Sunday, February 19, 2012

Confusing differentiation with adverse discrimination - false logic

George Abbott has picked up on a mistaken theme from a few Victoria parents and a few Victoria Trustees and is now suggesting he might eliminate sections of the School Act related to class composition. The notion is that limiting the number of students with special needs for any particular class is "discriminatory". He, and the Victoria parents and Trustees, fail to understand that differentiating for the purpose of equal opportunity is not adverse discrimination. It is rather a form of targeting funding to ensure students with disabilities receive adequate service.

In response to a letter to Abbott from our Board, I wrote the following:

Dear Trustees:

We are writing to comment on your letter supporting the position of the Victoria Confederacy of Parent Advisory Councils that the School Act be revised to eliminate limits on the number of students with special needs in each class.

The logic of VCPAC is flawed. The entire system of designation and designated funding is “discriminatory” in the sense VCPAC references. Students are identified and funding is allotted in a manner based on the designation. Thus funding is allotted through a discriminatory manner.

However, this is done to ensure equity of opportunity, which is the fundamental principle. Every child should have an equal opportunity to reach their educational potential, regardless of whether this costs more for a particular child.

Creating limits on the number of students with special needs in any one class creates a positive discriminatory effect on funding by ensuring that every student with special needs receives adequate teacher time. If a teacher is responsible for preparing individual student learning plans for more students with special needs, each student gets less time. The purpose of the limit is to ensure a teacher is in fact able to provide the modified or adapted learning plan within the hours of the day available to them. The richness and quality of the plan and the instruction is better the fewer students the teacher is responsible for.

No student is ever guaranteed to be in a particular class with a particular teacher. Constitutional rights of integration apply to a neighbourhood school, not a particular classroom within that school. The fact that a student with special needs is not in the class of their choice is no different than if a student without special needs is not in a class of their choice. A student may not be in a particular class for a whole variety of reasons, many of which relate to particular student characteristics for both students with and without designated special needs. Classes are constructed for gender balance, based on behaviour characteristics of particular students, based on the educational needs of particular students, and so forth. This happens regardless of designation. All students, in this sense, receive “discriminatory” treatment. Classes are always constructed based on an assessment of the individual characteristics of the students.

The rationale for the limit on students with a designation is that the designation itself guarantees a certain level of instructional support beyond what is provided to students without a designation. This is time consuming. An individual teacher simply does not have time to meet the outcomes of an individual education plan if they are responsible for too many plans.

The limits and designations are not wrong because they organize classrooms based on the needs of students. In fact, this is their strength. They allow increased funding, and increased teacher time to go to those students who need it the most, as identified through the designation process. They also ensure that a teacher is not overwhelmed with workload and this impacts every student the teacher enrolls.

Finally, one function of the limits is to identify for government the funding levels required. Without limits, funding shortages simply result in overwhelmed teachers who are unable to provide the same level of service to students. This is the situation we find ourselves in today, with strict limits having been removed from our collective agreement.

We need stricter limits, not fewer limits. We need more funding, not more false “flexibility”. A return of strict limits would enable schools to establish classes in which the teachers could actually meet all the needs of their students.

We ask that you reconsider your decision and rescind your letter


  1. This letter is very good, and I appreciate your efforts to explain the lack of logic in the minister's comments. The appropriate solution for a class that has surpassed its limit of students (regular and/or "identified"), is to create a second class -- both will be smaller, and more individual attention will be the result. The minister uses Home Ec. as an example, which is a very poor choice, given the fact that labs across BC were built for 24 students, but now must accommodate as many as 30 -- and often 3 require special assistance and may even come with an additional adult whose safety must also be considered. If two smaller classes were created, the result would be more room to work, kids and adults would be safer around the stoves and power tools, and there would be more opportunities for teachers to provide individual attention to learners. BUT this government would prefer to eliminate any class size and composition limits to save money by stuffing more kids into each class -- but at what cost to the learners?

  2. There is only one conflict here and that is the conflict of squeezing public funds for educational needs that support the majority of average families. This lack of funding and getting motivated teachers as well as good audio-visual aids for teaching does not present itself in most of the private/independent schools, which incidentally, has an overall higher score than all of the public school. I have a special needs little girl whom I hope will have her share of proper education and am uncomfortable with this ongoing debate. Why should my darlin' and any special needs kids be place under the spot light where they are not even mature enough to have a voice, where they will continue not to have a voice if they have no proper education. If the class expands, there has to be more funding to engage more educational assistants (By the way, I recall that special needs children will be provided with an educational assistant by the SD61). At this juncture, I am hearing the debate then, less as not having another teaching assistant to cover for the special needs child, but more the case of a fear that having more than three special needs children in the class will affect the image of the class? But I do agree with the people that the class should not balloon to a size where the class teacher is unable to provide sufficient attention to every students. If the teacher is provided with a ratio of teaching assistant support correlated to the number of students, and has good teamwork, it may well work. The fear then, really is that the provincial government will expand the class and shrink the budget. LOL!

  3. Where is the time to meet and plan the programs with Education Assistants that go with these individual special needs children? These programs take time, huge amounts, in many cases, there is the need to monitor, tweek, change as progress is made... With 3 students max as it was last week.. there was not enough time to meet because you must understand, I do have to plan for the remaining students in my class. Their programs are just as relevant and important and without Special Needs students it is a Full Time job. C'mon are you really thinking this through? Do we really want our Education System to be funded and planned based on conversations that take place on the playgrounds and parking lots? Will we fund Nursing and Doctors and Lawyers based on parking lot conversations? Think about it!