We hope you found this article interesting, enough to read to the bottom. Help us publish more in 2022.

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past two years, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

We’re on a mission to add 650 new monthly supporters to our ranks to help us have another year of impactful journalism – will you join us?

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Help us hit our year-end target of 650 new monthly supporters and join Tyee Builders today.
We’re looking for 650 new monthly supporters to fund our newsroom – are you one of them?

Small independent news media are having a moment – we’re gaining supporters, winning awards, and publishing more impactful journalism than ever. We’re starting to see glimmers of a hopeful future for independent journalism in Canada.

The Tyee works for our readers, because we are funded by you. We don’t lock our articles behind a paywall, and we focus all of our energy into publishing original, in-depth journalism that you won’t read anywhere else. It’s our full-time job because readers pay us to do it.

Over the last two years, we’ve been able to double our staff team and publish more than ever. We’re gearing up for another year and we need to know how much we are working with. Thousands of Tyee readers have signed up to support our independent newsroom through our Tyee Builders program, and we’re inviting you to join.

From now until Dec. 31, we’re aiming to bring aboard 650 new monthly supporters to The Tyee to help us do even more in 2022.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Help us hit our year-end target of 650 new monthly supporters and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

Numbers Show BC's Special Needs Students Still Shortchanged

Despite strike settlement, issues of class size and composition remain unresolved.

By Seth Klein and Tyson Schoeber 7 Sep 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Seth Klein is the B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Tyson Schoeber teaches at THRIVE, an award-winning public school alternate program for students with learning disabilities at Nootka Elementary in Vancouver.

image atom
Over 16,000 B.C. classes had four or more children with special needs in 2014/15. Student photo via Shutterstock.

It's been a year since the longest strike in the history of B.C.'s public school system. A key outcome of that dispute was increased understanding of the phrase "class size and composition." During the strike, the public came to appreciate that teachers were fighting not just for better wages, but also for improved teaching and learning conditions.

The strike gave teachers an opportunity to explain how classroom conditions had deteriorated since the B.C. government gutted their contract in 2002 -- removing the limits on class sizes and the number of special needs students per class, while at the same time cutting funding for special education teachers and assistants. Not only had class sizes increased, they argued, but also the makeup of those classes had changed quite dramatically. In many different ways, teachers throughout the province asserted that these cuts meant that many more kids were failing to have their unique needs met.

The strike also resulted in the creation of a $75-million "Education Fund" with the primary aim of hiring teachers to address these issues.

A year has come and gone since then. What has happened in that time?

Drawing on the government's latest statistics, the BC Teachers' Federation reports that there were 16,156 classes with four or more children with special needs in 2014/15, representing about one in four classes in the public K-12 system. (Special needs designation means students have a recognized disability and are entitled to an Individual Education Plan.) Those numbers were essentially unchanged from the previous school year -- itself the worst year on record. In addition, the union reported that there was a "staggering" total of 3,895 classes with seven or more children with special needs this past year. Again, the number was essentially no different than the previous year.

Those numbers are a lot worse than they were even a few years ago. In 2006/07, there were 9,559 classes with four or more special needs students. And prior to the contract-stripping in 2002, many school districts (including Vancouver) had contracts that essentially limited the number of children with special needs in any given class to two.

And what happened to that $75-million Education Fund? The BCTF asserts the money only backfilled already-planned cuts, effectively allowing school districts to re-hire about 400 teachers they would otherwise have been forced to lay off. In effect, the Education Fund has only prevented more cuts, an underwhelming outcome to say the least.

What about the Moore victory?

On a related front, it's been three years since the Moore family won a historic victory for students with learning disabilities in the Supreme Court of Canada. The court found that the North Vancouver School District had failed to provide adequate support for the Moore's son Jeff, who wrestles with dyslexia. They ordered the district to repay the family for the costs of the private school they had turned to in the absence of adequate support in the public system. The court's unanimous ruling stated, "Adequate special education is not a dispensable luxury. For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia."

Yet as a recent report from the BC Parents of Special Needs Children asserts, "Many children with special needs are [still being] prevented from exercising their human right to equitably access an education in public schools." The report highlights the strain: "Families should not have to choose between paying their bills and the deteriorating mental and emotional health of their child."

The situation facing children with learning disabilities, the largest subset of special needs, is instructive. The vast majority of these children are integrated into regular classrooms, yet many teachers will freely admit that they struggle to provide the intensive, individualized instruction these kids often require. The government eliminated targeted funding for this group in 2002. As a result, there are now only a handful of specialized programs and services for kids with learning disabilities in the B.C. public school system, serving only a small fraction of the thousands of children in this category. And hundreds of kids languish on waitlists to be formally assessed. As it was for the Moores, many families of children with severe learning disabilities continue to be driven to seek out supports in the private sector.

The irony in all this is that our collective failure to invest adequately in kids with learning disabilities represents a classic false economy: the money we are "saving" on their education now will frequently be dwarfed by the costs necessary to provide for them as adults. For example, the failure to adequately address learning disabilities destines many of these children to underperform throughout school. A 2011 Ministry of Education brief states that "20 per cent of students do not complete high school within 6 years of entering Grade 8" and that a further "20 per cent of those who complete are functionally illiterate" (emphasis added). It is likely that many of the children included in these tragic statistics have unaddressed learning disabilities.

Moreover, people with learning disabilities are highly over-represented in the criminal justice system. According to a report by the Roeher Institute (a public policy research institute that focuses on disability issues), people with learning disabilities represent five to 10 per cent of the general population, but 25 per cent of the prison population.

All of this means huge societal costs and missed opportunities, including the reduced economic activity and lower tax revenues of people whose very real potential to contribute will never be realized.

In short, we (and our governments) are paying through the nose for our systemic failure to truly address the issues of class size and composition, to properly fund extra supports for kids with special needs, and in so doing, to honour their human rights. Many hoped that events such as the 2012 Moore victory and the 2014 strike settlement might be the beginning of a turn-around on that front. So far, that promise remains unfulfilled.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll