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Parents of special needs kids say info is lacking as province works on back-to-school plan

Last Updated Aug 1, 2020 at 12:08 am PDT

Students in an art class. GETTY IMAGES/Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Summary

BCEdAccess says parents are worried about school being mandatory in the fall

The advocacy group says special needs kids have already had their education disproportionately affected by COVID

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Parents of kids with disabilities are feeling left out of key back-to-school information, as the province works on bringing all students back to class in September.

Earlier this week, the minister of education rolled out a ‘learning groups’ or ‘cohorts’ concept for schools. Elementary and middle school learning groups will have a maximum of 60 students, while secondary school learning groups will have up to 120 students.

However, families with special needs kids say details that pertain to their situation are still lacking.

“Parents came away from that announcement disappointed. They are missing information, for instance, about kids that are immuno-compromised. We didn’t hear anything about the children who are arguably the most impacted by COVID-19,” says Tracy Humphreys with BCEdAccess, an advocacy group for families with special needs children.

She acknowledges the specifics are probably a work in progress.

In the meantime, she says parents are troubled that school will be mandatory in the fall. “And that is concerning because there are some families who feel their children won’t be safe.”

The group recently conducted a survey which demonstrated the pandemic has disproportionately affected special needs students.

“In April, only 20% of survey respondents said they were offered educational assistant support for their child. Several also noted that their School Districts had already offered their child’s educational assistant alternative work,” says the report.

Transitions are difficult at the best of times for special needs kids, and there may be more than the usual as kids get used to cohorts. Parents are wondering if their kids will be paired up with the same educational assistants that they are used to.

“Will they continue to be connected with the children who are used to being with specific adults, or will they shift them around because they are needed in different cohorts?” asks Humphreys.

There are also questions over how well special needs students will grasp the need to maintain health protocols in school.

“Of course that will be a challenge, and with the right support staff, that should be okay. But I am a little concerned that this cohort will be insufficient, because there aren’t enough educational assistants in the school system right now. I think there is going to be a lot of management of students required.”

The ministry of education says all boards of education and independent school authorities will continue to be required to implement a suite of health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.