Skip to main content

'We are falling through the cracks': Kids with disabilities getting little support in Surrey schools, families say


The rapid growth in enrolment at Surrey, B.C., schools is straining the district’s resources for children with disabilities, according to frustrated parents.

Families say a shortage of education assistants and a lack of funding from the Ministry of Education has left many students with disabilities with very few supports in school.

Michelle DeBruyn has two children in the district, including a daughter who was diagnosed with autism.

She says her child receives next to no support.

"The support worker that has been provided to support her also supports a child with high needs who requires on-to-one support, so is that person always available? No," DeBruyn said.

Her daughter is currently in elementary school but with large class sizes and some secondary schools in Surrey moving to an extended-day in the fall, she is worried for her future in the district.

“I am terrified," she said. "From what I hear from colleagues and other parents, it is not great in the high schools. There is certainly not enough support in the elementary schools."

1,251 support calls for Fraser South alone

The Family Support Institute of B.C. is a non-profit that provides resources for families with disabilities.

The organization says the education system has never been this dire, with 1,251 support calls received for Fraser South alone over the past two years.

“I know they are making investments in infrastructure, but if you don’t have the people to actually fill that infrastructure, I feel that’s the wrong approach," says Angela Clancy, the institute's executive director.

Clancy adds with more students needing support, the resources among the entire district are stretched too thin.

“I’ve been executive director at FSI for 24 years, and I think our education system is at an all-time low. I think that our supports that are available are dwindling," Clancy said. "There are shortages everywhere – teacher shortages, EA shortages, specialist shortages and I think we are taxing our system too heavily."

She says a lack of adequate training and low wages contribute to many education assistants burning out or leaving the profession entirely, leading to a shortage in support workers in schools across the district.

A systemic gap

Surrey has seen an average increase of 2,400 students annually over the past two years.

With the current education assistant shortages, and more students needing support, children who are already struggling are facing insurmountable challenges with no solutions.

Cindy Dalglish works with BCEdAccess, a volunteer-run organization serving families with disabilities across the province.

She says the current funding model is also contributing to a lack of support, with only students with an official medical diagnosis receiving funding from the government.

“A lot of kids in classrooms have not received a diagnosis so EAs are spread thin having to support those kids and the ones with a diagnosis. So they are not getting one-on-one support because that EA is supporting five or six other kids at the same time.”

Dalglish says even students without medical disabilities need support with packed classrooms. She says there is a lot of impact to children when they cannot focus in classroom and are distracted by noise.

“They are packing those kids in there and there are not additional teachers in there. There is literally more students than there is a ratio that should be acceptable.”

This comes after the Ministry of Education recently announced a new elementary school to be built in Surrey along with a 500-seat addition to Grandview Heights Elementary.

“We need a solution now so that means portables being funded and access to space that isn’t going to require disruption of schedule as well as long-term solutions," says Anne Whitmore, Surrey DPAC president.

“We are in a situation that is quite hard to imagine – even if we built 10 schools today we wouldn’t solve the problem in this district."

For parents like DeBruyn, leaving the district – and possibly B.C. entirely – is starting to look like the only option.

“Can we give our children a better education in a different province? Maybe we can," says DeBruyn. Top Stories

Stay Connected