COMMENTARY · 15th January 2010
Almost everyone who has children in the elementary or secondary school system here in the Northwest, the Sacred Circle, recognizes and understands the learning difficulties of many enrolled students. It is a problem that has been identified by many organizations such as “Make Children First”. Fetal Alcohol syndrome is a major contributor to the learning difficulties, however not having educated and/or literate parents also leaves a child completely unprepared for the school environment. Teachers therefore have a difficult task in devoting the required time to those who need much more assistance while still assisting those who do not.
In 2005 there was a dispute, which raged for weeks, between the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Union regarding class size and composition. In the end the government passed Bill 33. This legislative act, now the law in BC, detailed the amount of children in each classroom and the amount of ‘special needs’ children permitted in each of these classes. This was to ensure the Teachers had the appropriate amount of time to spend with all children. The legislation stated there should be no more than 30 children per classroom and only 3 of these students could be requiring special attention. In the very primary grades (1 to 3) the total number of students allowed per class was set at 22.
Another term for special needs is referred as IEP; a child that has an Individual Education Plan. New Democrat education critic, and our local MLA, Robin Austin, stated Cassie Hall has one classroom with 11 students under an IEP, stating it is completely unacceptable for everyone; the teachers, the special needs children, as well as those who don’t require an IEP. Austin described how the disruption to the classrooms having children with numerous learning difficulties interferes with the regular teaching process. The statistics however do not even reflect the reality. To have a child determined as one with special needs requires a professional report by a qualified individual to develop the IEP. There are not enough professionals or funds to ensure all the students who require this special attention, get it.
When the BC Government passed Bill 33 they left it to be managed by the School Districts. There was no extra money put forward to address the new standards imposed by the legislation; the government simply agreed to the demands, put it in writing and then left it up to the School Boards to figure out how to fund it.
This resulted in numerous grievances, 4,600, which ended this week when the arbitrator hearing the grievances, James E. Dorsey, concluded the BC Government was in the wrong, that it was their responsibility to ensure adequate funding was made available to ensure the regulations were met stating; the Government must provide the funds or, “ the Legislative Assembly must expressly enact relief from the class size and composition standards and explain to parents and teachers why the standards are no longer desirable or achievable.”
“This is a huge win for teachers’, stated Austin on Thursday, “but more importantly it is a huge win for the kids.”
In a news release issued on Tuesday Austin stated, “This ruling confirms what we have been hearing from parents, teachers, support staff, and students, the B.C. Liberal government is breaking their own class size and composition law, and students are the ones who are paying the price.”
School District 82, Coast Mountain, has been subjected in the past to 4 day school weeks to meet the budget demands and, in part, to fund the special needs requirements of the children. This has now been determined to be a hardship imposed by the provincial government, irresponsibly.
Dorsey came to the northwest to investigate School District 82 as part of his investigation. Although there has been no determination or announcement as to how the Provincial Government will address this conclusion by Dorsey, the Provincial Government has suggested in a more recent News release they will not be assessing excessive HST taxation on the School Boards claiming they will refund 87% of the tax, for eligible schools. This appears to be somewhat of a diversion to the conclusion of Dorsey; a smokescreen to take the attention away from the pressing issue, a need for real funding, cash to assist the children of British Columbia and even more specifically those in the Kitimat-Stikine, Skeena Queen Charlottes Regional Districts, which suffer a higher percentage of special needs.
The conclusion of this is either the Provincial Government pays for the appropriate education of the children or the Provincial Government determines and legislates away their previous requirements for appropriate education.
In the Sacred Circle children are suffering, suicide is ever present, and alcohol in conceiving parents continues to perpetuate a cycle. It remains to be seen if the Government will attend to this difficulty.