Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Susan Semonick On Schools - Jan 29, 2008 - Special Needs - Are They Making The Grade?

Where to start?

A quote from BC Association for Community Living

“Over the past 50 years, families have built momentum and created a ripple effect for a tidal wave of positive change in the Community Living movement by advocating for a better life for their children. From promoting more inclusive schools, to ensuring more appropriate and responsive services, to building more welcoming communities, families have been at the forefront of community change and action. They have been the heartbeat and the engine behind huge social advances in BC and across Canada.”

Well, to sum it up in one sentence - according to the Special Education Inquiry, School District 35 is receiving a failing grade where students with IEPs and ones with specific academic needs are concerned. Due to shortened time allotments and caseloads that are extreme and not realistic, staff are being taxed beyond their abilities. With the most recent decisions made by our Board of Education, it appears there may be even more concerns.

It is possible that the 6-7-8 configuration will enable the district to streamline the programs. This may enable the specialists to be centralized so there is no travel time. It would allow special classes to be formed where the students that thrive in a classroom setting with others of the same ability could “Be all that they can be” to become the stars we all know your students are. It would enable staff to spend time in small groupings, and one on one since staff and students are in one facility. This is the only reason I can see for the district to be doing this. I hope that this concentration of services will not increase caseloads and further tax the staff.

If you read the executive summary on page 1 of the Special Education Inquiry Report and then read the conclusions and recommendations on pages 19 & 20, you have the key points. Of the 16 conclusions and recommendations, 10 were focused on district-controlled issues and 6 on Ministry-controlled areas.

The one that I thought was most important and the one that the school trustees can address is the inequity that the DDM (decentralized decision-making model) causes in terms of serving the needs of special needs students. Funds targeted by the Ministry and perhaps other funds targeted by the district, whether included or outside of the DDM amounts should be a strong consideration in providing for special needs students. The district is currently reviewing the DDM as part of the move to establish a middle school. I hope that in that same review, the district will also look at how to make the funding more equitable and effective when it comes to all special needs students.

Where will they find these funds in an already over-taxed budget? Well…

1. Wake up and realize that the school district is not in the business of making money and to get out of it. Get rid of the white elephant, which is the School District Business Company. This would save approximately $300,000 if not more annually.

2. Refrain from giving funds and donations of materials, resources and staff to outside public foundations. This would generate a savings of over $175,000 dollars annually. Have the Foundation actually make funds that are not drawn from the district in any way. .

3. Direct all ISP funds to direct student services. Approximately 8 million dollars annually according to one trustee.

So, in three simple steps if followed, the school district could have all of the $8, 475,000 to meet the needs of all our students in this district.

This would meet the contractual agreements they have with those International students and at the same time enable the schools to have the equipment and resources they require to allow students with learning differences to succeed. Sound too simple? Well, in reality it is. Step out of your box; stop doing things the same way, and expecting a different result. Stop saying you don’t have the enrolment, when you have waitlists for programs. Stop bellyaching about “ no money.” Make what you have work. Take some simple and easy steps to access and use funds that are readily available, if only you would change your ways. Truly be innovative and put the funds where it most benefits the kids.

Here are some important comments made by the presenters at the Board meeting.

§ Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

§ What is happening in this district is tolerance not acceptance.

§ This is so demoralizing of so many people (staff and students).

§ The policy, in ideology is good, but not its practices in this district.

§ This report … In our view, it describes an inescapable human rights tragedy unfolding in schools today.

§ Due to Special Education Assistant shortages, there is not nearly enough time to meet each individual student’s needs, let alone prepare for future lessons.

§ Educational Rights of special needs students must be addressed.

§ We cannot accept anything less than what is best for our young. They are our future.

§ There is a lack of trust and stability in this district.

The school district’s report paints a positive upbeat position.

I was excited to see the district’s report coming forward and anticipated that it would be giving a complete view of the special needs area in this district. Instead, I am only left with questions and an incomplete report.

One parent’s presentation in response to the district’s report noted the following:

What is missing?
§ Information regarding equity across various categories.
§ Effectiveness of programs in place.
§ Data re gifted; and responses from families of gifted students.
A complete review should have included all parents of students in Langley including and especially those parents of students who are on waiting lists, asking to be on waiting lists or otherwise wishing some sort of service from the special education department. This basic omission was noted to be missing in the 2003 Special Ed review also. The district has yet again omitted this vital area in their review.

What are left are questions:
§ Why were only 25 elementary schools surveyed re school-based teams?
§ Why are there principals who chose not to respond to the questionnaire? [Susan’s note: A total of 32 replied when there should have been 49 - according to Ministry data.]
§ Why were terms like “caseloads” (and variations of) not defined for teachers if there is no consistency, and then the questions asked; otherwise your data is meaningless?
§ Why are the district initiatives and programs not cross-referenced to the Special Needs categories so an analysis of what and how much is being done for which group can be understood?

Some additional house cleaning items for the trustees would be:

1. They must come to the realization that boards are only an additional bureaucracy. If the money used to support the Board (trustees) were instead used to hire an additional assistant to the CEO for the “School Business” (the superintendent), it would be a more efficient use of funds. With the new Deputy Minister, this is a greater possibility than ever before. The Superintendent, as she does now, would determine the best course of action to deliver services. The initial savings the district would realize would be $175,000.00 in trustee wages. This amount could be applied to the new additional Assistant Superintendent’s wages. The Superintendent would be hired by a committee of elected PAC presidents representing each of the registered schools in the district. This is how the public would ensure accountability and fairness for expenditures of the tax dollar. Finally, the PACs would see what an important role they can play in their children’s education politically, instead of being fundraising bunnies.

2. If school boards were eliminated, this district alone would be able to put an additional $50,000.00 dollars into the budget from not having to pay BCSTA fees. I could continue with more items; the point is that the pennies do add up and become millions.

I would much rather see these types of changes be made, before having students’ programs cut and closing of fully-enrolled schools in order to fund areas that do not assist in improving the transition and achievement rates of students.

Additional information can be found at:

Special Education Services A Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines Ministry of Education.

Special Inquiry Report LTA, CUPE and DPAC

Special need review Report School District #35

Respectfully submitted by,

Susan Semonick

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