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Special Education in Crisis: The Road to Recovery

Editor's Note: Editor's note: Richard Marion is the NFB: AE's Second Vice- President. He represented the NFB: AE at several meetings connected with this review.

After many years of concerns being expressed about the state of special education in British Columbia by organizations representing children with special needs and parents of children with special needs, the Ministry of Education in March of 1999 commenced a comprehensive review of British Columbia's special education system. This review looked at all areas of the special education system ranging from policy framework to technology. However, it was clear from the terms of reference in the call for submissions that the government would not be substantially increasing funding for special education. During the review process, The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality and the Blind Children and Youth Parents Association made two written submissions to the review team during both phases of the review. Also, many members of both organizations were present during the public consultations to make our views heard. The review team received over 400 submissions during the entire process.

In June, 2000, the review team released its final report to the general public. This 47-recommendation report will in the opinion of most create the necessary building blocks to make the necessary improvements in the special education system. This report looks at the area of school board policy, technology, and teacher training and life long transition. It is clear that the review team took a serious look at all concerns, Including those areas that had a somewhat controversial side to them. For example, in the NFB: AE's submission, we talked about collective agreements and the seniority clauses that may remove a worker who is assisting a blind or vision impaired child with less seniority, but with higher qualifications, in favor of a person with higher seniority who may not be qualified to work with a child that is blind or vision impaired. In the report, the review team recom- mended that all parties involved look at collective agreements and ensure that these agreements don't effect the education of children with special needs. Even though the recommendations in the report are general in nature and many only call for the Ministry to issue formal directives to school boards, several of them will have a positive impact on the educational needs of blind and vision impaired children. For example, recommendation #3 states:

"School boards must ensure that each student's educational program is based on educational needs of the student with special educational needs and not based solely on funding allocations."

This would mean that school boards would have the ability to design education programs that actually meet the needs of students and therefore, if a student requires more funding, it can be reallocated from other students with special needs who use less of their allocation.

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In its deliberations, the review team heard about lack of teacher training and the pending shortage of teachers in areas such as teachers of the vision-impaired. Recommendations 7 through 10 prescribe some solutions that have been used in other jurisdictions to address teacher training and the shortage of teachers trained in the area of special education. These recommendations state:

'7. The Ministry of Education should establish a program of tuition rebates to enable teachers to enrol in approved credit courses to increase their understanding of students who have special educational needs and their understanding of successful methods for addressing the educational needs of such students.

  1. The Minister of Education should encourage the British Columbia College of Teachers to ensure that all teachers who successfully complete an approved program of initial teacher education have undertaken course work that includes attention to special education as well as practical that involve work with a diverse range of students who have special educational needs.

  2. The Ministry of Education should provide tuition rebates to teachers who undertake advanced study in special education in areas of significant shortage such as visual impairment.

  3. The Ministry of Education should provide resources for the development of distance education courses in special education so that teachers working in remote regions of the province may undertake such courses in their home communities." The fact that in recommendation 9 the review team specifically mentioned vision impairment as an important issue acknowledges that the area of education for blind and vision impaired children is in need of immediate attention.

The review team also looked at the issues of individual education plans and teacher assistants. In the area of teacher assistants, it was noted that procedures should be developed to determine their areas of responsibility and the type of training they should receive to perform work related to special education. In the area of individual education plans, it was acknowledged that there needs to be standards and processes to involve parents at all stages. Also, it was encouraged that faculties of education include IEP development as part of the teacher training curriculum.

Transition and life long learning were very important to people involved in the review process. It was felt that there was a lack of coordination between the various players in the lives of a person in the special education system.

Recommendations 35 through 40 state:

  1. The Ministry of Education should work with other ministries to develop a system that ensures that children with special needs have a continuum of services that begin in infancy, continue through the preschool and school years, and lead to their transition into the work force or post-secondary study.

  2. The Minister of Education should direct that school boards report to the minister by September 2001 indicating what steps they have taken to ensure that information about students who have special educational needs is maintained and transmitted in accordance with the Permanent Student Records and Individual Education Plan ministerial orders.

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  1. The Minister of Education should discuss with the Minister of Advanced Education, Training and Technology appropriate ways of ensuring the smooth transition for students who have special educational needs from secondary schools to post-secondary institutions or other environments.

  2. The Minister of Education should direct that the delivery of Career and Personal Planning curriculum for students who have special educational needs contain information related to workplace or post-secondary transition issues.

  3. The Minister of Education should ask institutions responsible for preparation of school counselors to include in their curricula attention to the unique needs of students who have special educational needs with respect to post-secondary education and work.

  4. The document being prepared by the Ministry of Education on career/life transitions for students with special educational needs should be completed and made available as soon as is practical, but no later than December 2000.'

It is clear that these recommendations are designed to ensure that children with special needs have smooth transitions into and out of school.

Will this report benefit children who are blind or vision impaired? If we look at the lack of recommendations dealing with blindness specific issues, we would have to say no. However, because the report makes some very positive recommendations that effect the general educational needs of blind and vision-impaired children, we would have to say that yes, it will substantially improve the educational outcomes for them. As with many good reports such as this one, they are only as good as the political will to make the necessary changes. The current Minister of Education is committed to implementing the report. A work plan has been requested from the ministry staff to ensure the prompt implementation of the report. It is unclear at the time of the writing of this article what the level of support in school boards is regarding the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report is concerned. However, this report allows the school boards their jurisdictional flexibility but does make them more accountable for the needs of children with special needs.

Are we finished our work in this area? NO! We will now have to monitor the implementation of the report's recommendations to ensure that our issues are handled in a satisfactory manner.

For more information or to receive a copy of the report,

contact :

Joe Cuelho BC Ministry of Education (250)-356-7767

e-mail: joe.coelho@gems6.gov.bc.ca

visit their web site: www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/

Comments

Is there any further news on this review? New reports? Studies? Research? I cannot find anything new or current on special needs initiatives. I am a student enrolled in the STEP program at UBCO and would love to learn more as to what is being done currently about special needs in the BC school system.

Hello. Since it has ben over 10 years since this report has been done, I am not aware of any other reports that have been done outlining the progress in implamenting this report. Because the report had been done during the last couple of years of the NDP government's term of office, I believe very little progress had been done in this area. As our organization does not have a parents division anymore, we unfortunately have not done as much in this area as we did in the past. You may want to contact the BC vision teachers association. They may be able to update you on the status of any improvements in the special education system for children who are blind or vision impaired.