The Good, the Bad and the Discriminatory

Undoubtedly the idea that Ministry of Education funding categories for students with special needs and the related class size and composition language (illegally stripped from a negotiated Collective Agreement in 2002 ) is a form of discrimination has come to your attention at some point.

Possibly, it is: discrimination can be positive, as in the case of School Districts all over British Columbia being signatories to  Aboriginal Hiring Agreements in order to increase the presence of Aboriginal teachers in BC schools.A Vancouver case alleging harmful  discrimination by a School District is the  Jeffrey Moore case which grabbed my attention when it all began (almost 20 years ago now), as I was then a Learning Support and Special Education teacher who had recently heard that students with learning disabilities no longer had targeted funding for support. It’s not hard to figure out what “No, it’s been rolled over into the per-pupil amount” means, which is what I was told when I inquired if this could really be true.I was astonished, saddened and deeply upset.This case is still underway and has made its way to the BC Court of Appeal, and is on its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Victoria Confederacy of Parent Advisory Council President John Bird has long held the view that class size and composition language  constitutes discrimination of the “against” kind.

Mr. Bird recently sent a letter to Trustee candidates, giving us three days from November 1 to return our answers. He included a statement that  our answers to his questions would be made public on the VCPAC website. I want to share the letter with you, linked here, along with my answers, which are below. I’d be interested to hear from you  about this issue at McNallyTrustee@gmail.com

November 2, 2011

Attention: Greater Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils info@vcpac.ca. 

Introduction: (150 word limit)

  • 10 years CUPE Special Student Assistant, SD62
  • 10 years Victoria School, serving learning needs (often intensive health care needs) of students then labelled “severely / profoundly handicapped”,  small classes (no more than 8 per classroom); alternative placement chosen by parents. Multidisciplinary teaming; managed a team  of up to six classroom assistants; very close cooperation / constant communication with parents; ongoing intensive professional development
  • 10 years special education teacher, including  “case manager” for students with IEPs; learning support with tech components; Reading Recovery; extensive ongoing related professional development
  • President, Special Education Local Specialists Association
  • B.Ed.U of A, UVic
  • Diploma French Language / Literature (5 years, UVic)
  • MBA full time (Royal Roads) while working full time
  • Deeply concerned with erosion of service to all children and lack of public advocacy from most Boards of Education when public education is in crisis in British Columbia

1.  Change in the education system can be difficult and new initiatives require careful planning along with dedicated people to champion them.  What potential improvements to the education system are you most passionate about and what specific actions would you undertake to   implement them if you are elected?

  • I want to see Reading Recovery continue and be implemented in every K-5 school. I want a return to previous funding levels for the learning needs of students identified in Ministry of Education funding categories, as well as a return to specific funding for student s identified as ‘learning disabled” in any way. Parents and school staffs need a detailed line-by-line budget for every school, and need details of staffing for students with special needs. EA assignments must be made clear and open for parent scrutiny. I want more teachers and education assistants, and fewer iPads. Specific actions as a trustee seem at this point in my vision limited to bringing motions to the table, finding a seconder, presenting clear rationales and voting on principle, not expediency. Outside the Board room, issues at the Board table and parents’ concerns, and by the time students are in high school, student concerns, need to be in the public eye to a much greater degree. I don’t see any impediment to issuing press releases, blogging, contributing to local media, and more. I see listening to parents and concerned citizens as one very important part of my “professional development” as a trustee. I have always sought out new learning and will continue to do that; I have acted on clearly explained principle in local and provincial level venues, and will continue on that path..

2.       VCPAC’s position on limiting the number of students of any particular classification from being included in a classroom is that it is discriminatory.  If the classification was ethnicity, VCPAC believes that everyone would recognize the practice for what it truly is; prejudice.  Do you believe that the practice of discriminating against a group of students for the purpose of  lobbying the government for additional funding is justified?  Based on your answer, how can the publishing of statistics about classrooms that have more than three students with  individual education plans be acceptable?  Please explain your answer.

