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BURNABY—The Canadian Union of Public Employees is calling on the B.C. government to scrap plans to establish separate provincial schools for students with certain special needs.

“We thought the 2007 provincial budget or the Ministry of Education’s new service plan might provide more information regarding the idea of provincial schools announced in last week’s Throne Speech, but no further details have been provided,” says CUPE BC secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock.

“The service plan, released yesterday with the budget, talks at length about increasing ‘choice’ and ‘accountability’ within the school system but fails to say how or why separate provincial schools for special needs children are needed. Given the lack of detail to date, we urge the government to drop this and get on with fixing the problems facing our public education system. Separate provincial schools are ill-considered and go against several decades of research regarding how to best serve special needs students.”

CUPE represents 23,000 school support staff in B.C., including 8,000 educational assistants, most of whom work with special ed students and their teachers every day.

“We feel that special needs students are best served when these programs are included in regular schools and classrooms, wherever possible,” Hancock says. “Students’ needs are also best addressed when qualified and experienced staff – educational assistants and their teacher colleagues – are at the forefront of service delivery.”

Having special education students within the mainstream public system also serves broader social goals, adds Hancock. These include greater sensitization of all students to the needs and challenges faced by those with disabilities; increased public awareness of what special education is and how special ed assistants and teachers help give students maximum opportunities for educational success; wider acceptance of the need to make schools responsive to the needs of all students; and allowing the majority of students, special ed or not, to attend schools in or near neighbourhoods where they live.

“Establishing separate province-level schools undermines this important connection to neighbourhood,” Hancock says. “It threatens to reintroduce a system of discrimination for students with special needs that had been largely dismantled over the past two decades.”

Contact: Mark Hancock, CUPE BC secretary-treasurer: (604) 340-6787; Roseanne Moran, CUPE Communications: (778) 835-7537