Christopher Richardson: Special needs students deserve better

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      As a chartered accountant, charitable gift planner, community volunteer, and as a former three-term Vancouver park commissioner, I am running for school board to ensure that our schools serve all students and parents, but also to ensure that schools are fully integrated into our neighbourhoods.

      The education of Vancouver’s children is critical to the future of the Vancouver we want. The dedicated commitment of our teachers, administrators, and support staff must be recognized and assisted to ensure that all students—those with and without “special needs” and those who are “English language learners” (ELL)—are properly recognized and supported now, not later.

      Our schools identify, assess, and collaborate to label alphabetically about 10 percent of students as requiring special attention. These categories include those with sensory, learning, behavioural, gifted, and other special needs. Individual education plans (IEPs) are then created and implemented to guide and measure achievement.

      My wife and I have two sons. The eldest was well served by the system. Our younger son was assessed as dyslexic, and, unfortunately, this label did not guarantee him a proper education even though the solutions were readily available. I simply cannot understand why—in this day and age—students are knowingly being left behind.

      If a child has a broken leg, the system fixes it. So why is it that if a student displays a disability that negatively impacts their ability to learn, we simply put them on a list and delay the help that they so desperately need?

      In my son’s case, we were warned for over 18 months that he had a “severe learning disability” but funds for testing were not available. Finally, because several students higher on the list were away on the last day of Grade 2, he was tested. But still, there was no guarantee of help.

      In British Columbia, provincially provided funding is not available until proper testing is complete. In some school districts, assistance is immediately offered and the assessments—and funds—follow later. Here in Vancouver, we must put our children first by making these necessary resources available at the first opportunity.

      My other specific areas of concern include: why is it that the current Vancouver school board fails to encourage alternative funding sources with the proper safeguards? Public schools are like hospitals were 25 years ago: donors want to give as long as they are assured that they do not relieve the provincial government of their responsibility to provide core funding. Donors hear the calls for additional funding for after-school programs and other programs. They, too, believe that no child should go hungry. So why was the Vancouver Public School Foundation voluntarily revoked rather than made dormant—so that it could accept unexpected bequests?

      Finally, about half of our schools are adjacent to parks. Why are we not seeking arrangements to maximize the utilization of our facilities and offering community recreation programs in unused or vacant schools? Schools must be integrated into their neighbourhoods to fully take advantage of these synergies.

      On November 15, it is essential that we elect knowledgeable school board trustees that will take the time to get to know issues, services, and existing infrastructure. Between now and then, I urge you to get to know our NPA team running for Vancouver school board trustee positions, and be sure to vote.




      Oct 11, 2014 at 1:33am

      Suddenly reminded of Harry Browne's best, "The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, "See if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk.""

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