Tuesday, September 02, 2008

BCTF calls out for action on class sizes and special needs requirements

With September bringing the start of another school year, the BCTF is once again outlining their concerns over the state of class sizes and the apparent impact that province wide cutbacks have been having on special needs students.

Locally, the 2 million dollar cutbacks to the local school district have resulted in a number of reductions across the system. From a reduction in noon hour supervision, to cuts in school libraries and the elimination of secondary school science lab assistant positions, 2008-09 may prove to be a most challenging time for local educators.

BCTF President Irene Lanzinger, outlined her thoughts on the various issues in our schools in an article in the Daily News of August 28.

Class size limits still the main BCTF issue
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Pages one and three

The most talked about issue among teachers in British Columbia is addressing students with special needs given the lack of resources from the Ministry of Education, said the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation President.

“The number one issue, and it’s the one that Minister Bond is not talking about, is resources,” said BCTF President Irene Lanzinger.

“Her government introduced legislation in May of 2006 that had very minimal class size limits and they didn’t fund them.

“Last year we saw 10,000 classes over the limit for students with special needs, and 3,000 with over 30 students.”

“She’s said that’s only five per cent of the classes, but my question for her is ‘Are you prepared to sacrifice five per cent of the students in the province? Isn’t it important that every child be in a class where learning conditions are acceptable?”

Lanzinger said Premier Gordon Campbell promised teachers the resources to deal with class size and composition issues back in 2005, but the government has still not followed through on the promise, and as a result learning conditions in BC are not improving.

Last year, there were more than 3,000 classes across the province that exceeded legislated requirements, affecting more than 8,000 students.

In addition, over 10,000 classes had four or more students with special needs – another violation of provincial legislation, said Lanzinger.

“The government refuses to provide the resources to get the job done.

There is no new money to reduce class sizes and nothing to help students with special needs. If that wasn’t challenging enough, school districts have been forced to close 177 schools, said Lanzinger.

“I know the issue of class size and composition is one that teachers are struggling with across the province, and particularly in places like Prince Rupert. School District 52 is one of the districts with the greatest challenges in terms of meeting the needs of all their students.

The Director of Instruction’s Report to the Board on October 16, 2007 stated that of School District 52’s 2625 students, 392 were identified as IEP (Individualized Education Program) students, and 81 secondary classes with more than the provincially legislated limit, which amounts to 40 per cent of School District 52 classrooms containing more than three special needs students.

Also of note in the report is that in the 2005-06 school year 74 percent of special needs students were Aboriginal, as were 80 per cent of IEP students in the 2006-07 school year.

“Even with declining enrollment in our district, the number of students with special needs in our classrooms is remaining steady, and in some cases increasing,” said Tina Last, School District 52 board chair. “And if you talk to teachers, we have what they what say are ‘grey area’ students, who haven’t been assessed as IEP but do need additional support.”

Meeting the needs of students with special needs is going to be just one of many challenges facing School District 52 this school year with an enormous budget reduction for the 2008-09 school year, difficult decisions were made to reduce noon hour supervision, cut library assistant time, eliminate secondary school science lab assistant positions and cut teacher and support staff time.

In an open letter to Minister of Education Shirley Bond published last month, Prince Rupert District Parent Advisory Chair Sheryl Proskiw made a case for the students of School District 52, outlining the deficiencies that local students face in comparison to their peers across the province.

“How are our children expected to be able to compete with other students throughout the province for space at universities, scholarships, well-paying jobs without a safe environment, without regular access to textbooks, without hands-on science labs giving students an opportunity to apply their knowledge, without classroom support from support staff?” asked Proskiw.

“Because of current government funding, the district will not only be unable to benefit from any cost savings that were expected from closing schools, but the district will have to further reduce what is currently in place. This is a double injustice to our school district.

“We ask you to strongly reconsider how our district is funded and to please re-instate our funding levels.”

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