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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

LAILA YUILE -- What makes this even more distasteful is many parents, when first starting this journey, fear speaking out because they fear losing what little help they get -- bureaucrats know this

One of the things I looked forward to, after the decimation of public education under the BC Liberals, was seeing classrooms thrive again. I, like most parents, didn’t expect miracles to happen overnight…the system was so underfunded all education advocates knew it would take time to restore things to where it should be. I knew the NDP was passionate about education and when I retired from blogging, I felt little need to follow BC education closely.

But having seen what’s coming down the pipeline now, I feel urgently compelled to write and ask that this post is shared far and wide so as many parents of kids and teens with special needs, learning disabilities or any challenges that require classroom support see it as soon as possible. And when I write this, I want you to know that this perspective is coming from myself not just as a government critic, but as a parent of a teen with challenges, who I have had to fight to have classroom supports for, his entire time in the school system.

I know how the education system works in this province with respect to special needs kids – it often doesn’t, unless a parent has a strong voice and knows how to navigate the system to ensure their child gets support.

But If we move to the prevalence model of funding, it is my opinion- along with many, many educators – that we will see more kids falling through cracks than we ever have. Please, read on to hear why I’m concerned.

Many parents know before their child enters school, that something is different and unique about them. Sometimes its quite clear and a parent might get a diagnosis through a pediatrician or agency before school starts. But many challenges can’t be accurately diagnosed until a child enters school, and is past a certain age of development- because kids develop at different rates, its sometimes hard to tell what may be a learning or behavioural challenge, rather than just a child who needs more time to catch up.

This is where a parents journey starts, and where mine did many years ago. I quickly discovered that the school system is not in line with the medical system and that my life as a parent was not going to be easy. Under the current system, there is no entitlement to supports for a child in the classroom, until a child has a diagnosis. It doesn’t even matter if its quite clear there is an issue, that’s how it works.

If you are lucky, the school may pull time with an Educational Assistant assigned to another child, to help out – which isn’t really fair to the other child, or the EA – but usually kids are just sent home. 

That’s right ... sent home.

Until my child received his first diagnosis, he was only attending school a few hours a day, 3 times a week in primary grades. Try holding a full-time job down with that; that’s why I started writing and researching. It was something I could do at home. (Parents soon learn that most day-cares will not take a child with challenges, and the ones that do charge a high rate. This means home care with a qualified nanny, a relative, or you quit your job)

So, you fumble along from professional to professional, on wait lists and call backs, until the not so magical day comes when you finally find out what exactly your childs unique issue is. For many parents it is day of both grieving and tremendous relief – you grieve the news that your child is not going to have a smooth journey, but at the same time it is a relief to be able to finally move forward. So, there off you run to school, your childs diagnosis papers in hand, and your school team does the paperwork to receive a designation – here it is a single letter to define what type of disability, challenge or health issue your child has.

The designations are not public, so there is no stigma for your child to feel different, only his teacher and support team know. But these designations mean that:
  1. Your school may receive more funding if its approved (not all designations qualify for assistance – for example, ADHD)
  2. Your child may receive an educational assistant for a period of time
  3. Your child may qualify for an IEP – Individualized Education Plan
  4. Your child may access more specialized assessments and educational specialists via the school system. (occupational therapist, psychologists etc)

But, surprise surprise, you will soon find out that the school being able to receive more funding, doesn’t mean your child receives that equivalent in help, as schools can spend it where they feel it needs to be.

This is where parent advocacy plays a big part in how much help your child actually receives (and where I see the need for every district to employ a Parent advocate to help parents learn and navigate the system).

Currently, a child with a diagnosis and designation may qualify for help 3 hours a day … even though their disability is constant. Silly right, but that’s funding for you. This is why class size, and composition, matter so much to both parents and teachers. You cannot overload one teacher with several kids with challenges, when there is not enough help to go around.

It’s a less than perfect system that parents and educators have been living with for years, and for new parents going into this system, its an exercise in feeling alone and inadequate that results in many tears.

Trust me, you have to get used to being “THAT parent” pretty darn quick because no one is going to look out for your child as much as you will have to.

I’ve been lucky along the way to have the guidance of some pretty amazing educators and administrators who went to bat for my child, and am grateful to have those experiences. I have also encountered some terrible administrators along the way.  Currently I work with an amazing educator whose passion and experience makes all the difference. It’s almost like co-parenting! It’s a tough system, but once you get the diagnosis and designation(s), at least you have something concrete to hold in your hand and use to push for more help.

Now, back to the prevalence model being proposed; are funding changes needed to special education?

Absolutely. Right now, parents are made to feel like its their kids who are broken when in fact they aren’t … it is the system that is broken.

Read that again. Your child is not broken … the system is broken. And if we move to the prevalence model, I fear it will be more broken than it is now.

So, what is the prevalence model? Patti Bacchus did an excellent explanation earlier this year and I will refer to it:

The prevalence model”
It sounds simple enough. Instead of requiring school districts, parents, and kids to jump through a bunch of diagnostic and administrative hoops for special education designations that qualify for supplemental special-education funding grants, just give school districts funding based on the general prevalence of special needs in the school-aged population.

After all, government types will tell you that about eight percent of the special-education funding is spent on the “administrivia” required to determine who generates what funding. It makes sense, in theory, to redirect that money to providing services to students.

