British Columbia

Kelowna mom wants more support for special needs students

Christine McKay, whose six-year-old son Isaac has autism, says his school didn't have a resource teacher the beginning of the academic year, creating gaps in his education at South Kelowna Elementary.

The school district says it’s exceeding provincial targets, but advocates say more support needed

Christine McKay says more resource teachers are needed across the Okanagan to support education for special needs kids. (CBC)

This story has been updated to clarify the Central Okanagan School district's staffing levels and response.

A Kelowna mother of a child with special needs says more support workers are needed throughout the Okanagan to ensure children like her son aren't let down, and can thrive.

Christine McKay, whose six-year-old son Isaac has autism, says the Central Okanagan School District didn't have a resource teacher teacher at the beginning of the academic year, creating gaps in his education at South Kelowna Elementary.

A resource teacher is a certified teacher who acts as a line of communication between teachers and other professionals, helps develop a curriculum that suits the student, and aids in teaching. They often have degrees in special education.

With no resource teacher, McKay says there was no study plan for Isaac.

In an interview with CBC's Daybreak South, McKay said that instead care workers walked the boy around the school's hallways throughout the school day.

"Isaac's care workers that worked at the school had no plan for him at the beginning of the year. And that went on for two months," McKay said.

"I just can't even imagine what other children are going through."

'We are meeting our requirements'

Kevin Kaardal, superintendent for the Central Okanagan School District, said he was aware of Isaac's situation at the beginning of the year, and that the district moved quickly to resolve the issue after the original resource teacher for the school went on leave.

"Yes, there was a delay in being able to put a resource teacher into that school but we are meeting our requirements in terms of the collective agreement," Kaardal told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

A resource teacher for Isaac's school was hired in October and Kardaal says, in the meantime, a district autism specialist stepped in, redesigned a classroom to help Issac and referred him to a provincial outreach program for children with autism.

Kardaal does acknowledge there was a communication breakdown with the family.

"Sometimes parents' expectations about what the program should look like and our professionals' expectations about what the program should look like are different, and we have to work through those differences," he said.

"She really cares about her son and so do we. And we are looking forward to working together for his success," Kardaal said.

Kaardal adds that the district has over 650 education assistants; more than ever before and that graduation rates for students with special needs is up.

'Multiple Challenges'

Kathryn Golbeck, who's a resource teacher in another school district, in nearby Penticton, B.C., says she wants to see more resource teachers and other support staff — such as speech therapists, psychologists and counsellors — across the province.

In an email to Daybreak South, Golbeck said finding adequate before- and after-school care for kids with special needs is also very challenging for parents.

"Many parents are being faced with multiple challenges in accessing supports when their children are not in school," she said.

Disappointment

Nicole Kaler is with B.C. Ed Access — an advocacy group that pushes for equitable access to education for all students — says McKay's story is a familiar one.

"​We know more money is going into the school system. It is not matching the need of our kids."

B.C. Ed Access has made an online tracking tool that allows parents to document when their children have been excluded or sent home early.

Kaler says that parents need to come together and demand an equitable experience for their children.

"It is catastrophic what is happening," she said.

Click below to hear the full interview with Christine McKay and the school district's response with Kevin Kaardal:

Christine McKay says that more support is needed in Okanagan schools for kids with special needs. She says the lack of a resource teacher at her son's school for the first couple months of the year hindered his education. 11:47

Click below to hear the full interview with Nicole Kaler with B.C. Ed Access:

Nicole Kaler with BC Ed Access, a volunteer run parent advocacy group that pushes for equitable learning environments for children with disabilities. 7:44

With files from Daybreak South and Rachel Sanders

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story was unclear about staffing levels of resource teachers in the Central Okanagan school district. It has since been updated.
    Feb 20, 2019 1:22 PM PT