Exclusion of students with complex needs on the rise in schools, report finds

·3 min read
A new report has found that the exclusion of students with complex needs, either physical or mental, is increasing each year.  (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock - image credit)
A new report has found that the exclusion of students with complex needs, either physical or mental, is increasing each year. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock - image credit)

Alison Maxwell's six-year-old son has autism.

Maxwell, whose family lives on B.C.'s South Coast, said that frequently means he quite often gets left out of school activities, including getting sent to a quiet room if he becomes physical, something that happens when he becomes dysregulated and unable to manage his emotional responses.

He's also been sent home when there isn't an education assistant available to support him, and recently, Maxwell said, he was excluded from a school play.

"It further alienates him. He's a social child. He just doesn't know how to be social," Maxwell said.

"It's actually quite traumatic as a parent ... it's something you think about every day."

Exclusion of students like Maxwell's son is on the rise, according to a new report from the BCEdAccess Society, a registered non-profit that advocates for children with complex needs.

The report looks at incidents of exclusion reported by parents of students with disabilities — anything from having a shortened school day to not having inclusive lessons to not being invited on field trips.

The society gathered data for the report through an online reporting tool, where parents filled out a survey about their experiences.

According to BCEDAccess chairperson Nicole Kaler, more than a quarter of reports that they received were students who were asked not to attend school at all; there were 54 reports of gradual entry or being asked to keep their child home due to a lack of support in September 2021 alone, resulting in a total of 342 days of school missed by 54 students that month.

"Schools are essentially not prepared or willing to be prepared or doing the work that they need to do in order for the student to be at school safely," she told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

The society found that during the 2020/2021 school year, there were an estimated 4,376 incidents of exclusion, and in 2021/2022, there were 4,760, an increase of about nine per cent.

Kaler, whose daughter has autism, said seeing those numbers increase is disappointing because the society and its reports were created to try to effect change.

"Unfortunately, that is not, so far, been the case."

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Tuesday that although she has not seen the report, herself, her staff are reviewing it.

"Our expectation is that the districts have those supports in place," she said. "That's why it's important that we understand the circumstances that have been identified in the report."

In an emailed statement, ministry staff said it meets regularly with provincial organizations, including BCEdAccess Society to "discuss how to support and improve inclusive education in the province."

Kaler said the ministry has been working on guidelines around how to include students with complex needs. But she wishes the province would make it available to families and schools.

Whiteside said it will be made available when it's complete, but staff are still working on it.

Kaler also hopes the minister will consider legislation that would ensure all children, regardless of needs, are included.

"I would empower her to make some ministerial orders to enshrine into law that all students in B.C. can go to school."

But Maxwell said what's needed is more qualified, empathetic support staff, which requires more funding from the province.

"Our children are wonderful human beings," she said. "They need to be given the same opportunities that neurotypical children are given."