Marcus Pollard: Victor School

Marcus Pollard’s presentation below (with his permission) to Trustees who attended the Education Policy and Directions Standing Committee of the Board Monday February 4. The meeting was well attended by parents.

A bit of background on votes and committees. There are two standing committees  that provide input to the Board. Open discussion  takes place at the Committees. At the Board meeting, you can get on the speakers list if you call by Wednesday noon before the next Monday meeting. You have 5 minutes to speak. Time yourself at home because you will be asked  to wind up at 5 minutes. The Chair will say “thank you” and that’s it. No dialogue. Just how Board meetings run. But they are recorded, and people do watch.

Members of the Ed Policy and Directions Standing Committee: Nicole Duncan (Committee Chair, Tom Ferris, , Diane McNally, Ryan Painter, and the Board Chair for the November to November term (this term Jordan Watters) who is “ex officio” meaning  not counted for quorum but has a vote.

Operations Policy and Planning Standing Committee: Committee Chair Rob Paynter, Angie Hentze, Elaine Leonard, Ann Whiteaker, and  Board Chair Watters ex officio.

Trustees who are not members can attend committees and comment in debate but can’t vote.

Motions that carry at a Standing Committee go forward as “Recommended motions ” for a full Board vote at the end of the month, last Monday usually. Motions that are defeated can be brought forward anyway by the mover but obviously the odds of a vote win might not be good, going in.

So whatever happens at a Standing Committee basically has to happen all over again at the Board meeting with the rationales given again and the same (or maybe different) arguments in debate. At Board meetings though, trustees only have one turn at debate on each motion, except the mover can open and close. Partner groups can comment once.

My motion from the floor, added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting:

That the Board direct the Superintendent to retain the current spaces and current staffing ratios at Victor School for thee use of the students currently enrolled in the Victor School education program, that the program be open to new student intake, and that the program remain in place and operational as an ongoing placement option as per Policy 5148 “Alternatives to the Integrated Classroom” [ yes, the antique language in the Policy needs addressing] , and that an proposed change and related planning in regard to program operation or the program physical situation be made only after adherence to Policy 1163 Consultation , and only with the informed approval of the Board.

Defeated. [A tie = defeat.] For: Duncan, McNally Against: Ferris, Painter Abstain: Watters (who commented  that the motion was a time waster and should have been ruled out of order )

Marcus Pollard’s speech to Ed Policy and Directions Standing Committee:

My name is Marcus Pollard. Trish and I have recently enrolled our 15 year old, non-verbal, very autistic son Nathaniel at Victor School for the 2018-19 session. Nathaniel had previously been enrolled at Arbutus in the Low Incidence Program up until 2017 when his behaviours escalated so severely he became a danger to himself and others.

First he was kept from school for one day, then for another. Then the days became weeks. The excellent and well meaning teachers and EAs were frankly out of their depth.

Our boy was admitted to VGH in an attempt to stabilize him, where he was kept in isolation, with a round the clock security detail, for almost 2 months. Then he was moved to Ledger House for their 3 week maximum (also in isolation) and finally with full support from the Ministry of Children and Families into a respite home for 3 days a week and returning home for the other 4. In all this time his education was put on hold. A whole year without any school whatsoever.

We had been chronicling this stage of our life on social media when a Victor parent reached out to us. They said “he sounds like our type of guy”. That’s not something that families like us hear very often. So after a few visits with the wonderful teaching staff at Victor and a tour of the facility we decided to enrol Nathaniel.

We weren’t prepared for the change in our lives. Nathaniel was THRIVING at school for the first time in years. As Victor is – ironically – in our catchment area we were able to walk him to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. We would talk about his day, his weekend, work on road safety and talk about everything we see along the way. And who doesn’t like a walk?

When Nathaniel is in school we get to go shopping, maybe read a book, clean the house, cook some meals and maybe even have a conversation. Maybe even one NOT about Nathaniel! We don’t have to worry about getting a call from his EA telling us to pick him up as there’s been an incident. They’ve got it covered. We have gone from numerous calls a week to, well, none.

So last week we received an email with an innocuous heading “Boundary Catchment Review” from an unfamiliar – to me at least – name, Harold Caldwell. It almost looked like spam and frankly I’m surprised I even opened it. I’m not saying that was the intention, but… It was short and to the point, essentially stating that as part of the review, Victor School has been targeted for dissolution or relocation. Some of the students remaining while the new Kindergarten and Grade 1 students were phased in, and others being moved to a TBD “purpose built location”. We were invited to a parent meeting on Jan 31st, 2:00 where we were promised a “complete package of information regarding all of the proposed changes”. Two days notice for us to organize our schedules. Huh.

Trish and I were two of the lucky parents who were able to make the meeting, where we were greeted by Mr Caldwell. Ms. Wehner, and Ms. Whitten. SD61 School Trustee Ryan Painter also attended, though on his own recognisance. [ Trustees were not copied on the letter. I saw it on Mr. Pollard’s social media page and forwarded it to colleagues; only Trustee Painter could attend.]

The promised ‘complete package’ never surfaced, instead we were given a copy of the flashy “Catchment Boundary Review” in which I believe that Children with Special Needs are NOT mentioned anywhere and Victor is mentioned only in the “Overview of Proposed Changes” parroting the same talk of a “purpose built location”. No details. No possible locations, no sketched out plans. Nothing. Not even an indication that the needs of students and families had been considered. Tellingly, our kids were not even mentioned under ”Guiding Considerations”. Which in retrospect I guess seems just about right.

What we did get from the meeting were platitudes “nothing is confirmed” “we understand your frustration” and the like, which left me feeling worse than when I went in. It became very clear that our children we once again an afterthought to the process.

I took a look at the data used for the survey and my heart sank. Again. No mention of our kids anywhere. No mention that I saw of special needs. What I did see was Question 22: “If keeping Programs of Choice in their current location limits access for catchment students to attend their catchment school, would you be in favour of re-evaluating the placement of District Programs of Choice?”

Was this the question that gave someone the idea they had a mandate from the public? When we answered “yes” to this question – as our family and thousand others did – were we advocating AGAINST the students of Victor School? Victor is not a School of Choice. For the families and students it is a SCHOOL OF NECESSITY.

Parents of children with Special Needs get very good at advocating for our kids. Even more so when they are not able to speak for themselves, as is the case for many of the students at Victor. Most of the time our advocacy concerns things we need, but sadly on too many occasions we are simply advocating to keep what we already have. Its a sad life when we have to fight for basics for our children. The right to an education for instance. The right to be accommodated.

I don’t want to get bogged down in answering the question “what would happen if you had to move schools”. How about “what would happen if you stayed”? Smarter people than me can and will (and I guess already are starting to) discuss the legal implications of this proposal. Nothing like having a Harvard trained human rights lawyer on the PAC…

I don’t want to focus on the shameful, arrogant and if I may say embarrassingly non-inclusive process to date.

I just want to let you know as a parent of a child at Victor, I think that – whether it comes from the Inclusion side or the Catchment side – this whole process has been an unmitigated disaster from the get go and needs to start again from the very beginning.

Many of the other parents of Victor are here tonight. I don’t speak for them, because while our stories have many similarities, they are all unique and very personal. I can speak about our experiences with the program and the school, but if you want their stories you need to talk to them. Something that nobody did and we are all the poorer for it.

About Diane McNally