Tuesday March 20, 2007
By BILL TIELEMAN
The highest result of education is tolerance.
Long ago in B.C. our children with special needs were put in segregated schools away from their neighbourhood friends and sometimes far away from their families.
While well-intentioned at the time, it was completely the wrong way to help special-needs kids. We learned the hard way that they should have been included with all the other children in our classrooms and given the extra help they needed there.
Both kids with special needs and those without benefit from inclusion, experts around the world have concluded.
But for some children, those with autism, mental illness or deafness, it was more than wrong - it was horrible.
We later heard terrible stories from the Woodlands School and the Jericho Hill School for the Deaf of students sexually assaulted, physically beaten and mentally abused.
And so the idea of segregation of children with special needs was thankfully put to rest.
Until this year, when the B.C. Liberal government suddenly re-opened this widely discredited approach and tried to make it sound new and progressive.
The Feb. 13 Throne Speech said the government would establish "provincial schools" and Education Minister Shirley Bond later talked about "model schools" for children with autism.
Then - surprise, surprise - Christy Clark, the former education minister, said in her Feb. 25 Province newspaper column that critics shouldn't attack the government idea and that: "Segregation didn't work as a general rule. But rules have exceptions..."
That would be the same Clark whose party in opposition promised to help autistic children but in government went to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn B.C. court rulings in favour of funding special programs for them.
Another surprise - four days later Clark pops up again to say that now she and businesswoman Wendy Cocchia want to start a separate school for special needs kids.
And - imagine that - Clark and Cocchia have already met with Education Minister Shirley Bond, who - surprise - is receptive to the idea!
And then a few days later - surprise once more - Ken Denike, the right-wing Non-Partisan Association chair of the Vancouver School Board, announces that hey, this is a good idea, we should try here!
The question that should be asked is: Why? Why is an orchestrated effort being made to once again start segregated schools?
One answer is money. The provincial government has never adequately funded school districts to provide the assistance special needs children require. Centralized, separate schools could be cheaper.
A wide range of groups, from the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities to the B.C. Association for Community Living to the B.C. Teachers Federation have all raised their concerns, as have many B.C. academics.
But will this government listen?