Vancouver School Board proposes deep special ed cuts

URGENT NOTICE: Please forward to Vancouver parents of students with special needs,
including students starting kindergarten in Sept. 07

Vancouver School Board proposes deep special ed cuts for Sept. ’07 despite rising special needs enrollment.

The Vancouver School Board has just announced proposed budget cuts of almost $6 million for the 2007-08 school year, with the majority of cuts targeting frontline services for students with special needs and other vulnerable students.

The Board claims these cuts are consistent with declining enrollment in Vancouver. But when the proposed special ed cuts are compared to growing special ed enrollment figures in Vancouver, the exact opposite is true. If approved, the proposed budget would mean significant further cuts to current support levels for students with special needs, and significantly reduced service levels for new students with special needs entering Vancouver schools.
Compounding past cuts
A special ed staffing analysis, submitted to the VSB budget process by the Board’s own Special Ed Advisory Committee (SEAC) in March, showed that caseloads of special education teachers in Vancouver have already risen by over 50% since the 2000/01 school year. The special ed student/teacher ratio rose from 9:1 in 2000 to 13:1 in 2006.

A group of UBC experts in this field pointed out in a recent Vancouver Sun Op Ed that these growing caseloads mean special ed teachers can no longer provide the direct one-on-one and small group instruction that these students require to succeed. In fact, most remaining special ed teachers are now confined to supervisory and consulting positions, where they no longer have time to deliver direct special ed instruction at all. Other factors, including a lack of training and expertise and current organizational models, have been identified as further hampering these teachers’ ability to address the complex needs of at-risk students. The students suffer, and indeed all students suffer, as the burden of unsupported students then falls on regular classroom teachers who simply can’t cope.

During the same period from 2000 to 2006, the total number of SSWs (special ed teaching assistants) in Vancouver also rose significantly, but Vancouver parents and stakeholders made it very clear at a series of meetings in December that current SSW support levels are still far below what’s required to meet actual student needs.

Concurrently, deep BC Liberal budget cuts in 2002-04 to the Ministry for Children and Family Development mean that services such as speech and occupational therapy have become all but unavailable to K-12 students who require these services to help overcome learning challenges.

VSB special ed student numbers RISING, NOT falling
While overall enrollment in Vancouver has dropped since 2000, the total number of students with special needs in the district has grown by more than 17% [figures exclude the Gifted category, which is no longer provincially funded]. District projections for 2007-08 are for further special needs enrollment increases. In the Autism category alone, there will be 40 new students entering kindergarten, about three times the number of Grade 12 students exiting the system.

Special ed disproportionately targeted for cuts
As the above figures show, the VSB has disproportionately targeted its most vulnerable students, including students with special needs, for service reductions over the past six years. Indeed, the relative special ed teacher/student ratio has gotten worse over the past six years while the overall teacher/ student ratio has improved, according to the VSB’s own figures. This disproportionately is even more evident in the cuts proposed for 2007/08.

In the recent landmark legal victory in Moore vs. North Van School District, the family argued successfully that cuts to special education were disproportionate to those made to programs and services for typically developing students and therefore discriminatory.

VSB Budget process
The VSB will be holding open hearings to hear arguments for/against these budget cuts on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 17 & 18. Unfortunately, the deadline to register to speak was April 12, a day after the proposed cuts were announced, making it all but impossible to get the word out in time for concerned parents to register. The Board will present a revised budget for final comments on Thursday, April 26. Anyone wishing to register to comment at the April 26 meeting must do so by April 24.

What can families do:
A group of concerned Vancouver parents, teachers and other partners are organizing a rally outside the VSB offices at Broadway & Fir on Thursday April 26 at 6:30 pm (prior to the Board meeting which starts at 7 pm). The theme is “Our Kids Deserve Better!” Bring your own placards or show up and make them on the spot (supplies provided). All parents, students, teachers, support staff and other “friends of public education” are welcome.

E-mail Vancouver trustees, Education Minister Shirley Bond, Opposition Critic David Cubberly, your MLA and local media to express your thoughts on the the proposed cuts. Consider what it says about the management competence and political will of our elected officials at both the provincial and district levels, who are responsible for this deepening decade-old crisis in special education in a Province currently sitting on a fiscal surplus worth billions. The long-run costs to taxpayers and society of failing to invest in supporting vulnerable students today will be far greater than what is being saved

Copy and paste the contacts below into the TO line of an e-mail message:,,,,,,,,,,

Document your child’s current support levels: Act now to confirm your child’s current support levels so that you will be armed to challenge individual cuts to your child’s supports in September, if the proposed VSB budget is approved. Ask your school to document current support levels in writing: [e.g. a full-time aide would be a 1.0 FTE (Full time equivalent); a half-time aide would be 0.5 FTE, etc.] Keep this on file so that you can compare it to SSW time and other supports allocated for 2007/08.

Ministry of Education policy requires the District to provide adequate support levels based on your child’s individual needs, as determined by a qualified professional, and as specified in the Individual Educational Plan (IEP). The school must prepare an IEP for every student with special needs and the parent must be invited to take part in preparing the IEP. (If school or district officials claim that a cut to a student’s support level is consistent with the VSB’s internal staffing formula, remind them that this formula has no validity under existing provincial policy. If you need advocacy assistance, please contact us and we will try to connect parents who need help advocating for their children with advocacy support.

Please pass this along to other parents of students with special needs!

Dawn Steele, Vancouver parent, MOMS