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Letter: These B.C. children are being excluded from education

"These children are denied support, show their stress and anxiety through their behaviour, then are excluded because of it."
What happens if your child isn't allowed to be at school? One B.C. parent writes about concerns over exclusion of students with additional support needs.

The Editor:

I am responding to your article Burnaby, New Westminster parents back call to change kindergarten entry.

I empathize with parents about having two weeks of hardship with their child's gradual kindergarten entry. This is because my son wasn't allowed to attend school with a full day of kindergarten until May. That was only after I fought and appealed their decision not to allow my son to be at school for more than two hours.

Children with disabilities and additional support needs are routinely not allowed to be at school for a full day along side their peers. Schools most often point to "unsafe behaviour" when making these decisions. In reality, these children are denied support, show their stress and anxiety through their behaviour, then are excluded because of it. With my own child, I was told directly that he could not have 1:1 EA support that I knew he needed to be in school.

School districts and the Ministry of Education want you to believe that these circumstances are rare. I assure you they are not. Districts don't even keep track of students that they don't allow at school for a full day. The longer a child is excluded, the more anxious they become, and their behaviour is in fact exacerbated.

So that hardship over two weeks those parents are talking about, many parents have that same hardship over months and even years.

The Ministry of Education allows this exclusion by upholding district autonomy over their own students educational placements. Although The School Act says students with "special needs" should be in their neighbourhood school along their peers, it also says unless the educational needs of the student need to be provided elsewhere. This vague wording allows the districts to interpret this how they wish, and the Ministry of Education says they have no jurisdiction over the educational programs of "special needs" students that districts choose to provide.

When reading articles like the one you published, I wonder if these parents are aware that this hardship is placed on families well beyond two weeks. If this was happening to all children, and not just disabled children, maybe general society would care more. Education for disabled students is still seen as "additional" or "extra," when in reality, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has already determined that education for disabled students is basic education.

Districts say they don't have enough funding to support these students. The Ministry of Education say funding has increased and they have no control over what each individual district does with it. So they just point fingers back and forth, while children go without an education and families endure continued hardship.

I do not live in New West/Burnaby (I live in Nanaimo), but I assure you this is happening in every single district across the province. BCEdAccess Society has just released results of their Exclusion Tracker, and kindergarten exclusions are rising, while the length of exclusions is increasing.

I volunteer as an advocate supporting families, and I see them routinely told that their children cannot have the support they need. We need to understand that these behaviours that are leading to these exclusions are the direct result in discrimination in "duty to accommodate" under the BC Human Rights Code. It's too late to only offer supports once it's gotten to the point that the school feels the need to exclude them.

Lyla Nold