Autism review caught up in procedural wrangling

Chilliwack school board votes against a motion to review special education services due to the timing of the motion presented.

Emotions ran high at a Chilliwack school board meeting over a last-minute motion to engage in a review of special education services delivered in schools.

School trustee Heather Maahs requested the motion be added to the agenda at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, but was denied when trustees Louise Piper, Barry Neufeld, Walt Krahn and Doug McKay voted against it.

For more than a month parents of children with autism have publicly been expressing concerns over how their children are treated and educated in the school system. They’ve described a system that segregates autistic children, and has a rotating door of education assistants – with some lacking sufficient training.

Maahs’ motion was the result of those claims.

However, those who voted against the motion argued the move came too late to be added to the agenda

Those late additions were the motive for another motion passed later in the evening that now requires trustees to submit motions in writing with rationale prior to the agenda being developed so that all trustees, staff and public have advance notice of what’s to be discussed before a meeting.

Board chair Louise Piper said she’s been faced with repeated last-minute motions to be added late the night before agendas are to be finalized.

“Time and time again, we are getting emails close to midnight the night before from trustees requesting motions be added to the agenda,” said Piper, who sought the advice of a registered parliamentarian before including the motion in the agenda.

Trustee Barry Neufeld agreed.

“I don’t want to see sudden motions thrust at us at the last minute,” said Neufeld, who felt such motions result in decisions being made under pressure.

However, trustee Silvia Dyck called it a directive, and Maahs called it a gag motion.

“It seems to me the point of a draft [agenda] is to look and see if anything is missing and if we’d like to add items, we let you know,” said Maahs. “[With this motion] it seems to me drafts are pointless.

“Are we gagging ourselves here?”

Maahs said she had tried to get her motion for a review on special education services included in the agenda prior to the meeting, but was “flatly” denied. She said it was well thought out with background and rationale provided.

But Piper reiterated motions that come in late at night do not allow all trustees to do their own sufficient research into the topic at hand.

“You may have had a month to research this, but when you provide a motion at 11 p.m. and we’re meeting at 7 a.m. the next morning, that time doesn’t allow any opportunity for the rest of us to do research,” said Piper.

For parent Tonja Padgett, the display was disappointing.

Padgett said a review of special education services is needed, and hopes this isn’t the last of the discussion.

The parent of three says she doesn’t have to worry about her non-neurologically challenged children at school, but for her autistic son, “I have to fight every step of the way,” she said.

“The bottom line is this, we want consistent, fair education for our children.”