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(Canada) Vancouver, BC: Disabled students often excluded from school: SURVEY

July 12, 2023, Vancouver, BC, The Tyee: Disabled Kids Are Still Being Excluded from Education in BC
When schools can’t handle a child’s needs, they send them home, parents say.

Despite having a Charter right to an education, kids with disabilities are regularly excluded from school in British Columbia.

Over 270 parents self-reported to BCEd Access Society, a grassroots organization representing parents of kids with disabilities, that their disabled children were excluded from school more than 4,700 times in the 2021-22 school year.

Almost one in five parents reported their kids were prevented from participating in the same academic learning their classmates were.

Twenty-four per cent of parents reported their child had a shorter school day than their peers and 18 per cent said their child was asked to stay home. Another 22 per cent said their child had been excluded in another unspecified way from the full-time education they have a legal right to receive.

“Exclusions like that are really suspensions,” said Tracy Humphreys, a parent and executive director of BCEd Access Society, which surveys B.C. parents on their kids’ school exclusions annually. “They’re just usually not documented as such.”

And experts and advocates say the exclusions could be prevented if the provincial government and school districts provided the needed supports.

The surveys, which are shared through social media groups and between parents by word of mouth, are not representative of the whole population of disabled school-age kids in B.C.

The 2021-22 report received responses from parents in 34 of the province’s 60 school districts. Sixty per cent of respondents said it was their first time completing the survey. One per cent of responses were from private schools.

For Humphreys that means their survey results are an undercount.

The Tyee interviewed two families from Okanagan Skaha School District 67 who took issue with the district’s alleged exclusion of their kids with disabilities.

They say their children were excluded from school due to behaviour resulting from poor support for their disabilities. They have since removed their children from the district’s schools.

In an email interview, district superintendent Todd Manuel said it wasn’t uncommon for parents and school districts to disagree about the level and type of support their kids receive.

The district decides what educational program the student takes part in, but parents’ input is important, he wrote….

Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth told The Tyee her office regularly hears from parents alleging their child is excluded from school because of their disability.

The office does not have jurisdiction over the public school system. But the provincial legislature’s select standing committee on children and youth recommended earlier this year that Charlesworth’s jurisdiction include “special education.”…

Humphreys told The Tyee the results of the 2022-23 school year survey, which has uncovered 4,277 incidents of exclusion so far, show more than half of exclusions involve kids missing full days of school.

“Twenty per cent of those have been going on for over a month. Twelve and a half per cent have been going on for longer than four months. That’s a lot,” she said….

An IEP not followed

This past January, Tiffany and Ryan Gardiner removed their son, whose name we have changed to “Joe” to protect his privacy, from his middle school following a suspension.

“We have never denied that our child can be difficult. If he’s done something wrong, we’re the first to admit that was wrong or he needs to be held accountable,” Tiffany said of Joe, who is autistic, and has ADHD and learning disabilities that complicate math, reading and writing for him.

Like David’s parents, the Gardiners allege their child’s right to a full education has been denied by the school refusal to allow him to attend classes full-time….

District superintendent Manuel told The Tyee via email it is normal for students to be asked to leave school for behavioural reasons, and to require reintegration plans for their return.

“Where a special needs student has been out of school, whether for full or part days, a re-entry plan is developed for them,” he wrote via email to The Tyee. “The focus is on having a plan to maximize the student’s chance of being successful.”

Humphreys says she repeatedly hears from parents whose kids have been excluded from school without exhausting all other options.

“It seems like it’s a classroom management tactic to exclude children and suspend them rather than actually trying to address the situation and figure out how to effectively support the child to stay at school,” she said….

Humphreys says based on her look at B.C. districts’ budgets, not every student with disabilities receives the support they need.

“There is not enough money to do the work they need to do,” she said.

The per-student government grants districts receive for supporting students with disabilities is added to a general pot of money for supports and resources for all children with disabilities and the level of support a child receives is based on each child’s needs, Manuel noted, not just their diagnosis.

Manuel acknowledged parents will not always agree with the decisions schools make for their children.

A child’s IEP also determines how much support a student will receive from an education assistant. But the number of EA hours required for students in the school will also determine how many EAs are appointed to a school, he added.

“Some students may have a full time EA supporting them, whereas others may require only minimal support,” Manuel wrote.

The Tyee requested an interview with Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh, but she was not made available. Instead she sent an emailed statement about supporting kids with disabilities.

“Our focus is on building supports that work for every family and child, including those with disabilities and diverse learning needs. We know there are children who continue to face barriers, and we are working to change that together with school districts and advocacy groups to build more inclusive schools and classrooms,” her statement read.

The provincial 2023-24 school operating grant schedule includes a 12.7-per-cent increase in total district operating grants for students with disabilities and diverse learning abilities, for a total of $838 million.

Districts will receive nearly $50,000 for every physically dependent student, $23,280 each for autistic kids and kids with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities and $11,700 per child requiring intensive behavioural interventions or who has mental health issues.

Humphreys wants to see more oversight of how the money is used to support kids. “If we’re going to put more money into it, then it probably should be targeted and tracked,” she said.

Representative Charlesworth says she believes kids are also being excluded from school due to a lack of nursing hours from Nursing Support Services, a service that can provide a nurse to accompany a medically complex child or training school staff in procedures like gastrointestinal tube feedings, to enable that child to attend school.

There is also shortage of education assistants in the province, a high turnover rate and low pay in those positions, and no provincial standards of practice for the job.

The situation was bad for kids with disabilities pre-COVID, but is worse now, Charlesworth noted, adding it creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“You’ve got a that child isn’t getting what they need to support them, so their behaviour might be more intense or severe, they might become more dysregulated,” she said, noting there is a lot of pressure on districts to adapt to the diversity of students’ needs….

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