  • I have participated for years  in long and at times painful conversations with the executive of VCPAC on this issue. There are a number of issues raised by this question. First, if an “every parent referendum” were undertaken in School District 61, I do not believe the majority position would be congruent with VCPAC’s on “discrimination”. I believe general parent attendance at VCPAC meetings is an issue that needs attention The British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils apparently is not enthusiastic about supporting or promoting the ‘discrimination” viewpoint. If the class size and composition provisions to which you refer (the provisions unilaterally and illegally striped from a collective agreement agreed to by both the employer and teachers) were truly negative discrimination amounting to prejudice, there would have been a legal ruling by now as this allegation of “prejudice’ has been going on for many years. Your question is phrased in such a way as to prejudice an answer. Limiting class size is clearly good educational practice if one supports truly personalized learning. The Ministry of Education wants teachers to be involved with the interests and passions of students and to personalize learning for every student. A class size of about 28 gives a teacher around 10 minutes one on one with each student. It is amazing what teachers do under this limitation, and how far they stretch themselves to support each student. Students with more complex learning needs require more attention and more preparation for instruction. There was a reason for those small classes at Victor School. This was not prejudice against the next child who might arrive; it was an issue of making actual access to a teacher and individualized education according to the provisions of an IEP possible. The teacher is responsible for programming and learning outcomes for all students, including those with very complex needs. There is no paid assignment time for CUPE to plan or communicate between the teacher and the CUPE assistants who in reality are the primary providers of education experiences in many cases, because of the multiplicity of learning, physical / health, and emotional needs of the students in any classroom to which a teacher must attend. Class size and composition language was presented by teachers as an alternative to a salary increase because teachers want to ensure all students have access to an education, not just access to physical presence in a classroom. If a teacher needs additional support to meet the needs of a student, the school and that teacher need to make a case for that expectation. If teacher assessment along with parent input were the benchmark, we would not need the somewhat heavy-handed “funding category “ approach, and many more students would have the support they need. However, public education takes place in physically limited-size classrooms with resources that are limited by the public’s willingness to be taxed, and by any government’s priorities. It is difficult to understand how reporting publicly on the numbers of students in any class who need extraordinary access to education opportunities and information as to how well the District is meeting those requirements required by class size and composition provisions can be seen as a form of prejudice. If you have taken this issue to legal action as a Human Rights challenge, I look forward to the outcome. If this issue has not gone to that larger forum for a ruling, it remains an opinion.

3.       At a recent SD61 Board of Education meeting, VCPAC suggested the development of a new  model for funding classrooms that is not based on discriminatory practices but instead is designed  to ensure that the needs of each and every student are met.  VCPAC believes that this could be accomplished by focusing on the composition of resources that are required instead of the composition of students that are acceptable.  Do you agree with this approach for analyzing the total needs of a classroom?  If elected, would you stop the practice of discriminating against students with individual education plans as currently practiced in reports on class size and composition?  Please explain your answer.

  • The current model of funding is not based on “discrimination”” and class composition is not based on student ‘acceptability” to a teacher. All students are “acceptable” in public school classrooms. The issue is access to education, not access to a seat in a particular classroom. My answer to the previous question will serve as my more complete answer to this question as well.

4.      As a result of an advocacy case in late 2009, VCPAC learned that WorkSafe BC processes were being utilized by the Greater Victoria Teachers Association to lobby for additional education  assistant time for certain classrooms. This was accomplished by declaring the workplace hazardous (with a student being “the hazard”) and then refusing to return to the “unsafe workplace” (the classroom) until additional assistance was provided.  In this 2009 case, the action resulted in a grade two student and their family being ostracized along with significant disruption to the learning environment.  Do you believe that WorkSafe BC’s “unsafe work” procedures are an appropriate process for classrooms?  Please explain your answer.

  •   In my assessment, the invocation of WorkSafe processes was and continue to be  symptomatic of the desperation of public school workers to get funding for students who need extra support but who are denied that support because of the inadequate provincial funding for every classroom, which particularly affects students with special needs. If students with special needs that create hazards for other students or school staff had the support they need faster than the timeline that requires the extremely time consuming case building required, including months of phone calls and paperwork and demonstration of complete exhaustion of school based interventions with the non-targeted funding and personnel at hand, and which eventually results in ridiculously inadequate levels of support after all that (and still dependent on the parent’s willingness to involve an “outside agency” like community mental health,  with  no targeted support  ensuing if that does not occur) WorkSafe issues would be all but moot as incidents would be largely prevented by ongoing interventions and adequate support. That said, I do,and did as a teacher, consider having my breasts grabbed and twisted, being bitten, scratched to the point of bleeding, kicked, and attacked and intimidated physically all  workplace safety issues.

5.       Parents have reported to VCPAC that their children have suffered a number of setbacks in their education due to post & fill and/or bumping (due to seniority) processes which sometimes result in numerous teachers and/or education assistants being assigned to a single classroom over the  course of a school year, thereby disrupting student learning.  If elected, would you advocate for some limitation to these processes so that the right of students to a consistent and uninterrupted education is respected?  Please explain your answer.

  • This situation does occur to some degree. However, there is no more transparent and open way of staffing. Students have a right to “an education”. I would not advocate for an end to collectively bargained staffing processes.

6.       In 2008, political information was distributed to parents, via students, relating to a dispute between the SD61 Board of Education and the Greater Victoria Teachers Association.  In 2009, political information was distributed to parents, via students, relating to a dispute between the Ministry of Education and the BC Teachers Federation.  In both cases, VCPAC took the position that  “parents do not wish to have their children interposed in any issue that involves a dispute between adult groups in the school system.”  We were advised that an arbitration decision  (pursuant to the collective agreement) granted the union in each case the right to communicate with parents in this manner.   The difficulty in accepting this response is that students (through their parent advocates) were not represented when the decision was originally made.  This is also the case in the WorkSafe BC procedure discussed in question #4 above.  If elected, would you advocate for legislation that grants legislated parent organizations the right to be heard (i.e. intervenor status) on matters relating to student rights when such processes occur?  Please explain your answer.

  •  Establishing parent intervenor status in any forum would be most credible if the appeal were to come from the British Columbia Confederacy of Parent Advisory Councils. I see this issue as one that is the responsibility of BCCPAC.

Diane McNally