Local parents want school officials to move quickly on 15 recommendations to improve special education in the Chilliwack school district.
The recommendations were made by consultant David Carter, who started reviewing the district's special education services in August. He presented his 36-page report at a packed school board meeting Tuesday.
Parents there said the report addresses many of the problems they have voiced for a year, but some were frustrated it's taken the district so long to bring the report to the board.
The document is dated Dec. 6, but the district delayed bringing it to the board until Tuesday because Carter was unavailable for the presentation.
"There's been an awful lot of time that has passed since this process first got started," said parent Don Davis. "I don't know that you heard anything more from Dr. Carter tonight than you would have gleaned from your opportunity to have read the report. Sure it was nice to hear from him, but my concern is, what's the timeline for all of these steps to begin?"
Superintendent Evelyn Novak defended the district's decision, saying the board needed Carter on hand to present the information and answer questions.
"We acknowledge that parents may feel that it took a long time, but we did it as quickly as we could," she told the Times. "I wouldn't be able to do [the report] justice and answer the questions that the board might have. I don't think there were any surprises in the conversation, but it's important to us that the board receive that before we publicly proceed with any of the recommendations or suggestions."
Along with receiving the report, trustees approved another motion by trustee Heather Maahs directing staff to come back to the board before the end of May with an action plan for Carter's recommendations.
"We really need to get moving on these recommendations and do the very best that we can do for now, even with the resources that we have because sometimes it's not necessarily about money," Maahs said. "Sometimes it's about doing the best with what we have and then if we get more money, great, we're further ahead for it."
Trustee Doug McKay commented that-even before the end of May-staff should find ways to work Carter's recommendations into planning for next year's budget.
"Clearly dollars and cents are attached to almost all of the recommendations," McKay said.
Like many districts around the province, Carter said Chilliwack spends more money on special education than it gets (42 per cent more), and that frustration among parents and staff is "primarily attributable to what happens when very complex children are included in modern classrooms and resources are very very tight."
While his 15 recommendations suggest ways to improve local special education services, Carter said one "massive strength" of special education services in Chilliwack is the people.
"I have been impressed, and on a couple of occasions, I really can tell you (you can check with my wife) I was moved by what I saw people doing, making do with what they have to do the best they can for kids," he told trustees.
Calls for a review of Chilliwack school district special education services were sparked a year ago by School District No. 33 education assistant Kathi Friesen, who stood up at a board meeting and told trustees the district needed more accountability in its education of students with autism.
Her comments unleashed emotional public complaints from parents of students with autism.
Friesen and a number of those parents were on hand Tuesday.
"I'm thrilled with Dr. Carter's report," Friesen said. "I really like all of his recommendations. As you know, us EAs have had a lot of frustrations, and I can see that you've taken some of our concerns seriously."
Autism is a frequent focus in Carter's report.
He called it a "flashpoint" among parents in the district.
"If there were people unhappy, it was more often around autism than in any other category," he said.
He said the incidence of autism is "shooting right up" and recommends more resources and training for staff.
? For Carter's complete report, see the Feb. 26 school board agenda at www. sd33.bc.ca.
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