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N.B. school districts withdrawing services from hundreds of vulnerable kids: advocate

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A child, youth and seniors advocate says New Brunswick school districts are denying hundreds of high-need students education services by sending them home on partial days.

According to a news release from the province, Kelly Lamrock released a new reported titled “A Policy of Giving up: How New Brunswick Schools Illegally Stopped Educating Hundreds of Children, and Why Government Needs to Protect Vulnerable Children,” on Thursday.

Lamrock, through the course of an investigation, found more than 500 children are being denied education for most of the week through the practice of partial days. Lamrock says partial days, which send students home for some or all of a school day, was once rare but is now in common use.

“We found hundreds of cases where school districts are just sending their most vulnerable children home without any services for part of the day,” Lamrock said in the release. “It is bad practice, it is illegal, and there needs to be accountability and oversight.”

In an interview with CTV News Atlantic, Lamrock noted children with behaviour issues, significant learning disabilities, and complex medical needs could be subject to partial days.

"It essentially seems to be almost anyone who becomes very difficult for a school to manage," Lamrock said. It used to be that a school would, if they could not accommodate in a common learning environment, would go through steps to show what they looked at, why they couldn’t do it, then you would provide those services in another location.

"Now they’re just sending kids home with nothing and some of the cases we saw were really concerning.”

According to the report, some children were attending school fewer than 10 hours a week for more than a year. In other instances, parents lost jobs because they were unable to work and families lost homes.

“In many cases, we found that schools were placing conditions on the child to prove themselves fit to educate, yet the school took no responsibility when the child continued to struggle to meet the learning targets,” Lamrock said. “There were no additional services, no change in techniques. To this day, districts do not track the impact of partial days on the children or whether or not children placed on partial days succeed or just disappear.

“It is a policy of giving up on the children most in need.”

Lamrock said they learned of one case involving a 12-year-old who was in a group home and was allowed to come to school four hours a week.

"He wound up spending a lot of time around homeless encampments, around drug use, and ultimately never went back to school until he was arrested at 16," Lamrock said.

Lamrock found children in care were nearly 20 times more likely to get partial days and be told not to come to school. He claims the Education Act does not provide legal authority to send children home with no educational services.

“A variation of a learning environment means that the child is still in some environment where they are learning,” Lamrock said. “If they are home with no educational services, they are not in a learning environment. They are home.

“If you order a meal in a restaurant and they use chicken instead of beef, that is a variation. If they send you home with no food at all, that is not a variation. That is a refusal.”

Bill Hogan, education minister, said partial days are allowed under the act, but noted personalized learning plans need to be drawn up for students who are sent home.

"We're going to work with the districts to see, first of all, how many partial day plans they have and what the plans are that are attached to those students," Hogan said. “So when a student's at home, for whatever the reason, if it's because they're just not ready to attend school on a full time basis or there's some behavioral issues involved...whatever the reason, there's tutoring that's attached to that at the same time."

Lamrock made several recommendations in the report, including:

  • creating a fund for appropriate services for children who can‘t be accommodated in the common learning environment
  • better training on inclusive practices and policies for teachers
  • improved coordination between government departments
  • stronger reporting rules and oversight

Lamrock said his office will start spot audits in 12 months to see if any improvements have been made.

“I think there is a shared understanding that the practice of partial days has gotten beyond what should be happening,” Lamrock said. “And I do believe that the leadership knows that we need to support teachers and schools with resources, training and clear direction.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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