreys, the society's executive director, said a shortage of education assistants across B.C. is contributing greatly to the problem….

Most kids have been back in class for a week now, but that's not the case for many students with disabilities who've been excluded. We hear more about this from the BCEdAccess Society.

She said the spike in exclusions has been concerning and that incidents are increasing in kindergarten, which is an important development time for kids. Humphrey also said while it is not increasing, there has been no improvement in the rates of restraint and seclusion — meaning the physical restraint and isolation of children….

Education needed: advocates

Mark Smeets, dad to a nine-year-old son with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism and a board member with the ADHD Advocacy Society of B.C., said he's had to make an effort as a parent to ensure his son is included in activities at school. …

Humphreys said proper training is key to preventing situations of exclusion, adding that training is inconsistent — some EA programs are three weeks long, while others are two years.

In an emailed statement to CBC, the Ministry of Education said that the number of classrooms with an education assistant in them has increased 34 per cent since 2017, adding that since 2017 there has been an 80 per cent increase in funding for inclusive supports and services.

The ministry said it has funded 70 teacher education spaces focusing on inclusive education….


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