Christine Payne presented this speech to the Board of Education SD61 at the January 28 Board meeting. I have been told that this program “is closed”. Interesting, as the Board has heard from parents whose children are currently attending.
I am here this evening as my youngest child is enrolled in the low incidence program at Arbutus Global Middle school and I understand that this programme may be not offered going forward. Many would mistakenly term her education and that of those enrolled in the programme as being special which connotes something that is an extravagance or a luxury however, what the children in this programme receive is really their general education. As the cohort has learning challenges, many of which are extreme, the programme supporting their learning must be based on each child’s individual needs not on what is cost effective or space saving for the district.
My daughter has a de novo gene mutation known as DDX3X. As a result she has low muscle tone which affects her gross and fine motor skills, development delays as well as being virtually non-verbal. She communicates with a touch screen device, using a combination of icons and, as she spells and reads at a primary grade level, words and some sign language. She also has a gentle and fun disposition and has no temper or violent behaviour tendencies at all. The low incidence programme is the best programme currently offered by the district to allow my daughter and those like her with complex educational needs the most meaningful access to the curriculum, to core education – to which, of course, they each have a right. The closing of this programme and the resulting action of her and her classmates moving into regular classrooms with typical children termed “inclusive classroom” settings would not be truly giving these students an inclusive education, rather this would merely be an exercise at integration.
Currently, my daughter takes part in several classes with typical children on a regular basis. For academic-based subjects she typically listens to the lessons given by the respective teacher and is given simplified work based on the lesson to complete. Engaging in PE is obviously a challenge due to her physical limitations while in some exploratory lessons and global action classes she can very occasionally participate in parts of a class as an equal. Of course, her participation at most levels can only be achieved with the assistance of her educational assistant. I must emphasize the smallest tasks such as holding a pen the correct way or opening a door or container – things that a typical child takes for granted when carrying out a regular day – are usually inordinately time consuming for her.
If the low incidence programme comes to an end, she would spend the day trying to relate to a world in which she would be very behind in all aspects of development in relation to the balance of the cohort. However, were the programme not to end, she would be able to continue to receive the intensive remediation that she requires to meet her educational goals in a supportive environment. She would be able to finish work assigned from classes, benefit from the enrichment of further learning opportunities based on the curriculum and the teaching of spelling and math at her level. Presently, typical children are provided with many opportunities to come to the low incidence class and participate in learning opportunities designed to provide an inclusive learning experience for all students.
If the low incidence programme at Arbutus ends where will the children enrolled and destined for this programme go when they cannot be in the classroom due to behavioural issues or when the balance of the class is undergoing testing or away on field trips which they do not want to or cannot attend? Will they be placed in a room by themselves with their assistant? Will there even be a room for them to go to? Or, as in my daughter’s experience at her inclusive elementary school, a school in SD 61, will she be sent to an outside portable alone with her EA or to the nurse’s room to carry on with her learning? Or will she, if her EA is ill, be placed with a rotation of fill-ins for her EA over the course of many months, as she experienced at this same school? Or will her teacher take leave due to inadequate supports as my eldest child experienced at a different school also in SD 61, where her class had a revolving door of teachers (at least nine) for the first four months of the school year as the very experienced regular and assigned term teachers could not effectively instruct the class. You see, the class had two children with learning plans who were not provided with sufficient EA funding to allow for proper instruction of not only them, but also the balance of the class.
In these few minutes, I hope I have been able to briefly illustrate to you how the low incidence programme is vastly the superior programme to provide essential educational opportunities to my daughter and children with similar learning challenges and how an “inclusive” programme of the kind she has experienced in the district previously and which is currently being reviewed as a replacement for the low incidence programme does not come close to meeting these children’s educational needs.
I would expect that when the school district is making a decision on the low incidence programme at Arbutus it will take into full consideration the human rights and equality of this already disadvantaged group of children.