So why are parents like me, who have spent many years fighting through the current system, and teachers now worried?

Because while just cutting out all the paperwork to spend more money on children with special needs sounds great in theory, in actuality parents should be greatly concerned, particularly for low-mid income earners. Here is why:

The prevalence model will lead to fewer special needs assessments and diagnoses,” responded Hansman. “Without that information, teachers will lose valuable insights at the start of each year when they begin working with a new class. If there is no record of diagnosis and paperwork articulating the nature of a student’s disability or learning challenges, teachers will not be able to properly address that child’s needs as they move through different grades. This disconnection in the name of accounting efficiencies will hamstring teachers’ efforts to support all students.

“Moving to a prevalence model will also force parents to fight even harder for specialized supports and services. Families who can afford it will turn to outside psychologists to diagnose their children’s needs. But kids whose parents can’t afford it, or don’t have a parent pushing hard in the principal’s office, will be left behind.”

That is a hard pill to swallow and it’s anything but fair or right. The wait list for public system diagnosis’s can be a year or longer depending on where you live. It costs thousands for a private assessment, depending on your child’s challenges. And what makes this even more distasteful is that many parents, when first starting this journey, fear speaking out, because they fear losing what little help they get.

Bureaucrats know this.

Those designations and assessments, as difficult as it can be to get them, are the only thing that differentiates your child from anyone else. Many parents and kids may end up waiting even longer because the overall funding and staffing isn’t even there right now.

And to make this proposed change even worse? Many parents have no clue this is even happening. Education Minister Rob Fleming appointed a panel of bureaucrats to review all these proposed changes to our children’s education, in relative secrecy.

Parents of children who will be directly impacted have not been widely consulted. (most parents are still clueless as to what this will means)

Parent groups were not widely consulted. (I’m told a working group of special education parents was created, but information on who was involved or what was submitted is not widely known)

Many teachers, if not most, still oppose this funding model, for all the same big concerns I and other parents have.

And as we all know; bureaucrats usually consider the bottom line: money.

There is also a bit of relatable history to look at which is fueling concerns. Also, from the Patti Bacchus piece linked to above:

“History lessons
You only need to look back to see what happened when the B.C. Liberal government did something similar when it announced targeted funding grants for gifted students would be rolled into general funding grants to school districts, and school boards could figure out the best way to use that money.

What followed was a huge drop in students being assessed and identified as gifted, and subsequent cuts to gifted programs. Those psycho-educational assessments that are used to identify and designate kids also provide detailed information about how individual students learn and can provide the key to why they may be struggling. Assessments help educators design programs and plans to help students succeed. Without that information, students and their teachers can flounder and end up with poor outcomes.

What I’ve also watched happen over the past decade-and-a-half in Vancouver is that parents who have the means to get their kids privately assessed for giftedness or learning disabilities are able to use that information to advocate for their kids and get them increased support and accommodations at school. That’s great for them but not for those who can’t afford to shell out the $3,000 dollars or so it can cost to get a private psycho-educational assessment. That’s a major equity issue, and I fear a shift to a prevalence model could make that a whole lot worse, leaving lower-income kids at an increased disadvantage if schools no longer see the benefit of getting struggling kids assessed by an educational psychologist.

Too often kids who haven’t been properly assessed, particularly low-income kids, are treated as primarily having behaviour problems when what they really have is some form of a learning disability. They get frustrated in class and end up acting out. Instead of figuring out why they’re frustrated and what kind of help they need, the focus is on their behaviour.

As we learned with the gifted experience, school districts are less inclined to get kids assessed if they don’t think doing so will get the district any more funding, so that problem could become a lot worse than it already is under a prevalence model without some strong safeguards in place.

While government will tell you school districts must provide appropriate supports and services for all students, regardless of their designations, those with kids with unfunded designations are often told there isn’t any money to give their kids extra support.”

*This is where I remind every NDP MLA out there, that you campaigned on education, with teachers and parents so desperate to see a positive change, to get elected. And now? We have been left out of a critical funding change that impacts each of us*

So where are we with all this today?’

I feel so bad, as a parent who is still fully invested in this on a daily basis, and as long-time public voice on issues like this, for not catching this before now. I’ll be brutally honest. I thought the NDP would do the right thing, that on this issue at least, they would make things right.

Wow, was I wrong! This was included in the email I received:

The new prevalence funding model will be put before Cabinet in November as an entire package. With absolutely no information out here for parents as to what and how this would roll out and impact our kids.

We’ve already seen big issues in BC schools this fall, and it hasn’t even begun to make news like it should. Despite injections of cash, BC education is still grossly underfunded and understaffed.

There is a shortage of EA’s (educational assistants) in many if not most districts, including my own, which means kids with special needs are still being sent home when no EA can be found. 

There still isn’t enough staff or funding under the current model!

The only losers here if this Prevalence Model passes, will be kids and this is going to blindside thousands of parents. 

So, what can we do?

Call or email Education Minister Rob Fleming, today or as soon as possible, and ask him to stop and share information with the public and parents PRIOR to voting on this package of recommendations. 

Minister Rob Fleming - Legislative Office:
Room 124 Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC  V8V 1X4

Contact the Minister:
Phone: (250) 356-8247
Fax: (250) 356-0948

And, when you are done that, call or email your local MLA as well. You can find all their contact information at this handy link


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