Saturday, October 4, 2014

Why Are the Designations Disappearing?

I haven't been able to write for awhile, because I've been buried with back-to-school after-the-strike rebuild and recovery efforts. That is, I've been trying to teach. It hasn't been very pleasant. Well, the teaching part has, because I love the kids, I love teaching, and our new bunch of students is just delightful. I'm really thrilled with this year's batch of Resource Grade Tens. That aside, the rest of it...the part where I'm not teaching... has been pretty demoralizing. In fact, going back to school in general, has been pretty demoralizing. Morale is extremely low. We went on strike for the kids, we held the line to make things better for the kids, we gave up a fair whack of money for the kids, and yet, things are worse. Not just the same. Worse.

One of my jobs is to handle the paperwork for all of the Category D designations. Category D, is "Chronic Health". The whole point of the designations, is to identify students who require extra assistance in order to be successful in school. They might need some specialized equipment. They might need EA time. Maybe they need a scribe, or a specialised type of teaching, or maybe they just need to have some learning support class time. Depending upon why they have specialised needs, they are assigned a different category. Category A, for example, is called, "Dependent Handicapped." Category Q is for kids who are "Learning Disabled". Category H is for students with "Severe Behaviour Disorders/Severe Mental Illness".

These categories are attached to money. In addition to the paltry sum provided by the education ministry in this province to educate children, kids with a category may or may not bring in extra money to the school, to finance providing for their needs. The amount for the most severely affected children, those who are either Dependent Handicapped or both Deaf and Blind, roughly equals what it costs to pay for a single EA. Sounds reasonable, right?

Except that since we've been back, it looks to me like more and more kids are having their designations either downgraded, or removed. And that means, there is no funding for their special needs anymore.
I can't prove this; it may just be where I work, though other teachers I talk with say they notice the same thing. And it's pretty disturbing.

For example, I know of one situation in the province, I won't say where, in which a student with chronic pain and a history of seizures has lost their Chronic Health designation. This student continues to be affected by the damage caused by the seizures, and by the pain that won't allow sitting down for more than a few minutes, yet that student is no longer identified as one with these special needs. This kind of thing isn't new; it's been creeping up for awhile. There are students losing their 'Dependent Handicapped' designation on the basis that they can feed themselves, because they were seen eating a candy bar. The fact that such a student continues to require daily toileting, is unable to stand, walk, dress himself, lift a spoon to his mouth, open a book or write independently, is not enough. Being able to get a candy bar into one's mouth is apparently a criterion which establishes that you are not Dependent Handicapped.

These are a couple of examples of what is happening in schools right now. Funding has become so tight that children with obvious needs are having their support funds either reduced or removed altogether. There are countless examples of children with learning disabilities recognized by qualified psychologists, who are not considered to have learning disabilities by the BC Ministry of Education. This no longer matters, of course, because the Ministry removed all funding for students with LD anyway, but back when specialists were still funded for these kids, the qualifying features became narrower and narrower.

Another thing I'm noticing is enlarged classes. There is a class I know of, right now, with twenty five teenagers across three grades enrolled, and all of them are either identified as having special needs, or they should be. Not one is a typical learner. How can I be sure? Because the class is a learning support class. You can only enroll if the School Based Team identifies you as having some sort of high need. And yet, somewhere, somebody thinks it is reasonable to have twenty five high needs, generally emotionally fragile, challenged and often acting out teens in a single class, where they are supposed to receive extra help.

Why? Why does there seem to be a trend towards decategorization? Why would anyone form a class like the one described above? Aside from the obvious predilection of our current provincial government for under resourcing public schooling in their push to privatize all the things, why are we seeing this happen?

Given that the Ministry of Ed is very interested in removal of categories altogether, it seems likely that we will be seeing fewer and fewer children identified as having special needs, and therefore as requiring additional funding. While the Ministry would have you believe that this is to facilitate individualised learning for every child, I do not think there is any evidence to suggest that BC's Ministry of Education has either the will or the capacity to undertake such a move. Instead, I think the reasoning is simple: Undesignated children cannot be counted. Nobody can say, with ease, that there are "ten special needs children" in a given class. Once they are not identified, these children will be statistically invisible. And we all know what happens to people who don't statistically exist.

It certainly won't be an increase in services.

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