Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Exceptionality of Giftedness

"No room for gifted kids"
As parents fight for scarce resources, bright young minds are left to languish
by Rachel Mendleson on Monday, February 23, 2009 9:40am - 82 Comments
Whether boards are doing enough to educate gifted students is open to interpretation. But since the tide turned toward inclusion, Ontario has seen some of the most protracted parent-board conflicts surrounding special education students, including gifted kids. Unique legislation, passed in 1980, requires boards to have procedures in place for the early identification of exceptional students, and either provide them with programming or purchase it from another board. And, significantly, if parents disagree with the outcome of an assessment or a placement decision, they’re entitled to an appeal.
Cornwall resident Michele Alexis started down this road when her son Cameron Bharath was in Grade 6. Her charge was that the Upper Canada District School Board’s criteria for giftedness was too high, because only a handful of students had been identified. In July 2001, the special education tribunal ruled in her favour, identifying Cameron, by then in Grade 8, as gifted, and ordering the board to place him in a full-time high school program. When September rolled around, however, no such placement had been created. Alexis took the case to divisional court. But because the wording of the tribunal order “was too imprecise,” she lost, and was on the hook for the board’s legal fees. After turning down her proposal to repay the $15,000 in instalments, the board seized her wages. For five months, Alexis, a doctor who owns a family practice, did not get paid.
The following August, the case went to tribunal again. Before the decision was rendered, the board extended an olive branch, which she accepted: it paid to have a private car transport Cameron to a full-time gifted class for the duration of his high school career. (The board later provided the same solution for his two siblings, the youngest of whom is currently in Grade 12. Alexis estimates the annual cost to be close to $30,000.) “I still consider myself kind of traumatized by the whole thing,” she says. “It’s hard to describe how you feel when you’re made to believe you have certain rights and privileges, and that the process is there to protect your child—and you discover it does neither.”
The board declined an interview. But in an email, the superintendent of student support services said that since the ruling, the board has begun scanning all Grade 4 students for giftedness, has offered enrichment to gifted kids, and developed a coaching model to help teachers with differentiated instruction.
In the vast majority of jurisdictions, however, the parent—not the province—remains the primary watchdog: “We are required to do it, but the problem is the province and the ministry have not enforced [the legislation],” says Ontario’s Halton Catholic District School Board trustee Bob Van de Vrande. “That’s a huge and critical gap.” It’s a gap that has also opened the door to costly demands that cash-strapped boards may be on the hook to meet. Although some parents are justified, according to gifted education expert Dona Matthews, “There are people who take it too far in terms of what their kids need.”
Pressure from government, teachers and parents means the context for cutting special education services is rarely the subject of candid discussion. Still, there are signs that in some jurisdictions, systemic changes are underway. The Ontario government is training teachers already on the job to satisfy a range of abilities through differentiated instruction, and recently gave the Ontario Psychological Association a $20-million grant to ease the backlog in assessments for all exceptionalities. Recruitment efforts are underway in B.C. to fill school board psychologist vacancies. And Alberta is creating a new framework for special education through public consultation—which, according to Strembitsky, who served as superintendent in Edmonton for 22 years, is key to staving off conflict. “In the absence of transparency, you get the different lobby groups, each feeling they have been shortchanged,” he says.
Jeremy Marshall’s family was fortunate to find a solution. Halfway through his Grade 2 year, they intentionally moved to a neighbourhood that had a school with a gifted program. Immediately, his mother knew they had made the right decision: “He would come home and talk about the other kids in his class. He knew their names, he knew what they looked like. He was interested in them.” Today, Jeremy is a well-adjusted 13-year-old, who babysits and often MCs school assemblies. “He’s so different now than that insecure little child who just loved to read,” she says. “I think finding other gifted children has probably allowed him to have a normal life.”

 by Rachel Mendleson on Monday, February 23, 2009 9:40am - 82 Comments

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