After months of hearing complaints from parents with autistic children and support staff working with them, Chilliwack school district has agreed to undergo an external review of its entire special education department.
However, what school trustees and some district staff did not know is that a review of the department was first proposed – and subsequently denied – a year ago.
That news angered trustee Heather Maahs, who over the last two months has championed the issue on behalf of parents with autistic children. She called on superintendent Michael Audet to explain the lack of information.
“If a review was in the works going back a year ago, why was this information not provided to us especially due to the fact that I made requests [for special education reviews] that were denied,” said Maahs.
On Feb. 20, Maahs put forth a motion to create an ad hoc committee for autism, which was denied. On March 13, she tried to put forward another motion for an external special education review, which failed due to it being a last-minute change to the agenda.
“I don’t understand why this information was not disclosed at that time,” said Maahs.
Audet, who was rehired in the summer as temporary superintendent, clarified that he was not working in the district when the first review was proposed last spring. He only just learned of it last week when Susan Edgcombe, district principal of student services, resubmitted the proposal.
When the first review was proposed in 2011, the district decided against it due to the special education department recently being amalgamated with the student services, curriculum, and aboriginal education departments.
However, in light of recent events, it was decided an external review is needed.
“Your superintendent believes this is something we need to do,” said Audet.
The external review will be conducted by Dr. David Carter, a special education consultant who recently retired from the University of British Columbia as director of external programs.
The process will follow the guidelines set by the B.C. Education Ministry, and is expected to be underway by August.
As part of the review, all parents of students identified with special needs will be given an opportunity to provide input, as will teachers, educational assistants, principals and vice principals.
A three-year strategic plan will be developed following the completion of the review.
Trustee Barry Neufeld agreed an external review is well overdue.
“The district hasn’t had one in a long time so it’s probably high time,” he said. “This review will bring us up to speed.”