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Langley parent fights to help children with special needs

The Moore-Penner family posed for a family portrait in a playhouse. With Lisa Moore-Penner and her husband are (top) twin daughter Emalin and son Kabel, while below are twin Caitlin, and sisters Madison and Kayla. - Submitted photo
The Moore-Penner family posed for a family portrait in a playhouse. With Lisa Moore-Penner and her husband are (top) twin daughter Emalin and son Kabel, while below are twin Caitlin, and sisters Madison and Kayla.
— image credit: Submitted photo

A Langley family with three children with special needs in the school system say they can speak first hand about the cuts to funding for special needs students.

Lisa Moore-Penner claims speech therapy has been cut to one session every two weeks and special education assistants no longer can do one-on-one work, but are forced to share their time among several students in one class, no matter how high the needs of the students.

The Moore-Penners are a blended family with five kids, three of them with higher levels of special needs.

Their twin girls do not speak, have mobility issues and have low cognitive ability. They were born with Rubenstein Taybi Syndrome and have recently been diagnosed with autism. They also have birth defects.

The third child has Fetal Narcotic Syndrome and mild intellectual disability with a delay in fine motor skills and speech. Her biological mother was using drugs during pregnancy.

“This year, they cut the twins’ funding and put them in the same class with one Special Education Assistant (SEA) shared between three students. The twins need one SEA each due to their high needs,” said Moore-Penner.

“Their speech therapy has been cut. Because they do not speak, and there is no funding for more speech therapy in the district, we have received funding from the Variety Club, CKNW and Presidents Choice Financial.”

Collaboratively, they provide speech therapy five days a week, at an annual cost of $45,000.

“We were told that for our third child that she wasn’t “bad” enough to warrant any extra help such as an education assistant, and that the resource teacher would try and get her a 30-minute session for extra help next year, but that her case load was so high that she wasn’t sure if this would happen.”

Langley School District spokesperson Ken Hoff said the district has been in ongoing conversations with this family for sometime now.

“She is a great champion for her children, which is great and how it should be. But we feel there are a lot of resources and supports allocated to her children and to all our students with special needs.”

Moore-Penner would disagree.

“There are so many special needs children in the system and they are not being adequately funded for their needs.  My story is just an example how we are fighting every day to get the proper resources and funding.”

She had a meeting with the assistant superintendent of schools in Langley on Monday to go over the needs of her children.

While there has been a slight increase in funding each year to fund SEAs and resources, it pales in comparison to the increased number of special needs students entering the system. Early diagnosis of disorders like autism and higher amounts of mental illness and learning challenges, like ADHD and anxiety among young children, has exploded. Some parents would argue the government’s funding formulas haven’t kept up with the demand.

Teachers are on strike, battling for both a wage increase and for better classroom composition, as they have indicated that their classes are being filled with special needs students who dominate their time.

A special lesson plan has to be set up for each special needs student and many teachers say there are not enough SEAs to support those students in the classroom.

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