THE North Vancouver school district has blamed provincial funding cuts for a decision to close a specialized literacy program for learning disabled students in the 1990s.
But the district continues to insist it did what it could to help Jeff Moore, a North Vancouver student whose family won a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling last week.
In a decision Nov. 9, Canada's highest court agreed with Jeff's father, Rick Moore, that by cutting services to his dyslexic son and failing to provide alternatives, the school district discriminated against Jeff by making it impossible for him to receive the education guaranteed to all children in British Columbia.
"Adequate special education . . . is not a dispensable luxury," the court stated.
The ruling marked the end of 15-year legal battle that began when, as a young child, Jeff struggled for several years while attending North Vancouver's Braemar elementary. The school district had recently closed a program that offered intensive remediation to students with learning disabilities.
In a public statement, this week the board of education noted the special program was closed during a period of "severe financial crisis" for the North Vancouver school system, when changes to the funding formula resulted in spending cuts of $17.5 million.
The board noted during the time he went to Braemar, Jeff Moore received significant individual help. The Supreme Court, however, found it wasn't enough. It also noted the board continued to operate some other discretionary programs, like the Outdoor School, while cutting special education.
But in an emailed statement, board chairwoman Franci Stratton said by the time lease payments and other site closure costs were considered, shutting down the Outdoor School would not have saved the district money.
This year, the school district has budgeted $21 million for special needs within its $139-million operating budget. The province provides about $8.6 million towards the special-needs budget.
There are 672 students in North Vancouver public schools identified as having severe learning disabilities - about 4.4 per cent of the student population, said Stratton. There are an equal number identified as having less severe learning disabilities.
The school district operates two literacy centres at the elementary level for students diagnosed with learning disabilities. Support workers with specialized training also provide help in the schools. But budget cuts have continued to affect special education services. Three years ago, when the province cut the school district's $3million facilities grant, the district said it would not be able to hire replacements for special education assistants when they were away.