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Finally, it sounds like the government is prepared to address the critical issue of class composition and support for special needs students in B.C. The media has been falling all over itself this week interviewing parents of special needs children, special education teachers, special education professors, and even educational assistants regarding how budget cuts and government directives have affected students, families, and teachers.

I've been appalled, however, that no one has mentioned the fundamental support provided for special needs students by school district Learning Support Service or Student Support Service departments. These teams consist of speech-language pathologists, hearing and vision resource teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, counsellors, and behavioural support specialists and are the life blood of inclusion. We also belong to the BC Teachers' Federation.

To clarify, not all special needs students arrive in kindergarten with designations. Those who don't must be assessed by school psychologists. The typical waiting period for assessments is six to nine months because psychologists are stretched too thin. If the student is not yet designated, he will not receive educational assistant support. The teacher then has to manage on his or her own. If the student has speech, language, motor, hearing, vision, or behavioural challenges, he will be referred to one of the Learning Support professionals for assessment and support.

But with the average itinerant school Learning Support professionals having to visit five schools per week, with a caseload of 100, chances are new students' names will go on a long waiting list. In addition, because students with Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder stay on our caseloads for the duration of their elementary school years, our caseloads grow every year. In some districts, psychologists, counsellors, hearing and vision resource teachers visit six to 14 schools per week. Learning Support professionals uniformly have tremendously large caseloads.

In addition to assessing students, generating goals at Individual Education Plan meetings, providing direct intervention or consultative services to students, writing reports, attending meetings, consulting with teachers, and meeting with parents, we are also charged with program development for educational assistants to implement with their students. We all have Masters' degrees, expertise in specific areas, and, unlike EAs, stay way past 3 p.m. in order to fulfill all our professional responsibilities.

Last year alone, I recall attending several huge school based team meetings. In one case, 14 professionals sat around two tables, attempting to problem solve for a Grade 4 student who did not even have a designation. Therefore, even once we came up with a behaviour and learning plan for this child, no one was assigned to carry it out in the classroom.

It is time that the public hears the depth of services we Learning Support professionals also try to provide in our public schools for students with special needs and learning challenges. Many of us are parents and share the public's frustration. The government must open their eyes to the long term consequences of their actions. When will they learn?

Sheila Threndyle is a speech-language pathologist in the Burnaby school district.

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