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Children with special needs addressed

Central Alberta school leaders are confident they are giving all possible resources to children with special needs following an important Supreme Court of Canada ruling last week.

School districts are weighing in on the court’s decision that said the North Vancouver school board had discriminated against a dyslexic child who wasn’t given adequate help to attain literacy. The ruling says that school districts must provide genuine help to children with learning disabilities.

Piet Langstraat, superintendent for Red Deer Public Schools, said he’s confident that his district is doing a good job to ensure students with learning disabilities and other special needs are being properly educated.

He said a lot has changed in 15 years in education since the family of Jeffrey Moore began a 15-year battle with the Vancouver school system. The Vancouver district has indicated it has made improvements, so Langstraat will be looking to see what it has done.

“Learning has become much more accessible with the use of assistive technologies,” said Langstraat on Tuesday.

Staff is also in place in classrooms to help students who may be struggling, he added.

Every school has a learning assistance team, including a teacher who specializes in diverse learning needs and an educational assistant to help teachers. There’s a greater understanding that there isn’t just one kind of learner, Langstraat said.

The school district is also working hard at ensuring its teachers have skills in literacy instruction, he added.

Dani Richert is applauding the court decision since she has a 10-year-old son who has special needs, including autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He attends Grade 4 at Annie L. Gaetz Elementary School in Red Deer Public Schools.

“Sometimes being put in a classroom with ‘normal’ kids, they get lost in the shuffle,” said Richert.

“It’s so important that all of the resources that are available for these kids are totally exhausted.

“It should be automatic for these kids.”

Richert said her son has an aide in the classroom.

She said children with special needs are great kids on the whole, and while they are up against obstacles every day, they still stay happy.

“They should be given every opportunity and all the help they need, so they can succeed,” said Richert. “I feel very passionately about it.”

Adriana LaGrange, chairwoman of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said Alberta school divisions are required to put in proper supports and give students what they need to succeed.

“So this (ruling) isn’t anything different to us,” said LaGrange. “It kind of surprised me it was different in a different province. In our school district, we put whatever that is necessary in place.”

Sally Deck, director of inclusive learning for Red Deer Catholic, said the province provides dollars for students with special needs. The district also gives additional funding through its own basic grants.

The school district provides a lot of early intervention programming, which focuses on early literacy prevention at the pre-kindergarten to Grade 3 level.

“Assistive technologies is a lot more prevalent in schools now,” Deck added.

These technologies allow for text to speech or speech to text. Teachers and educational assistants are receiving more professional development in learning disabilities and other disabilities, which gives them greater capacity to meet the needs of all their students, Deck said.

Kathy Murch, director of student services for Wild Rose Public Schools in Rocky Mountain House, said the division has been working on “universal design for learning.” This means the education system is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but instead ensures that all individuals have equal opportunities to learn.

This ruling shows that people can’t just be talking about this, but actually walking this way, Murch said.

“We’re working with our administrators, our student support facilitators and our teachers in understanding how we create a learning environment that supports everybody,” said Murch. “What’s good for our diverse learners is good for all learners.”

Murch said it’s important to understand that everyone learns differently, which is why some students may find it easier to learn via a book, a video or through listening on headphones. Content must be provided in various ways.

Each teacher is in different stages of incorporating different learning methods.

“We’ve got some who understand what 21st century learning is and some that are just getting there,” said Murch.

ltester@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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