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Parkland School Division cutting early education classes
EDMONTON -- The mother of a four-year-old boy who will no longer receive speech improvement therapy due to funding model changes wants Alberta to invest more in children with developmental disabilities.
Ryker Boisvert’s speech level is that of a child one or two years younger.
Unfortunately, the funding that was helping him catch up to his soon-to-be Kindergarten peers was recently cut.
Funding for Parkland School Division’s early education program is being reduced by nearly $5 million for 2020-2021, according to the division.
Currently, there are 16 teachers for 29 early education programs. The board has made the decision to cut that to six teachers for 12 classes.
The board currently has 10 schools with early education program classes, but that will drop to four in 2020-2021.
The changes mean fewer students will be able to access the program.
“We do acknowledge and empathize with the many parents who have brought up concerns after being informed of the changes,” said Superintendent Shauna Boyce.
“We realize this will mean larger class sizes with a greater range of students with complex needs. We have had to make some difficult decisions and changes have been made to the number of locations where Early Education programs are offered, and how the program is delivered and staffed.”
However, the government says the Program Unit Funding continues to support pre-Kindergarten students with disabilities and delays through the Specialized Learning Support grant.
"Additionally, the Parkland School Division is seeing their overall government funding increase," Education Press Secretary Colin Aitchison said in a statement.
Ryker’s mom doesn’t see the situation the same way.
"They’re not continuing to provide support to all the kids who need it. They’re continuing to provide support to kids who have severe disabilities," Stephanie Barsby Boisvert responded. “Ryker doesn’t have a severe disability. He’s speech language delayed so he just needs that little extra help to get him going, to catch him up to other kids.”
According to Parkland's strategic planning and communications director, the division will be able to maintain a balanced budget even with the reductions, but it means losing the number of early education classes it can offer.
"The Division does not save money with the changes," Parkland's communications director Jordi Weidman said, adding that the grant referenced by the government helps cover some of the cost.
"The 14 teaching positions that were eliminated due to the reduction of PUF funding are being offset by additional teaching positions in other grades within schools to accommodate the overall enrolment growth that PSD is expecting in the fall. We are expecting an additional 300 students for the 2020-2021 school year," Weidman said.
Weidman added Parkland would be working with private playschool providers to provide services like speech language pathology and occupational therapy outside the school.
Barsby Boisvert says her family is lucky they will be able to afford private help, unlike, she assumes, some others.
"These kids just need a little extra help and they need that little extra help when they’re this little. And if they don’t get it, they’re just going to struggle through the rest of their education."
The early education program supports children identified as having a severe delay or diagnosis between the ages of two years and eight months, and four years and eight months as of Sept. 1, 2020.
It’s also available for children between the ages of three years, eight months and four years, eight months as of Sept. 1, 2020, with mild to moderate delays.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Sarah Plowman