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In B.C., special needs kids are accessing school as little as 1.5 hours, 2 days a week

Special needs children kept out of schools
A growing number of parents of special needs children say their kids are literally shut out of school because of staff shortages. Nadia Stewart reports.

In B.C., it can be a challenge for a special needs kid to attend a full day of school.

And it’s a reality that Ann Mariscak and Katerina Gamlin, Nanaimo parents of special needs children, have confronted first hand.

Coverage of special needs students on Globalnews.ca:

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In January, Mariscak dropped her son off at school, expecting he would be there for a full day, and then went off to work.

But then, she received a call partway through the day, asking her to come pick him up.

“They’re waiting for me to come pick him up from his half day,” Mariscak told Global News.

Gamlin has encountered similar situations with her daughter.

“We were basically told that my daughter could not attend school for more than an hour and a half a day,” she said.

Mariscak and Gamlin have found themselves among a growing group of parents who say that under-resourced schools and a lack of fully-trained staff are essentially pushing their kids out of school.

READ MORE: The B.C. Teachers Federation is concerned the teacher shortage is affecting special needs students

It’s a problem right across the province, said Karen Nordquist, a director at the British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC).

“I’ve supported families who’ve told me that they’re told that their children are allowed to attend from 9 to 10:30, two or three days a week,” she told Global News.

The problem was made clear in a BCCPAC survey.

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The survey of 800 parents found 372 respondents saying that their kids were regularly scheduled for less than full days during the last school year.

As many as 132 kids were scheduled for less than half a day, it added.

‘On call’

It’s a situation that has forced parents to be “on call,” Nordquist noted.

“They don’t know when the school’s going to call and say, take your child home,” she said.

“It could be after half an hour in school, a couple of hours, it could be multiple times a week.”

And there’s a fear among parents of speaking up about the problem, lest even more supports be taken away from a special needs student.

READ MORE: WATCH: Parents say union creates classroom challenges for special needs students

“The fear is very real,” Nordquist said. “The fear that their children’s supports will be cut back even further, or that it will create a chilly environment in the school.”

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said more resources are on their way.

“We’d ask people to be patient,” he said. “This is the largest infusion of educational resources in a generation.”

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