Education Accessibility & Advocacy
I honestly thought that we had made it through the school system relatively unscathed. Ahhh…so naïve, I was!
Enter a new school and COVID-19
We had approached our school about starting with a gradual schedule as he hadn’t attended in-person classes since the pandemic hit in March 2020, and we wanted him to be successful. We agreed on two hours a week to start with a gradual increase over time. Two weeks after school began, we had a follow-up meeting. I was excited to hear about his increased schedule. I was not expecting the school to suggest his time be reduced.
Enter the Mama Bear in me
Throughout the meeting, I repeatedly said “we respectfully decline that option.” I was polite but firm and asked for reasons for their request. I’m fortunate because I do have knowledge about education advocacy; however, I still felt overwhelmed and somewhat confused.
After the meeting, I followed up immediately with an email summarizing the discussion and asking for a response by a certain date. I’m happy to report that things are progressing (albeit slower than we would like), but we are going in the right direction.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about autism advocacy over the years.
- Give a deadline for the school to respond, remember there are lots of students with additional needs, be reasonable in your expectations (I would say three business days is fair).
- Make sure to thank the school for their time and the discussion.
- Be polite yet firm.
- Outline what you expect for your child, what is in their best interest, and quote reputable sources (see below for some ideas).
- Respect the fact that maybe your child can’t attend full time without it impacting their physical, mental and emotional health. Do what is best for your child.
- Offer suggestions. You know your child the best!
- If your child is being excluded (e.g., not able to attend field trips, not attending school full time, phone calls to pick them up early for behavioural reasons) be sure to fill out the BCEd Access Exclusion Tracker.
- Especially in elementary school, talk to other families, be open about your child’s autism diagnosis or other diverse abilities. Trying to hide it doesn’t benefit anyone; it just makes other children think your child is “odd.”
- Keep all emails and communication. Write notes about any conversations that are via phone.
- Find out if your district has a committee or a portion of their PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) devoted to students with disabilities.
- Go up the chain of command. Ask for answers from the Teacher & Resource Teacher first, then Vice Principal, then Principal. Afterwards would be the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent.
- Don’t’ forget about School Trustees. These are elected officials, and they are here to represent you and your family. Get them to hold the district accountable if you don’t like a decision.
- Get familiar with the Inclusion BC Inclusive Education Handbook
- Don’t sign anything until you are satisfied.
- UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—Article 24—Inclusive Education
- School Act—Minimum Hours
- Inclusion BC - (Provide advocacy for both public and independent schools)
- BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (Provide advocacy)
- BCEd Access (Provide advocacy)
- Set BC
- Ministry of Education: Special Education Policy Manual
- Ministry of Education: Inclusive Education Resources
- Family Support BC
- ACT (Autism Community Training)
- Parent Advocacy Network (PAN)
- BCEd Access Resolve Concerns for Your Child at School: A Simple Step by Step Guide
- POPARD (Advocacy and Information) can support both public and independent schools in BC. The Family-School Liaison role is not able to attend meetings with families, but can provide support and coaching to families before meetings and follow up after. Contact: Fsl@autismoutreach.ca
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