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South Van parents disappointed by lack of funding for special needs students

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Reported by Melanie Green 

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David Thompson Secondary is one of the schools to offer programs for special needs students. Photo: Melanie Green

A South Vancouver single mother of an 11-year-old special needs son had to wait six years to get him into an after-school special needs program.

Preschool teacher, Sunny Abebe, needs one-to-one support for her autistic son, Yoni. In September, he started at Queen Alexandra Elementary, on Clark and Broadway, which is outside of their catchment. Abebe said she might lose her job because she has to continuously leave work early to pick her son up on time.

“I invested 17 years of my job to get where I am. Do I quit to go on social services, just so I can help my son? That makes no sense,” Abebe said.

British Columbia has around 58,000 special needs students – according to British Columbia Teachers’ Federation 2012 report.

Parents can opt for schools in other catchments to best meet their child’s needs. Existing programs have long wait lists because they are minimally staffed with limited seats.

Special needs includes being gifted, deaf, blind, having learning disabilities, behavioural disorders, autism or mental illness.

Skilled staff needed

Professor of public health at University of British Columbia and elected advocacy representative Dr. Farah Shroff, said the burden of cuts to services falls on distressed mothers, calling for more skilled staff.

“There’s some excellent professionals out there, but their services aren’t covered by tax dollars,” said Shroff.

Andrea Kennedy, parent and advocate, moved from Pitt Meadows to Surrey to meet her son’s needs.

“If [children] don’t get those specialized services, [they] fall continuously behind, leading to depression or suicidal ideology,” she said.

David Thompson Secondary School has programs for autism. When asked about wait list times, Principal Marea Jensen told The Voice to contact the Vancouver School Board communications department, who declined to comment.

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