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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

Inquiry into special education in Langley "back on track"

By Gail Chaddock-Costello and Susan Fonseca

The Langley Teachers’ Association, CUPE Local 1260, and the Langley District Parent Advisory Council would like to thank the BCTF executive for its financial and staff support for our inquiry into the working and learning conditions of special education teachers and students in Langley. The motion to request BCTF support for this inquiry was passed unanimously by the LTA executive, a meeting of staff representatives, and a general LTA meeting last January. The BCTF executive approved our request following our presentation in February. Due to the BCTF labour dispute, the inquiry was postponed in May but is now "back on track" for this fall.

What brought the LTA and our education partners to this point? During the previous two years, the LTA had made numerous presentations to our board on the many and varied issues facing staff and students in special education. We had repeatedly asked our board for a Joint Working and Learning Conditions Committee, modeled after our Joint Grievance Committee, to address the untenable working conditions of teachers who work with students with special needs, whether in a separate setting or in a regular classroom.

Last fall, we held a meeting of special education teachers to get a post-Bill 33 update. We were shocked to hear about their caseloads and it was evident that those present were all experiencing a high degree of burnout—and it was only October! We heard that special education teachers are unique in that their classes and caseloads appear to be beyond the scope of Bill 33. There are no caseload maximums, no caps on the numbers of identified students they should reasonably be able to assist in any one block, and no participation in the consent, consult process. They seem to exist in a carefully crafted niche where any student with special needs who enters the school, regardless of their designation or the current size of the special education teacher’s caseload, becomes their responsibility.

We renewed our commitment to special educators and created a video entitled "Langley Resource Teachers Speak Out" (available on our web site at www.langleyteachers.com) to spotlight their working conditions. With contracts stripped, funding to the district cut, and caseloads rising as high as 80 students, we felt it was imperative to speak out on behalf of our staff and our students.

The LTA showed the video and presented to our board citing the Moore case and legal obligations to students with special needs under the equality section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We also pointed out that the graduation rate of students with special needs in Langley has declined by 11%, from 76% in 2000–01 to 65% in 2004–05. With all arguments unsuccessful, we appealed to the BCTF executive for support to tackle these systemic issues on a broader scale.

The design of the inquiry, as approved by the BCTF, includes a series of three public hearings, presided over by three independent external panelists; a review of current research into quality programming for students with special needs; and a series of case studies of special education teachers in their classrooms in Langley, to provide a triangulated approach.

Unfortunately, our board declined Jinny Sims’ written invitation to participate on the steering committee and to help select panelists for the inquiry. The LTA, CUPE, and DPAC each then appointed members to the steering committee and each selected one external panelist. We were delighted that all three of our invited panelists immediately agreed to participate and that SFU Professor Maureen Hoskyn agreed to conduct the research component.

We have been extremely fortunate to maintain continuity from last spring to this fall by retaining the same LTA, CUPE, and DPAC members on the steering committee, as well as the same three external panelists:

  • Mike Suddaby, retired superintendent of schools, Maple Ridge
  • Nadine Guiltner, retired teacher/published author, Cariboo-Chilcotin SD 27
  • Kli>Dr. Shirley McBride, retired director of Special Programs, BC Ministry of Education.

The public hearings are scheduled for Wednesday, October 24, Aldergrove Legion, 26607 Fraser Highway; Thursday, October 25, Fort Langley Community Hall, 9167 Glover Road; Monday, October 29, George Preston Arena, 20699 42nd Avenue. Sessions will run from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. each day.

Interested individuals are invited to make oral, written, or multimedia presentations and should either call 604-533-1618 or e-mail specialed@langleyteachers.com for more information or to reserve a time for their presentation. Staff and parents are encouraged to share personal anecdotes on positive experiences that have enriched their child’s educational experience, as well as concerns regarding services that they believe should be enhanced to improve the quality of service available to students with special needs.

It is our hope and expectation that the professional manner in which this inquiry is conducted, coupled with the expertise of the panelists and a wide variety of submissions, will ensure that the final report will be well received not only by our teaching colleagues and parents, but by a broader public. We owe it to our members, our education partners, and our students to do a thorough accounting of their needs.

Gail Chaddock-Costello is 2nd vice-president, Langley Teachers' Association and Susan Fonseca is vice-president, Langley Teachers’ Association.

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