North Vancouver school district to track exclusions of special needs students

School board votes to look into the circumstances of why some students are missing out on classroom activities

The North Vancouver School District (NVSD)will begin to keep track of when students with special needs are removed from their regular school schedule or excluded from field trips or special events, following a recent vote of the board of education.

The issue was raised by trustee Cyndi Gerlach, who said she’d heard from parents who have been asked to drop off their children later in the day, pick them up early or keep them home from classroom events.

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Gerlach said the issue isn’t unique to North Vancouver – it happens in schools across the province.

Situations that might result in students being removed from class often involve aggression or other behaviour challenges.

But Gerlach said it’s important for administrators to know how often special needs students are being excluded from classrooms and under what circumstances.

“This is a group of students who are entitled to an education. They’re entitled to be at school just like every other group of kids,” she said.

When working parents are told often to come and get their kids in the middle of the day, it puts stress on the entire family, said Gerlach.

In some cases – if an autistic student is non-verbal, for instance – parents may not even know if their child has been taken out of the class, she said.

Cyndi Gerlach
Trustee Cyndi Gerlach

Gerlach said it’s important to track when that happens, because anecdotally the number of times she hears about it seems to be increasing.

She added some parents don’t know “they have a right to have their kid in school . . . they can ask for options or alternate ways of doing things.”

Supt. Mark Pearmain told board members on occasion students may be excluded from activities if there isn’t appropriate staff available to ensure safety.

Deneka Michaud, spokeswoman for the school district, said in a later statement when students’ schedules are changed it’s usually in consultation with family and other support workers, including medical staff.

Changes are usually made for the student’s benefit, she added.

Ensuring proper training is important, said Gerlach, so staff and students can work through challenges rather than removing a student at the first sign of aggression.

Gerlach told board members keeping students with behaviour issues at home is easier for staff – but it comes at a cost to kids’ education.

She said it’s also possible that tracking those instances will prove there isn’t a problem – but nobody will know unless they look at the data.

Following discussion on the issue, the school board endorsed the principle of tracking when and why special needs students are excluded from regular classroom activities.

School district staff and members of the district’s “inclusion committee” are now working on how to do that.


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