09 September 2016

We don't need no Education

Education in BC is dismal. No blame on (most) teachers for doing the best they can with limited resources. All the blame goes on Christy Clark for this one. As Education Minister under the drunk driving Gordon Campbell, she removed the right of the teachers to bargain for class sizes and student support in contract negotiations. That was 2002, when Snap was in Grade 1. Throughout Snap's time in the public schools, she was undersupported. We pulled her in Grade 1 when the teachers were doing a work to rule protest (I understood their point, but my daughter would not be their pawn). Put her back in near the end of Grade 3 because it was clear she needed testing, support, and the kind of special education I wasn't equipped to do then (I was very, very sick then.) She was untested until Grade 6. Then she got an LD (learning disability) designation. She tested extremely low on executive functions. This designation meant she could have an IED, an IED that was largely ignored. What it did not mean was extra funding. There is NO money for LD designations. Zero dollars. She was allowed extra time for tests, which she could take in a quiet room. She was allowed to type notes in class and take pictures of the board. That's it. In high school, we had the greatest Special Ed teacher ever on board, and she was finally tested for autism (mostly because Crackle was, and I insisted to everyone and anyone that the description fit Snap better. And because I kinda got in the ped's face and threatened malpractice. We don't see her anymore.) Once the autism dx was in, the money flowed. To the school. Our family got $6000/yr for support for her. Her school got $18,500. Do you know how much of that was spent on her? None. Not a cent of it. They offered "social skills" classes that were designed for people way more impaired than she was, and let her out of PhysEd. The special ed teacher, the aforementioned beacon of awesomesauce, was already part of the team before the diagnosis. That woman fought so hard for support for Snap. She got her into classes with teachers she knew wouldn't be dicks about it, and got her out of one class that was really bad. That teacher, omg, that teacher. Anyway, that's not the point.

The point is that the schools are so terribly underfunded that kids share textbooks, are in huge classes, don't get the supports they need, and graduate unprepared for life. And it falls squarely on Clark.

When Crackle was Kindergarten age, I considered school for him. I talked to the two school districts closest to me. One of them told me, illegally, that he would be poorly supported and in danger in their schools. She told me to homeschool him. The other told me that he would be fully supported - with an assistant he'd share with 4 other kids like him. LOL. Crackle is on his best days, a 1:1 kind of guy. The school he was going to go to is on a busy road, with a creek running next to it. He's drawn to water. He's sneaky as fuck. And I'm supposed to trust this? Oh, and when they interviewed me, they asked "How long can he be left unattended?" I laughed and said, "He can't." They rolled their eyes. Not shitting you. They rolled their eyes. Then asked in a slower, more condescending way, "No, how long can you leave him if you give him something to play with? Don't you pee?" I said, "Yes, I do pee. With the door open. And the front door alarmed." Oh. 10 minutes later, they asked his assistant, "So, how long can he be left unattended?" She said, "About 4 seconds. After that, he'll bolt." Again, with the peeing question. And she said, "Yes, I bring him in with me." After all that, they offered 1/4 time 1:1, with no support at lunch. He has food allergies and no impulse control. I think I preferred the illegal advice from the woman who made no effort to hide her distaste for children. She's the same awful human who hung up on our social worker and tried to impede Snap from getting help from Community Living.

BC kids are getting screwed. Huge classes with huge numbers of kids with IEPs in them, but no support staff. How are teachers supposed to accommodate the IEPs without the resources to do it? They can't. It's impossible.

Here's the deal: If a child has an autism diagnosis (not easy to get in this province, btw! But that's another post) the school they attend gets $18,500 to provide specialized education. However, that money is specifically NOT earmarked for that child. The school can decide what supports the child needs or doesn't need, and offer what they see fit. Now, of course, they also have dozens of kids with LD designations getting no money, so the money is pooled to help them a bit too (with small tutoring groups, for example). Kids with more severe disabilities need more money and more help - so some of the money goes there. And of course, the school is seriously underfunded for supplies and equipment, so if any of that is going to the special ed program, guess where the money is coming from? $18,500. Seems like a lot, right? Any kid who needs 1:1 support uses the whole thing, just paying the SEA. Equipment seems to come from another pool somewhere - I never did figure that out. It was always such a hassle, I bought the equipment myself (like Snap's Alphasmart) so that we could get it within the millennium. Special Ed teachers are also paid by the funding pool. So at the end of the day, there's pretty much no money left. It's painful.

Oh, and here's a new tidbit of fuckery! As of this year, in order to keep getting funding for each child with a disability designation, the school has to prove that the child still needs the support they were getting the year before. You know how amputees had to prove to the government that their legs didn't magically grow back? Autistic kids have to prove that their autism didn't magically go away too. Only now, we not only have to do that to the feds to keep our tax breaks (yet another post idea), we also have to prove it to the Ministry of Education to keep the funding flowing to the school. I'm not sure if that's true in the public school, or how they handle it if it is, but in Crackle and Pop's school, the teacher asks me a series of questions about what the kids can do and can't do, and then fills in another chunk of paperwork for them.

Is there any wonder that parents like me are fed up? We're heading for private schools, en masse. My kids are enrolled in a Distributed Learning school (what we used to call Correspondence School, except now it's all online.) I provide the school with a weekly update of what they're learning, and they provide me with access to about $11,000 of the $18,500 the school gets for them. Money I spend on getting them therapies and other supports. Things they'd have no access to in the public system. No access. Plus, I still get the $6000 in autism funding (and God Bless the people who still accept it! The funding unit pays so slowly that many places won't accept it any more) for various therapies. $6000. It's been that for at least 7 years (that's what it was when Snap was dx'd.) At that time, Speech Pathologists cost about $80/hr. Now, they're ~$120. Behaviour Consultants are ~$140. Occupational Therapy ~$100. Music therapy, equine therapy, art therapy, those all run about $80/hr. But $500/mo should cover it, right?

And what really bugs me, is that the only reason my kids are getting properly educated is because my husband has a good job in the civil service, under protection of the union, and that allows me to stay home. We can get by on one salary. We don't live high on the hog. We have a small townhouse in a strata (like a condo, for those not in BC) and when the social worker came to visit, she brought gift cards from the grocery store, because that's how poor we appear. We're not, we just don't spend on our house. At all. I can stay home, do paperwork, reports, sit on the phone with autism funding straightening out the latest snafu, hire SEAs, drive to equine therapy (which, omg, why does it have to be on the other end of the city?!), develop their curricula to suit them, do IEPs with the DL school, etc., where etcetera = teach my kids how to read and do math in such a way that learning is something they grow up wanting to do.

My kids have that opportunity. Now. Snap didn't. And I hate that. I hate that we didn't have the money for me to stay home and figure shit out when she was 8. That we didn't have the money for Psych Ed testing. She's paying for all that now. And so will so many other kids. And we'll pay for them too. Later. Either in disability, welfare, prisons, or homelessness. Because all those things rise when kids don't get proper educations. And none of our kids, especially not the ones with special needs, are getting proper educations in BC's shitty, underfunded, neglected, school system.