Sue Ross, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA), sits for a photo in Whitehorse on Jan. 17, 2019. Ross says teachers should be consulted “on the ground floor” of an independent review of inclusive and special education now underway by the Yukon government. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Teachers’ association calls government’s plans for special education review a ‘snub’

Minister says teachers will be included in the second phase

Yukon Teachers’ Association president Sue Ross says teachers should be consulted “on the ground floor” of an independent review of inclusive and special education in the territory now underway.

“Teachers are the experts,” she said in a Feb. 25 interview, arguing the Yukon government not consulting with the teachers union at this stage is a “snub.”

On Feb. 7, Ross wrote a letter to Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee arguing for the review — which comes out of the Auditor General of Canada’s June 2019 report on Yukon education — to get underway and emphasizing the importance of “including those who work directly with students.”

It went on to note the Yukon government had agreed to the Auditor General’s recommendation for the review on inclusive and special education including getting perspectives from First Nations, parents, school councils, the Yukon Francophone School Board and the YTA.

The review had originally been expected to begin in the fall of 2019

On Feb. 17, the Yukon government announced in a press release that Nikki Yee will lead the independent review.

“Ms. Yee is beginning this review with an internal phase focused on reviewing the Department of Education’s current practices, procedures and legislated responsibilities, and speaking with central administration and school staff,” the government noted in the announcement. “The next phase of the review will focus on gathering perspectives and experiences from students, families, First Nations, school communities and partners in education and is being planned for the spring.”

It’s anticipated initial recommendations from Yee’s review will come forward in June and then be discussed with the territory’s advisory committee for Yukon education and Yukon First Nations to develop actions for the short, medium and long-term.

While the government made the public announcement about the review, it had not provided a response to the union’s letter.

On Feb. 19 at 10:47 a.m., the union pointed this out on its Facebook page.

In an email the next day, cabinet spokesperson Matthew Cameron said McPhee had responded in a letter dated Feb. 19.

It’s not clear what time the letter was sent to and subsequently received by the union though Ross said she did not get a chance to read it until the weekend.

The letter from McPhee does not speak to the earlier timeline, but focuses on the review plans and Yee’s experience as an educator for more than 12 years. She’s also a doctoral candidate in special education at the University of British Columbia.

McPhee said the second phase of the review planned will gather input from a variety of stakeholders, including the YTA.

“We are still planning this next phase for the spring and will share more details as plans are finalized,” McPhee wrote, directing any further questions to Nicole Morgan, deputy minister of Education.

McPhee’s letter did not directly address the review beginning months after it had originally been anticipated, but Cameron explained it has taken time for the department to engage with First Nations and others in education on the scope of the review.

“This process has taken time to assure that the Department of Education is engaging with a contractor who can fulfill the objectives of this review and provide informed recommendations in response to the Auditor General’s report. We are thankful to have an educator with Ms. Yee’s background and experience to lead this review and we look forward to hearing her recommendations.”

Ross said the teacher’s union remains disappointed it wasn’t considered at the beginning of the review.

To not ask teachers’ opinions on the review is a snub, she said.

Had the union been asked about it, Ross said officials would have emphasized the need conduct a full review that’s done right and based on students’ needs.

The new timeline for the review, beginning in February and expected to be done in June, does not allow for a lot of time to collect data on how things are being done now, look at what’s being done right and where there needs to be changes, consulting with those in education and coming up with planned changes.

Ross said she doesn’t believe a full review can be done well in such a short time.

Rather, Ross thinks a proper review exploring inclusive and special education could take a full year and would involve visiting schools around the territory to really look at how inclusive and special education is delivered throughout the territory.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Yukon Department of Education

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