Friday, November 11, 2011

Is Bill 33 discriminatory?

The Victoria Confederacy of Parent Advisory Councils (VCPAC) has taken the position that Bill 33 is discriminatory. In addition, they lobbied the Greater Victoria School District to refrain from publishing statistics on how many classes exceed the limits in Bill 33 of more than three students with special needs. Prior to this year, Victoria has reported every year that over 300 classes exceed these limits.

The VCPAC set of questions to Trustee candidates running for the Board included this question:

"VCPAC’s position on limiting the number of students of any particular classification from being included in a classroom is that it is discriminatory. If the classification was ethnicity, VCPAC believes that everyone would recognize the practice for what it truly is; prejudice. Do you believe that the practice of discriminating against a group of students for the purpose of lobbying the government for additional funding is justified? Based on your answer, how can the publishing of statistics about classrooms that have more than three students with individual education plans be acceptable?"

It saddens me terribly that VCPAC takes this position. Unwittingly, they are supporting fewer resources for schools and students, and fewer opportunities for those students who need them the most. Moreover, they are suggesting that parents and the public be denied the information about the class organization in their schools.


At the heart of the error is a failure to distinguish between equity and equality. I believe that every student deserves an equal opportunity to be successful. The reality is that what each student needs to be successful is different. What a student with Autism needs is different from what a student who is gifted needs. Some students require supports that cost more money, some require less. Some students come to our schools living in poverty, and some come with many resources provided by their parents and families. Funding should not be equal - it should be targeted. It should be organized to ensure that every student gets adequate funding for their particular needs. This will be different for different students.

It is a mistake to think that an equal amount of resources should be directed towards each student. Students who have been designated with a physical or learning disability deserve extra. They deserve additional resources to ensure that by the end of their schooling, they have had an equal opportunity to be successful. If we acknowledge that students learn at different rates and in different ways, then we must acknowledge that it will take different amounts of resources to educate each child.

When teachers had "class composition" limits in their collective agreement, this was to ensure adequate resources for those students who were identified through testing as requiring additional resources. Teachers work on average 49 hours per week. If 10 of those hours are available for preparation, assessment and assistance to students who require extra support, individualized lessons, and more one-on-one teacher time, then it makes a big difference if the teacher has three of those students in a class versus nine. If there are three students requiring additional support, the teacher has 3 hours per week to devote to each student. If there are nine students requiring additional support, the teacher has 1 hour per week per student. Thus, placing a "limit" on the class composition has one sole purpose - to ensure a minimal standard for each student requiring additional support.

When those limits are exceeded, that support is not there. The teacher can't simply find more and more hours in a week. The result is that each student suffers. This is what is happening in the 300 classes that are over the limit every year in Victoria schools. Teacher time is a finite resource, and when a teacher has more students to teach, or more students with additional needs to teach, the allocation of time per student decreases.

If the limit of three students per class were actually observed, there would be more classes, with more teachers. Every child in the entire system would benefit.

Resources in school systems should not be assigned equally to every student. They should be organized to prioritize resources to those students who require additional assistance and extra planning and time. This is not "equal", but it is the most "equitable".

Is this discriminatory? Not in the sense that racism or sexism is discriminatory, as the VCPAC suggests. Its purpose is not to further disenfranchise those already behind in learning. In fact it is the opposite. Its purpose is to ensure that those who come to school requiring more resources to be successful automatically have those resources.

Is this "prejudice"? Absolutely not. It is differential treatment for the purpose of enhancing services to those who need additional learning resources. Without such differential treatment, students with special needs would not be successful and would not have equal and fair opportunity to an education. This differential treatment is for the very purpose of eliminating prejudicial treatment with respect to access to a full and complete education.

Prior to the 1980's, children with special needs were segregated into separate schools. When parents first contested this discriminatory treatment of students with special needs under the Charter of Rights, the Courts recognized each child's right to an equal educational opportunity. They found that all students must have access to an equal educational opportunity in their home (neighborhood) school. This meant that in some schools, for some students, extra money was spent. If a student in a wheelchair needed an elevator, that school installed an elevator - no matter if this is an expenditure above and beyond the normal school budget. The Courts understood that for equal opportunity to occur, there would be a need for differentiated spending.

Class composition limits such as those in Bill 33 and in previous contract language serve the same purpose. They ensure additional time and resources for students with special needs so that inclusion is meaningful and real. They require that resources are redirected so that enough classes are set so that every class has a teacher with the time to focus on each and every student, including those with special needs.

VCPAC should reconsider their approach. They are doing a dis-service to those children for whom they should most be advocating for. They are hiding information from the public when they should be trying to ensure open and transparent governance by our Trustees. They are inadvertently supporting a position that will lead to less funding and less support for all students. 


  1. Couldn't have said it better myself, Tara.

  2. On the other hand, if the provincial government would start funding education at a level that is appropriate and necessary, perhaps there wouldn't be the same need to scrounge for money for every kind of special need and this wouldn't even be such an issue. Too bad that this chronic underfunding is pitting parent groups against teacher groups. When will it end?

  3. Well said. It appears (Nov 11 Vic News) that only one candidate takes the (unrepresentative) VCPAC position, and that candidate has been a no show at every all candidates meeting. The biased VCPAC questions were sent to all candidates around November 1. VCPAC has posted candidate replies, I assume, and I posted my answers on my blog as well, Lined Paper:

  4. I am in complete agreement with Tara's analysis. To realize our public school goal of equality of opportunity for all children, we need to recognize that equality of treatment does not mean the same treatment (R.S. Peters: Ethics and Education). When we identify students who have special needs, or whose cultural background is not evident in the mainstream culture of the schools, it is our responsibility to accommodate these students by developing pedagogies, courses, and programs that will support their aspirations to learn. The Ministry has been advocating for these changes for the past twenty years, but the changes are slow in coming despite the commitment of many educators. As with support for students with special needs, a financial commitment on the part of the Ministry is necessary to implement initiatives that have already been taken around the province.
    Starla Anderson, retired secondary school teacher

  5. Unbelievable! I am shocked that VCPAC has taken this positon because as you said it is a great dis-service to all students and especially those with special needs, to look at Bill 33 as being 'discriminatory.' When will the public wake up and get real and be informed as to what is going on here? I appreciate all of your information Tara and I post your blogs and try to talk to people about what is happening. It is shameful how unaware the public is and of course it is because there is no investigative reporting happening anymore by the newspapers or TV... I hope that you sent this blog to the VCPAC.

  6. Bill 33 is not well understood by many parents. More and more teachers understand it now, in 2011, because they are living it every day in their classroom.I do not believe the VCPAC position was developed through an appropriate process of consultation with the full parent population at each school.Of the 100s of parents I have now spoken to, none have expressed this position in our conversation.

  7. Victoria parents who moved this must have thinking about trustee elections. But such a position is completely foreign to the beliefs of parents I've met in Vancouver.

  8. I suppose you could look at extra funding for special needs as discriminating against kids without special needs and all students should receive the level of funding that is provided for special needs students. That would be "equal"