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JAMES: Don't forget about class size, composition

"What greater purpose could there be but to work on behalf of a system which is the foundation to a better future, for all citizens not only for those who can afford it?" - Reema Faris, Sept.

"What greater purpose could there be but to work on behalf of a system which is the foundation to a better future, for all citizens not only for those who can afford it?" - Reema Faris, Sept. 20, 2014

After asking, "What is the purpose of education?" West Vancouver school trustee Reema Faris did not stop with her own answer; she added a moving summary by Susan Lambert, past president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

Speaking to an audience of education students and guests at Simon Fraser University on Sept. 18, Lambert said a thriving and vibrant public education system is the essential ingredient for a civil, just and equitable society.

Can you imagine what might happen, what might be achieved for our children if Lambert, Faris and Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond could sit for a day in a closed-door room with an iPhone-less Premier Christy Clark?

Could the premier look those women in the eye, withstand their professional and personal dedication and still put politics and legal appeals ahead of developing appropriate formulas and goals for class-size and composition?

Could Clark, as I did, sit over coffee with a North Vancouver mother and listen to the real-life story and musical aspirations of a Grade 6, high-functioning autistic boy and respond by saying that funding the premier's own participation in an Oct. 9 trade mission to India - her sixth international trade mission - is more important than funding special education assistants in the classroom?

Trade missions are important and, yes, they're aided when high-level government representation goes along but isn't that what taxpayers expect from our Minister for International Trade, Teresa Wat?

Why can't the minister, just this once, take on that role by herself because Clark has recognized that finding solutions to the often insurmountable problems faced by hundreds of B.C. families with special needs children should trump politics and reset government priorities?

This isn't just idle dreaming on my part. The suggestion, I believe, is in line with a 2012 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Moore vs. North Vancouver School District 44 that I quoted in my column of Nov. 28 that year: Early recognition of learning difficulties key: "Adequate special education," said the court "is not a dispensable luxury.

For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia."

How many more court cases will the BC Liberals fund and fight before they give in to what is not only compassionate and morally right but fiscally prudent as well?

There is little doubt that provincial finances are running on a knife's edge. In fact, were it not for the hundreds of millions the Liberals siphon out of BC Hydro and ICBC , I'm sure the books are well in the red. So why am I suggesting they spend even more?

I do so because an education dollar spent wisely today is, as Lambert implies, an investment in the "essential ingredient for a civil, just and equitable society."

More bluntly put, if we consider only the monetary aspect of the equation, it's a damn sight cheaper to fund a healthy and equitable public education system - for all children - than it is to add to health care, welfare and, in some cases, the crime-fighting costs for young adults who lack the knowledge and literacy skills to make their own way in life. That the investment happens to be the kindest solution is a welcome bonus.

Before I began this column, I went through my files to see what I'd written previously on the subject of students with differing educational needs and on the reports published by Turpel-Lafond. I did so, in part, to see whether I'd changed my outlook over the intervening years.

So far, the only change worth noting is that I am more sure than ever that our public education system is being driven against the ropes. Not only does the province consistently flout our laws, when it finally concedes to a court ruling it promptly works to amend the legislation.

Furthermore, where the province tries to persuade us it is merely working to bring educational methods up to date, many professionals believe fancy government "blueprints" will curtail students' options, not expand them.

What has remained consistent since 2009/2010 when I first began to write on the topic is that parents who have children with barriers to learning are still too scared of retaliation to speak out and advocate for their children's rights.

So - while court cases roll on by and I continue to write, those children have lost five years of the education to which they have an indefeasible right.

During the teachers' strike, it is no exaggeration to say that the entire province began to pull together with one goal in mind - to achieve a fair and equitable deal for the benefit of all B.C. students.

Negotiator Vince Ready managed to get the ball down to the goal-mouth on Sept. 16 - it is up to us to honour his round-the-clock effort by making sure none of us lets down our guard until the matter of class size and composition has been decided in favour of our children.

rimco@shaw.ca