As tens of thousands of B.C. students return to to the classroom, the back-to-school experience won’t be the same for many of their peers with disabilities.
Such students are often excluded from attending, told to come only for brief periods or asked to come later in the week, according research by a group supporting them.
“Exclusion is not decreasing, it’s probably increasing, actually, incrementally,” Tracy Humphreys, executive director of BCEdAccess told Global News.
Humphreys has been tracking exclusion trends in B.C. schools for the past four years, with parents of children with disabilities or special needs reporting times their child was left out of field trips or clubs, or missed school because of a lack of support.
“Probably a quarter to a third of them are about kids attending partial days, or not being allowed to attend for days, weeks, months at a time,” she said.
Her latest report found that last September alone, there were 54 incidents of parents being asked to keep their child at home, amounting to 342 missed school days.
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For the year in total, there were more than 4,700 incidents of exclusion, up almost 400 from the previous year.
Incidents of restraint — the use of physical force, mechanical devices or chemicals to immobilize a child — and seclusion — confining a person in a space they can’t freely exit — both continued, with parents reporting they happened at least 43 times.
Advocacy groups say the findings are deeply troubling, and have called for steps to ensure all children have equal access to a safe education.
“It’s shocking but in some ways it’s unsurprising,” said Joshua Myers, executive director of the BC Centre for Ability.
“There’s also another aspect of inclusion: when kids with disabilities are actually in the classroom, physically present, are they meaningful included so that’s highlighting their strengths that’s challenging them in a safe way and allowing them to be who they are?”
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On Tuesday, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside admitted the province needed to do more work to address the issue.
“We will be certainly following up with school districts. It’s really important to understand what the circumstances are in the particular cases that they raise, and it’s important that we do that with staff that are on the ground,” she said.
Humphreys said if that work is to be successful it will require significant new funding for school districts, who she said are already dealing with budgets “close to the bone.”
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