VICTORIA – Education Minister Shirley Bond says the idea of provincial “model schools” for special needs students is to offer more choice to parents, not to solve classroom problems by segregating special needs kids.
As part of its settlement with public school teachers last year, the B.C. government changed the School Act to require consultation with the classroom teacher before more than three special needs students could go into a class. While similar provisions for class size have resulted in a major reduction in classes with more than 30 students, similar progress hasn’t been seen in special needs numbers.
Last school year, there were 10,942 classrooms in the province with four or more identified special needs students, the BC Teachers’ Federation noted in its latest report to the government. This year, with new rules in place, there are still 9,559.
NDP education critic David Cubberley said the numbers show the ministry’s “soft cap” of three special needs students isn’t working because the province hasn’t funded school districts to make the target. Now, he said, Bond is musing about setting up provincial schools to specialize in teaching students with conditions such as autism.
Bond angrily denied the goal is to impose segregation on special needs students. She said the province has provided funds for 400 additional classroom aides, despite having 12,000 fewer students in B.C. this year, and there are no firm proposals yet to create speciality schools.
“We’ve had parents say to us, one size doesn’t fit all,” Bond said. “It’s too early to suppose that this model is a model we might contemplate but we’re looking at trying to develop best practices to help kids who are currently not successful in public education.”
She said the specialized program could be a “school within a school,” similar to academies now in place for students specializing in sports or fine arts.
Cubberley said teachers are agreeing to take more than three special needs students in classrooms because they have little choice.
“No teacher is going to abandon the kids – that’s not what they’re about,” he said. “They’re passionate about teaching and they care for the range of kids in the room. They’ll try and negotiate as best they can to get some additional resources, and in some cases they’re able to.
“But I’ve talked to lots and lots of teachers, and they’re very unhappy about what’s happening in the classroom.”
Bond said having three special needs students in a classroom is intended as a guideline, not a cap.
“Our principle has always been this: We think that rigid formulas for how you place children in classrooms simply are not the most effective way to do that,” she said.