Teachers’ union, school district administration debate special-needs student numbers

Teachers’ union and SD73 school district administration debate special-needs student numbers

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week

The Kamloops-Thompsion school district doesn’t dispute assertions by its teachers’ union that there has been an increase in the number of special-needs students in classrooms — but its superintendent doesn’t see the same issue the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association (KTTA) does.

Karl deBruijn said when the KTTA presents reports with concerns about classes with four or more special-needs students, the union doesn’t address the level of need, noting many students need minimal extra support from teachers.

DeBruijn said focusing on teachers’ interaction alone with special-needs students ignores the increased number of certified education assistants — formerly referred to as school-support workers — the district has hired.

Nor does it address the role of the learning-assistance teachers, he added.

In a report to trustees this week, deBruijn noted the increase of classes with four or more students studying according to an individual education plan included eight of the 198 kindergarten-to-Grade 3 classes and 267 of the 1,279 grades 4-12 classes.

In total, there are 275 — or 18 per cent — of 1,477 classes in the district with four or more students studying according to an individual education plan.

The provincial percentage is 24.6 per cent.

The secondary numbers are not reflective of the reality, however, deBruijn said, noting a student may have an individual education plan for a few classes, but will be counted as if he or she has one for all classes.

The KTTA said its members are reporting more complex issues with designated students, adding the situation has deteriorated since 2007, when statistics like these were first collected by the provincial government.

KTTA president David Komljenovic said the union is concerned the education fund negotiated in September 2014 is not being used appropriately to add supports to schools with class-composition challenges.

Komljenovic said the union will continue to draw attention to this concern publicly, but will also continue to use its grievance procedure to address its concerns.

DeBruijn said there are other realities the union doesn’t take into consideration, including that of schools with declining enrolment that could create smaller classes, but still have four or more students with an individual education plan.

“It’s important to note all of our children are entitled to attend a school in their neighbourhood,” he told trustees.