Standing ground for special needs

Some teachers in Cranbrook work in schools where 17 per cent of the students have special needs

Last week, the Vancouver Sun was granted access to data from the B.C. Ministry of Education that outlines the numbers of English as a Second Language students, special needs students and gifted students in each school district in the province.

The Sun’s article, by Chad Skelton, focused on schools in the Lower Mainland, and calculated that in about 60 schools in Metro Vancouver, there are more ESL students than those whose first language is English.

But in B.C. as a whole, one in 10 students are considered English Language Learners, the ministry’s term for ESL.

The Sun report allows you to narrow down the data to each individual school district, and each school in that district.

In School District 5, there aren’t nearly as many ESL students — only 25 students out of 5,260 students in the district are English language learners.

But the rate of students with special needs is higher in Cranbrook and the Elk Valley than the provincial average.

Throughout B.C., nine per cent of students have special needs. In School District 5, Southeast Kootenay, 11 per cent of students have special needs — 581 students out of 5,260 students in the district.

When you break it down to individual schools, Laurie Middle School has the highest proportion of special needs students — 17 per cent, or 54 students out of the student body of 312.

Steeples has the same rate of 17 per cent — 24 students out of 141.

Amy Woodland’s rate is slightly lower at 16 per cent — 38 out of 243, while 71 students at Parkland Middle School have special needs, 15 per cent of the student body.

In School District 6, Rocky Mountain, eight per cent of students have special needs, below the provincial average.

In Kimberley, 10 per cent of students at Selkirk Secondary School, 39 out of 396 students, has special needs. At McKim Middle School, 26 out of 286 students has special needs, nine per cent.

At the two elementary schools, the rates are five per cent at Marysville (8 out of 159), and three per cent at Lindsay Park (5 out of 157).

It’s worth mentioning that some students may have a learning disability or another kind of special need that has not yet been diagnosed; those students wouldn’t be recognized in this data.

It’s horrible to break down any group of children into a series of statistics, I know. Every student in our schools is special, and each has their own unique needs that should be catered to.

We are fortunate enough to have wonderful teachers in the East Kootenay who care deeply about each and every student in their classroom, none of whom can be described in just one particular way.

Little Jane may have Attention Deficit Disorder, but she could also be a great artist, a good person to call on when a new kid joins the class and needs a buddy, and have a love of sports.

But these statistics do illustrate a point that teachers have been making for the past few months: their contract negotiations with the province are not just about wages.

The stalled talks are also about the amount of support teachers receive for students with special needs.

When some teachers in Cranbrook work in schools where 17 per cent of the students have special needs, it seems understandable that they are holding their ground and asking for more help.

You can search for data from your child’s school here.

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