Parent group says feedback process led to ‘hurtful’ comments

School district says it needs to hear from parents, even if some responses were uncomfortable for some

A group of local parents concerned with special needs issues have sent an open letter to the Abbotsford school district expressing concern with its recent online feedback process.

The group, which calls itself Abbotsford Parent Action and says it has 50 members, says the district’s “Thought Exchange” program resulted in hurtful comments being posted online, where other parents could then vote to give them more prominence.

However, the Abbotsford school district says that while the comments are monitored and filtered, an open exchange of ideas is vital for administrators to accurately gauge how the district can improve.

The comments (with no names attached) were grouped into categories and by schools. They were viewable by other parents, who could signal which posts they agreed with.

In their letter, Abbotsford Parent Action cited two specific comments posted online. One said, in part “special needs have created a reverse problem in the interest of inclusion. I appreciate a handicap child’s access to school, friends, education, etc. when a child is too severely handicap and require constant supervision to the adverse impact on other students then a line needs to be drawn. one child couldn’t be trusted not to hit the other students. this is too far!” The comment received 37 “stars” by other parents. The other comment said students with behavioural and learning disabilities consume too much teacher time, and there should be only one or two such students in each class. It received 53 stars.

The letter said such comments “offer the opportunity for others to pile on and further marginalize and exclude students who experience challenges and their parents. Further, they detract attention away from the real issue which is the ongoing lack of support for students who have special needs in our school district.”

Rebecca Lawlor, one of the members of the group and the mother of a son with autism, said the comments are hurtful to parents of children with disabilities, and especially those children mentioned specifically, even if not by name.

Lawlor said that while feedback is necessary, issues involving individuals should be addressed with teachers and principals, not posted online.

School district spokesperson Dave Stephen said, “To be authentic and open, we really have to allow for some diversity of opinion. We may not agree with all the comments expressed … but for the process to be true we allow for comments that may be uncomfortable for some, but I think we need to be open for discussion and debate.”

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