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Keep special needs students in mind

Reach spokesperson urges trustees to remember students of all abilities when hiring teachers

The Delta board of education might have received some good news lately but it shouldn't lose sight of what matters.

That's the message Reach Child and Youth Development Society's Donna Burke conveyed to trustees at a budget input meeting last Tuesday as the board is about to get extra teaching help thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision last fall could see the Delta School District get as many as 30 new teachers in the coming months. The provincial government announced $50 million in new funding to hire 1,100 teachers across B.C.

The funding announcement was described as a first step in responding to the ruling that sided with the B.C. Teachers' Federation in a battle over contract language related to the size and composition of classes.

School board chair Laura Dixon told the Optimist at the time they were anticipating about $1.35 million coming to Delta. Meetings would take place with the Delta Teachers' Association as well as schools and district staff to determine what is needed.

Burke, a former Delta school trustee, urged the board to keep special needs students in mind.

"Please, keep our vulnerable students with different abilities foremost in mind and support them in a variety of ways. When making these decisions, we ask that you are very sensitive to the upheaval that will result if children with special needs need to be moved to another school. Relocating some of our children with support needs would be very traumatic."

The school district has been cutting teacher assistants annually to balance the books, a longstanding complaint by parents with special needs kids. Last year's budget included a reduction of six full-time special education assistants.

Burke was the only member of the public to speak at the budget input meeting.

Dixon said the district would find out its operating budget allocation by March 15. A draft budget will then be written and the public will have an opportunity to comment on it on April 18.

Reach currently serves approximately 1,000 children with special needs annually.

Its 20,000-square-foot facility adjacent to the Ladner Pioneer Library is expected to be completed later this year. The new centre will offer therapy and counselling rooms, prevocational training, specialized lending libraries and an inclusive preschool with an accessible playground. The society is closing in on its $5.6 million fundraising goal.