A B.C. organization that has been hearing from parents of children with disabilities for the past year says thousands of those children are being denied a proper education.
Nicole Kaler and her organization BCEdAccess have been collecting data through an online form that asks parents whether their child was given shorter school days, missed a field trip or assembly, or was asked to stay home from school altogether during the most recent school year.
The data released in late August showed 3,610 instances across nearly 500 reports in which children were excluded, with at least one instance in every district across B.C.
“When we say exclusion, we’re talking anything from kids not at school at all … to having a reduced school day, constantly,” Kaler said. “Some kids only go to school up until noon.”
The report from BCEdAccess that analyzes the data says key issues behind the exclusions include a lack of education assistants, insufficient training for support staff, and a lack of continuity for the children themselves.
Kaler says the most crucial missing piece is a desire to understand the child’s disability, rather than dismissing them from the classroom.
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“Instead of figuring out the function of the behavior, we are managing children by sending them home,” she said.
“Sending a child home doesn’t change the situation that caused the behaviour in the first place.”
The report says many parents also feel “forced” into agreeing to keep their children home or pick them up early, not knowing that it’s an option to refuse.
The financial strain felt by those parents was also mentioned in many responses, which Kaler said can’t be ignored.
“A lot of our parents are not able to keep their job … because they’re constantly being called to come pick up their children,” she said. “It forces us into serious financial situations, and the impact of that is something families never really recover from.”
Education Minister Rob Fleming said he’s heard the concerns raised by Kaler and other parents and advocates for children with disabilities.
“We need to get better together,” he said. “We certainly want to hear from this organization and others about where there’s further room for improvement.”
Fleming added the province is looking at enhancing funding for children with disabilities and is committed to hiring more education assistants, who are already growing in number.
The ministry is also collecting its own data on where and why children are being excluded.
Until the situation improves, Kaler said there are hundreds of children who are being impacted across B.C.
“Kids with disabilities are not being provided an education,” she said. “What are the consequences of that?”