The New Westminster school district has launched a new parent handbook designed to help families of students with diverse needs.
The new Parent and Guardian Guide to Inclusive Education, which is available online and as a downloadable PDF, was created in response to parent concerns that were raised during a review of inclusive education in the district. The district embarked on that review a year-and-a-half ago and has since laid out a three-year plan for putting 23 recommendations into action.
The handbook is one of the key items from the first year of that work.
“We know it can sometimes feel challenging to navigate the school system, especially when you’re also working to support and advocate for a child with diverse needs. As a district, we’re committed to working with parents and guardians to make it easier,” the district said in a letter to families.
The handbook covers a range of topics around support for students with diverse needs, including an explanation of Ministry of Education categories, the roles of school staff, the use of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and how students are assessed.
Bruce Cunnings, the district’s director of instruction for learning services, noted the new guide builds on a handbook originally created by district parent advisory council reps in 2014. The new guide was created by a working group including district staff, current DPAC reps and parents of students with diverse needs, who worked to pull together up-to-date information and present it in an accessible, plain-language format.
Cunnings, speaking at the June 22 school board meeting, pointed out the online version is broken down under separate headings so parents can simply click on the relevant section and, if necessary, convert it into other languages using the built-in Google Translate function.
PRACTICAL TOOL FOR PARENTS
Anne Whitmore, one of the parent volunteers in the working group, emphasized the need to offer continuing support for parents of children with diverse needs.
“Most families don’t know the ins and outs of inclusion, or why it’s even important, until they’re personally facing these challenges,” she said. “Often, when parents find themselves in that situation, they don’t even know the questions to ask, and we all find ourselves researching the same material. I feel like this handbook is going to be a really practical, useful shortcut tool to finding the answers that families really need.”
The district aims to update the guide annually, or as needed, and Whitmore noted the work will continue through the lens of a “plain-language, accessible approach” for families.
Cunnings said the district will also continue to work on one-page information sheets on various topics – including one aimed at setting out the process for parents to follow if they start to notice learning concerns in their own child.