Ministry, School Board In Conflict Over Refugees

Ministry, school board in conflict over refugees
Cut-off date for students leaves district short of funds

Jennifer Moreau,
Burnaby Now
Published: Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Ministry of Education shot down a call from the B.C. School Trustees Association to fund refugee students on arrival, a resolution that originated in Burnaby.

“I'm troubled by the response we have received from the ministry,” said trustee Diana Mumford at the school board meeting Nov. 13.

Mumford drafted the motion calling for refugee student funding on arrival, regardless of the Sept. 30 cut-off date for per-pupil funding. The provincewide trustees' association then brought it as a resolution before the Ministry of Education.

Mumford also called into question the ministry's inaccurate numbers of refugees arriving in Canada.

Citing numbers from the Ministry of Attorney General, 221 of the 2,345 refugees arriving in Canada in 2006 were school-age, and overall immigration numbers were declining for the first quarter of 2007, including those among the refugee class.

Mumford questioned those numbers.

“The information that they're providing in this for their justification for not moving forward is not accurate,” Mumford said at the school board meeting.

On Nov. 20, in an interview with the NOW, a ministry spokesperson said there was a “typo” in the response: The 2,345 refugees refers to those arriving in B.C., not Canada, and the error does not change the ministry's understanding of or response to the issue.

According to the school trustees' resolution, 7,500 government-assisted refugees arrive in Canada as permanent residents each year. Approximately 12 per cent of them settle in British Columbia, which translates to 800 to 900 in any given year. Of those, 40 per cent (320 to 360) are children under 18 years old, and many will likely attend school. Most arrive in B.C. between October and May. Mumford based her figures on Faces of Refugees, a report published by Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

“Those are all potential students coming into our schools without funding,” Mumford said. “They are coming from refugee camps. They don't say, 'Oh gee, we better rush, the Sept. 30 date is coming.'”

In an interview with the NOW, Mumford pointed to a host of problems refugee students face.

Some have never been in school before and may not know how to read and write in their own languages, let alone English, she said. They start school with much lower skill levels and require smaller class sizes with intensive support. Some elementary teachers are instructing refugee students in their mid-teens. There are emotional problems as well.

“They may have seen family members being killed in front of them,” she said, adding others may have left family members behind, not knowing where they are. “The post-traumatic stress syndrome is just a huge thing.”

The ministry response pointed out that if students leave after Sept. 30, the district still keeps the attached funding and boards of education can use that money to provide services to high-need students.

The response also stated that the provincial government funded the new settlement workers in schools program, and that will help newcomer students as they arrive throughout the year.