Parents rally for 'equitable education' following changes to special needs programming
EDMONTON -- About 100 people gathered at the Alberta legislature Tuesday morning to protest the effect of education cuts on special needs resources in schools.
Hold My Hand calls itself a grassroots non-partisan group of about 1,300 families and school staff who are concerned about their kids and students come fall, following cuts to funding for children who manage a disability or delay and to division budgets, resulting in support staff layoffs.
"We don’t want other people speaking for us anymore about our children because it hasn’t been good for years," organizer Shantel Sherwood told CTV News Edmonton.
"Anybody who's been in this knows it shouldn’t be about which school board you're in or how good of an advocate you are.
"Everyone should be getting the same supports. It would be equitable education across the board."
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In the capital region, Parkland School Division saw a Program Unit Funding reduction of $5 million, Edmonton Catholic Schools $28 million, and Edmonton Public Schools $29.5 million.
"We recognize that this budget reduction will have impacts on the accessibility of Pre-Kindergarten programming to students in our Division," Edmonton Pubic Schools said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton. "The province has indicated that support for specialized services for all students is now included in the Specialized Learning Support (SLS) grant.
"As a Division, we are committed that specialized supports will continue to be available and accessible through school-linked specialized service teams. These teams include a variety of professionals such as speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, mental health consultants, etc."
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has maintained students with disabilities and delays will continue to be funded through the Specialized Learning Support Grant, and that the $128-million reallocation of dollars to COVID-19 response from school budgets will be returned when classes resume.
Ministry press secretary Colin Aitchison attributed any service reductions for students with disabilitis to school boards themselves, which received $120 million in additional funds across the province.
"We remain committed to supporting our most vulnerable students, and every school authority is receiving the funding they need to ensure every student continues to receive the supports they require.
"If a locally-elected board is not meeting the expectations of their parents and students, we would encourage parents to hold their locally-elected trustees to account over their decisions," he wrote.
At the Tuesday rally, families and staff shared their stories and concerns.
Some held signs that read, "Fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing, it means giving every child what they need."
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Sarah Plowman