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Press Release: Budget Cuts Jeopardize Education of Students with Special Needs

Summary: 
Recent deep cuts to school budgets in New Westminster (School District 40), Coquitlam (School District 43) and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows (School District 42) raise critical questions about the right to a quality education for children with special needs.

NEW WESTMINSTER, BC, June 5, 2013- Recent deep cuts to school budgets in New Westminster (School District 40), Coquitlam (School District 43) and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows (School District 42) raise critical questions about the right to a quality education for children with special needs. Inclusion BC reminds school boards that they must fulfill their responsibilities to provide all students with access to education. These cuts cannot be made on the backs of students with special needs.

"The majority of the cuts in New Westminster directly and disproportionately target students with special needs,  raising serious concerns not only about the right to supports but how removing or limiting them impacts educational outcomes for these students," said Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of Inclusion BC. “The right to a quality education is built on the right to access the supports to make it happen. If those supports are cut, what guarantees do these students and their parents have that their educational needs will be met?” Bodnar adds, “We want to know what other programs were looked at when decisions were made to cut educational assistants and special education teachers. There is a growing risk of a slide back to the days of segregated education.”

New Westminster school trustees approved an extensive series of budget cuts, including eliminating 27 Special Education Assistant (SEA) positions. In Coquitlam, budget cuts mean the elimination of 14 education assistant full-time equivalents, including over 6 full-time equivalents for SEAs, as well as the Director of Student Services, who is responsible for providing a district-wide oversight for education for students with special needs. In Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, the equivalent of 2 full-time Student Support Services District level staff and 2 helping teachers will be cut, directly impacting students with special needs.  (See "Further background" for more details on the impacts of budget cuts.)

It is worth noting that in New Westminster, where Special Education Assistants form the largest single number of positions slashed, with cuts to 27 SEA positions. These cuts amount to a total budget reduction of slightly over one million dollars, out of a total budget for the district of nearly sixty million dollars; a comparatively small savings but the impacts are profound for students with special needs.

While school districts are struggling to make ends meet in tough financial times, it is unacceptable for students with special needs to bear the brunt of budget cuts. These cuts jeopardize the education of students with special needs at a core level; the services at issue are not optional for students and the school districts have the responsibility to meet the educational needs of students with special needs in an equitable manner.  

The cuts also put further strain on teachers, who need sufficient support in the classroom in order to ensure that all students are educated in an inclusive environment.  “We already know that there are insufficient supports for students with special needs. By cutting this funding even more we are saying that educating students with special needs is not a priority,” said Bodnar.

Further, as noted during the New Westminster school board's deliberations on the budget cuts, SEA positions should be staffed in accordance with the needs of children and youth and the number of students with special needs, not by pre-determined budget cuts. These cuts will have direct and measurable impact on the lives of children and youth with special needs. While they represent a very small percentage of school district budgets, the costs to students with special needs are profound and lifelong.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in  Moore v. BC that "adequate special education...is not a dispensable luxury...it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia." The Moore case challenged the elimination of special education programs serving a North Vancouver student that were slashed in district budget cuts; the Supreme Court found that despite severe financial pressures on school districts, students with special needs may not be denied access to education, a right of every child in British Columbia.

Inclusion BC, formerly the BC Association for Community Living (BCACL), is a provincial advocacy organization with over 70 member agencies dedicated to building community and enhancing the lives of children and youth with special needs, adults with developmental disabilities, and their families by supporting abilities, promoting action and advancing rights and social justice.

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Contact:
Faith Bodnar
Executive Director
Inclusion BC
(604) 777-9100 x. 516
fbodnar@inclusionbc.org

Lynne Kates
Communications Coordinator
Inclusion BC
(604)777-9100 x. 527
ckates@inclusionbc.org

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Further background

In New Westminster, school trustees voted on May 28 for an extensive series of budget cuts that includes eliminating 27 Special Education Assistant (SEA) positions, as well as over 19 teaching positions, 10 support staff, and 3 administrative positions. 

In Coquitlam, budget cuts mean the elimination of the equivalent of 14 full-time education assistant positions, including over 6 SEA full-time equivalents, youth workers, and others, amid total cuts to 142 teaching and support staff, as well as administrators. One of these administrative positions is the Director of Student Services, who has been responsible for providing a district-wide vision for education for students with special needs.  

In the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows district, 35 teaching positions will be cut and class sizes raised, as well as cutting the equivalent of 2 full-time Student Support Services District level staff and 2 helping teachers, which will also have an impact on students with special needs.