As the New Democrat education critic in the House of Assembly, I have received countless calls, emails, and letters from parents, persons with disabilities, and concerned educators in my own district of St. John's North and across the province about the sorry state of special education in our province.
Those who have felt the impact of ongoing government inaction in this vital area of schooling have made it clear to me that too many problems still need to be addressed.
Last fall in the House of Assembly, I repeatedly questioned the minister of education about the ongoing challenges our students face in receiving adequate and individualized special education supports in Newfoundland and Labrador schools.
On numerous occasions I asked the minister of education about challenges encountered by teachers who are expected to provide a high standard of education despite being chronically under-resourced. I sought to highlight the frustration parents feel with the roadblocks they face while fighting for their children's right to a decent standard of education.
As is all too often the case, the minister of education had few answers to offer on this topic, aside from laundry lists of routine education spending recited from prepared talking points.
Instead of taking action, the Conservative government has tragically squandered one opportunity after another. In 2006, the current government commissioned a comprehensive review of special education programming which was overseen by educators with hands-on experience and in-depth knowledge of the education system.
More than five years later, many of the more substantive recommendations of the ISSP-Pathways Commission have been ignored and effectively shelved.
For example, the commission recommended that government establish provincial standards for timely completion of in-school assessments of special education needs.
Instead, today we still see students waitlisted for up to a year, or even longer, before they get vital assessments. These lengthy waitlists simply make any existing problems worse, especially for students with autism spectrum disorder and complex learning disabilities.
In some instances, parents who can afford it are paying thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to take their children out of the province to get the assessments and services they need.
More than five years ago, the commission recommended that the Department of Education create a transparent appeals process for parents who experience frustration in accessing special education services.
The commission was emphatic that families with concerns about their children's educational supports need an effective avenue to resolve their concerns.
Instead, the current government regularly turns a blind eye to problems faced by students with special needs, while parents are forced to bring their problems to the media instead of a qualified mediator.
These are but two of the great many problems that remain unaddressed in the area of special education.
While government is failing to provide leadership in resolving these issues, vulnerable children with special education needs are falling behind, parents are being forced to find solutions themselves, and teachers are making do. This is simply not good enough - especially since the Conservative government has had nearly a decade to get it right.
Dale Kirby is the MHA for St. John's North and the NDP education critic.