ARTES Special Needs Education Panel Discussion
On July 13th ARTES held a panel discussion on special needs education at NorQuest College.
Trustees are elected to demonstrate vision, leadership, and responsiveness to their constituents. In this role trustees are accountable for the expenditure of large amounts of public funds and for actions that touch the lives of 100s of thousands of people. A top priority for trustees is the success of children. Special needs education is one of many important issues that school board trustees provide leadership on. The “buck stops” with school boards.
Holding this panel discussion was important because understanding the requirements of special needs students is not something that one can learn from a text book or effectively research from the Internet—It requires deep learning obtained by asking questions and sharing experiences.
Attendees included incumbent trustees and trustee candidates from both the public and separate boards plus members of not for profit organizations and Alberta Education.
- Lori Fankhanel, President, Sensory Processing Disorder Canada Foundation. Lori is a parent of two elementary aged children with exceptional learning needs.
- Wendy Sauve, member of the Edmonton Regional Coalition for Inclusive Education (email). Wendy is a parent of a child transitioning into high school in an inclusive setting.
- Kathryn Burke, Executive Director, Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta. Kathryn is a parent of two children with exceptional learning needs.
The discussion was moderated by Dale Hudjik, President of ARTES.
We learnt that is imperative that we enable the talents of all students. This is all the more true for students with special needs.
We must reduce the unnecessary suffering that special needs students endure when their challenges are trivialized and they do not get the help they need. Some children will “only” suffer the pain of not being accepted or the reality of not achieving what they could. But for some children the consequences are much more serious—a leading cause of suicide among children is a failure to succeed in school.
Panelists gave examples where schools excelled and they were appreciative of caring educators. However, trustees at times are shown only the nice side of the “bubble”. Students and parents are living the more complex and often less pretty reality inside the bubble.
The system often falls short. In order to improve, is imperative that trustees look at shortcomings with a cold eye. When it comes to children, especially those who are disadvantaged, it is imperative to not rest on the laurels of perceived excellence—but to take realistic actions to continuously improve and indeed eliminate tragic problems.
Throughout the discussion panelists articulated their grave concern that the “Setting the Direction” initiative will remove the process of diagnostic coding and emphasized the need for trustee candidates to lobby for its retention.
Panelists also pointed out that parental choice for inclusion must be respected and honoured over time. Children must be welcomed into their neighbourhood schools. It is the responsibility of district leaders to ensure that individual schools are following legislation and policy when it comes to inclusion in the regular classroom.
It is important that children are not looked at as medical case-histories, behaviour problems or challenges to budgets—but whole and valued individuals. Management practices that are inflexible and idealistic can hurt children. Administrators must be held accountable for how well they are serving the needs, special and otherwise, of children and not just meeting budgetary or formulaic strictures.
The interest and questions at this well attended panel discussion bode well for the future leadership of our schools in Edmonton.