As B.C. teachers and the government continue to square off over class size and composition, some question whether B.C.'s special education system even exists.

"There really are no special education teachers in the system at all anymore," says Pat Mirenda, a University of B.C. professor and expert in special education and inclusion.

Mirenda says B.C. used to a be a leader in special education, but now most of those experts have retired, gone back into the regular classroom,  or moved up the management chain in the education system.

Now, Mirenda says the one-year teaching training program at B.C. institutions certifies all teachers to teach everything.

"So I can be a science nerd who went through [the] secondary teacher education program and my dream is to teach Science 10 or Physics 11 and the only job I can find is Grade 3 and that's what I teach," she says.

"And at the most, they've probably had one class and it's basically tiptoe through the disabilities."

The lack of expertise and resources for special needs education means that exclusion still exists in high schools.

Kim Pemberton's daughter Hannah finished Grade 12 last year. She has a learning disability and obsessive compulsive disorder.

'They weren't really planning to teach to her.'-Kim Pemberton, mother of a special needs student

"I had some teachers tell me that they weren't really planning to teach to her, that she was just there for the social experience," Pemberton says. 

"In my experience the majority [of teachers] don't even teach to the special needs. They leave it to the aide to do it."

Educational assistants also lack training

However, the aides, or educational assistants, often don't have the training or expertise in special education to deal with the more complex teaching cases.

"A lot of EAs that are working out there have never been trained formally," says June Kaiser, who worked more than a decade as an educational assistant and serves as president of CUPE local 716 in Richmond.

"If you breathed on a child at some point, you were trained. That's really coming back to haunt them now."

'If you breathed on a child at some point, you were trained.' - June Kaiser, former educational assistant

Kaiser says the resource teachers who are there to support teachers and educational assistants also don't have adequate knowledge.

"They're generally the youngest teachers in the program. The older teachers have all vacated that position because it is such a hard position."

Pat Mirenda

University of B.C. professor Pat Mirenda says B.C. used to be a leader in special education, but now lags behind. (Shiral Tobin)

Mirenda says B.C. has a long way to go to achieve an inclusive education system.

"The funding for education has been dramatically eroded in this province for the past couple of decades and the kids with special needs have been the ones that have most dramatically suffered," she says. 

"And now the kids with non-special needs are starting to suffer as a result."

A call for changes to teacher training2:18

With files from Shiral Tobin