Sarah Dyson’s son Alec is not your typical five-year-old.
To the untrained eye, some may say he’s disobedient, at least “for lack of a better way to put it,” Dyson said.
âI can’t say no to him. We do everything indirectly. Either he hears me say something and then he decides it’s his idea, and he’s okay with that, or I say something like “I think I could do this, and I could do that”, and then he’ll say “Oh, actually, I want to do this.
Alec is autistic and suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – one of thousands of Canadian children diagnosed as such (a 2018 study by the Canadian government found that one in 66 children aged 5 to 17 had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder).
âSince we’ve had all of his reviews, and now that we understand it a lot better, we’ve completely reversed our parenting styleâ¦ and it’s working,â Dyson said.
âWe have a much stronger relationship with him. There is a lot less screaming, butâ¦ we are walking on eggshells around him.
Enrolled for a year in the Whistler Waldorf School’s (WWS) ‘Little Cedars’ program for early learning, Alec ‘thrived’ with the help of a support worker, Dyson said, but when the time came to ‘enrolling Alec in kindergarten, the school said he could not meet his needs.
After his parents, who are now moving to Australia, submitted an official letter of complaint, WWS agreed to accept Alec with seven conditions. But the parents remained disillusioned.
While Alec’s Waldorf teachers were “extraordinary”, communicating and collaborating regularly, “we are disappointed with the reluctance of the administration to adapt to Alec’s handicap and the poor communication of the administration,” said -they wrote in a letter of May 28 refusing conditional registration.
âWe found our experience with the Waldorf administration very unprofessional.
âNothing was ever discussed with us; we were only told what the administration process would be and when we should expect a decision.
Asked for comment, WWS Director of Advancement Jen Dodds said the school could not discuss the specific circumstances surrounding a family or student due to privacy laws and WWS policy.
“[WWS]âA thorough admissions process is meant to ensure a good fit for prospective students and their families,â Dodds said in an email.
âThis includes a fair and inclusive process, as well as recognition of WWS’s independent, not-for-profit school environment and specialized curriculum programming. The end goal of the admissions process is to enable prospective students and families to make as informed a decision as possible, so that students have the best chance of succeeding at WWS.
As an independent, non-profit school, Waldorf is free to set its own admission policies.
Despite this, the school “is committed to meeting its obligations under human rights laws to ensure non-discriminatory access to education and reasonable accommodation in education without undue hardship,” said Dodds.
âWWS is also committed to being as inclusive as possible in all measures. “
While WWS was ready to accept Alec, Dyson felt it was important to share his experience.
âOne of the reasons I want to speak is that it doesn’t happen to future families,â she said.
âWaldorf slowly but surely puts so many obstacles in front of children who need extra help that they end up being forced out of school, essentially. “
Families of children with disabilities face a myriad of challenges navigating education systems, whether schools are independent or public.
While each family’s history is unique in its own way, the reality of school exclusions – which can take different forms, some more obvious than others – is a reality experienced by hundreds of families in British Columbia.
Teacher and consultant Jenn Scharf, herself a mother of a complex learner, recently released a document called Stories of Exclusion, which features 60 different stories from families from across the province, each detailing a different experience of exclusion. school due to a disability.
By sharing the stories with school districts and other education stakeholders, Scharf hopes to shed light on system-wide issues (read the entire document at storiesofexclusion.com).
âIt’s not that people don’t have good intentionsâ¦ I’m a teacher myself and there are great people in the buildings; it’s not about people getting their personal safeguard, âshe said.
“We have to personalize these stories, but we should not talk about them if we are in a position of powerâ¦ Maybe we have work to do despite our best intentions, despite our hopes and dreams, despite what is written. in the district education plan. How is it really happening on the ground? “
Through her own research and personal experiences, Scharf connected with the BC Ed Access Society (BCEAS), which itself advocates for children with disabilities and complex learners in British Columbia since the teachers’ strike in 2014.
BCEAS hosts a Facebook group with more than 4,000 families, Scharf said.
Reading their experiences prompted her to start collecting stories, “because I realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m a teacher, I have a masters degree. [degree] in education, I’ve been in the system, and I’m struggling, and our family is traumatized, âshe said with a laugh.
“We’re struggling – what about all those families that don’t have the level of privilege and access that I have?” Maybe they don’t speak English; maybe they are in this cycle of poverty?
âIt all started to add up and I realized, ‘OK, this is the job I have to do. “
Scharf’s stories of exclusion have even found their way to Jennifer Whiteside, the Minister of Education for British Columbia.
âHearing the first-hand experiences of students of diverse abilities and their parents demonstrates the need to continue to remove barriers to equity in our public education system,â Whiteside said in an emailed statement.
âOur government is committed to working with parents, advocates and all of our education partners to this end. By having an equity perspective in all of our policies and at the forefront of our discussions and decisions, we can create environments that allow all students to have more opportunities to succeed.
The province is supporting students with special needs with additional funding of $ 664.4 million in 2021-22 (an increase of $ 200 million since 2016-2017), a ministry spokesperson said, including a 45% increase in the number of teacher assistants over the past decade. , as well as the funding of 170 places in teacher training programs (including 50 focused on inclusive education), among other initiatives.
“We are also taking action by revising our inclusive education policy and ministerial orders to ensure that the responsibilities of school districts to provide necessary supports and services to students are clear,” a spokesperson said.
âWe’re on the right track, but we know there is still work to be done to ensure that students receive the support they need to be successful in school. “
BCEAS CONSIDERS CHANGES BEFORE THE PROVINCIAL BUDGET
Despite all the progress made, work is never done for advocates like Tracy Humphreys, Founder and President of BCEAS, an organization run entirely by volunteers.
Humphreys sees the group’s mandate as twofold: to help families on the ground and to push for systemic change.
Ahead of the province’s 2022 budget, BCEAS submitted a list of 11 items it considers beneficial for students with disabilities.
The list includes structural and non-structural changes, such as mandatory anti-capacity, accessibility and anti-racism training for school administrators, and an annual audit of each district’s individual education plans, to to name a few.
The ministry, for its part, has responded to the group’s advocacy efforts, Humphreys said, and meets every two weeks with BCEAS, Inclusion BC and the Family Support Institute.
âIt has been extremely helpful to have these meetings because we can talk about issues as they arise,â she said. “Instead of them overflowing and being really awful, we can kind of talk about it.”
But the “difficult reality” of the way the School Act is structured is that while the province is responsible for funding education, it is school districts and independent school authorities who decide where the money actually goes, Humphreys said.
âSo a lot of the things that we bring to the ministry level are things that they maybe don’t have much of an impact on, because districts have the autonomy to make their own decisions about how the service is. provided, âshe said.
âSo that’s one of the really big challenges. ”