Yes, I support inclusion.
I taught children and youth with “severe and profound” challenges for ten years. If a student is non verbal, has no communication system reliably developed, and does not want to be in a situation, how to let everyone know that? “Behaviours” to be “managed” could often be cries for help or escape. This slide from Shelley Moore, 2015, reminds us that as much as we might like a student to like something that we like, that won’t necessarily be the case. In all the points, the “voluntary” one is critically important for the individual student.
In March, after the Board of Education SD61 voted to keep Victor School open as a purpose-built facility for students with low incidence designations, and voted to keep the Arbutus Middle School District program open for at least a year longer (funding had moved fro District program funding to school based catchment area funding, so clearly, as a parent of a child with a low incidence designation pointed out, the program and classroom would disappear by attrition) for students with low incidence designations (June 4/18 first of several presentations and appeals from parents) , Inclusion BC wrote to the Board shaming trustees for keeping Victor School open.
When affected parents became aware of the letter, they contacted Inclusion BC to object. Inclusion BC has, to their credit, retracted the letter sent to the Board (P 12 April 23 Board meeting agenda).
Amanda Tarling is one Victor School parent. Her letter below is published with her permission.
Dear Ms DeLong,
Further to the message I left on your answering machine on March 8th I am stunned by your letter dated March 1st, addressed to Trustee Watters of SD61.
In your first paragraph you describe Victor School as a “specialized facility.” Thank you for acknowledging this fact. This is exactly why Victor School needs to be preserved as it is. My son Cal attends Victor School precisely because he can not be meaningfully included anywhere else within SD61. Victor School has provided a community of peers for Cal. It’s a place where he has found safety, dignity and respect. This has never been afforded to him in any typical classroom since Grade 2.
In your letter you berate the Great Victoria School District for not entering into meaningful consultation with the Victor School families. Why then did InclusionBC not have the courtesy to enter into dialogue with those same families before writing a letter that undermines the wishes of said parents?
I find it galling that you would compare Victor School to the history of segregation of children with disabilities in BC in the distant past. My son attends Victor School as it is the only safe space in which he can receive an education. Please tell me how my son can be included in ANY activity that a Grade 10 student partakes in during school. My son has the cognitive ability of an 18 month old and has seven different diagnoses, despite all of the goodwill in the world there is no way that he can be safely and meaningfully included with his peers other than at Victor School.
Cal’s geneticist commented when Cal was still a toddler, “the tragedy of your son’s condition is that he has a syndrome that is like being locked in. He is perfectly aware that he is “different” and less able than other kids.” By closing Victor School my son would face the heartbreaking truth of his inability every single day at school. Your lofty goals are irrelevant to the children at Victor School.
To ask for a moratorium on Victor School by closing it to new students, does huge harm to the children whose numbers would dwindle and isolates them from new students, thus achieving the exact opposite of your inclusive mandate.
I note that you represent people with intellectual disabilities thus InclusionBC does not reflect nor represent the needs of the students who attend Victor School. As well as having an intellectual disability my son is also physically disabled and there are many Victor students who are medically fragile. That you would claim to know what is best for a population you do not represent is an insult.
Your letter states that InclusionBC worries that the children at Victor School could face “abuse” based on places like Woodlands is absurd and frankly libelous. The staff at Victor School ensure that it is a safe place and that you would infer otherwise is an affront to the staff, EAs and administration at the school. You go on to say that students could face “isolation and discrimination” at a school like Victor which was Cal’s experience in a typical school. Cal has always been included and celebrated for his talents at Victor School. However when Cal was a student in [a District program situated in a middle school] I witnessed Cal being mocked by other kids on numerous occasions. One that I particularly remember was after a gym session. I was holding the door as the kids from the Low Incidence class were leaving while a typical class waited their turn to enter. As the kids in Cal’s class were making their way by, four of the kids from the typical classroom imitated my son’s rolling gait while laughing their heads off. (Cal has no right hip so walking is a challenge for him.) In that moment my heart broke. Within the halls of a school that purported to support kids with challenges they were being shamed. This is one of the many reasons we need Victor School.
When the Low Incidence room was closed at [that school ] the principal insisted that Cal stay and be placed in a Grade 8 classroom. He said “it would be so wonderful for the other students; they would learn so much from Cal.” I do not send Cal to school to be a learning tool for typical children. He would be bullied and harassed, he would not be included in any meaningful way for him. How is this inclusion?
Please come and spend some time with my son. He is a wonderful unique child who delights in the fact that he can occasionally count all the way to 10. He is violent, unpredictable, is not able to be toilet trained and has countless challenges and yet also full of love. There is NO place in SD61 other than Victor School for him to be educated. That you would imply that he could be included demonstrates your nativity of the spectrum of challenges my son faces every day. Please do not insult our community any further by meddling with the unique entity that is Victor School.
At Victor School my son is included in every activity. He is a valued student who is loved and cherished for his unique abilities. Inclusion is not possible in the current educational framework. If your mandate is to improve inclusion please set your sights on creating MORE spaces in Low Incidence Rooms rather than threatening my son’s security, community and school.
The Trustees made a sound and celebrated decision to keep Victor School as a school that is uniquely able to support children who live with profound challenges. Above all my son deserves a place where he can be educated without be taunted, teased or shunned, or relegated to a hallway. Victor School is a vibrant community where my son is proud of his achievements. That InclusionBC would deem his school not inclusive enough is preposterous.
Inclusion BC’s retraction below; orignal letter below the retraction.
Surveys will be conducted – at some point in the future – by SD61 staff regarding inclusion / special education services in SD61. From March 4/19 Ed Policy Standing Committee approved by full Board March 11/19 (included in April 23 agenda, p 7).
i) That the Board of Education of School District No.61 (Greater Victoria) direct
the Superintendent to consult with Victoria Confederation of Parents Advisory
Councils and the appropriate VCPAC sub-committee for input on the
development of a stakeholder engagement process for Inclusive Education in
SD61 in advance of the Strategic Plan renewal process. The Superintendent
shall report back to the Board at the May 2019 Education Policy and
Directions Standing Committee meeting. / Carried. For: Duncan, Ferris, Hentze, Leonard, McNally, Painter, Watters, Whiteaker Abstain: Trustee Paynter
ii) That the Board of Education of School District No.61 (Greater Victoria) direct
the Superintendent to produce surveys for the purpose of gathering feedback
on the District’s Learning Support Operational Plan’s goals. The purpose of
the first survey will be to gather feedback from all staff regarding Goal 1:
Provide meaningful and purposeful educational opportunities for vulnerable
students with diverse learning needs while considering the physical, social-emotional and academic domains. The purpose of the second survey will be
to gather feedback from parents and students on their experience of inclusive
learning in our district. Survey participants should be invited to participate on
a voluntary basis and the surveys should be conducted on an anonymous
basis to exclude the collection of respondent’s personal / private information./ Carried. Unanimous