Half a dozen students have been removed by their parents from Parkland Elementary for a litany of reasons over the last few weeks – for one parent it was after school officials switched Education Assistants within the school; leaving her in the dark about the move.
Mom Nadine Bovey Harris says school officials threw her two autistic sons under the proverbial school bus after a decision to remove the only qualified EA for toileting for her son – despite it being a significant part of his needs, education, and development plan with the school and SD59.
Harris pulled her two sons out of Parkland Elementary earlier this month after staff unilaterally changed her six-year-old son’s support worker without her knowledge.
“On (a) Friday we met at Parkland to talk goals, and map out a new plan for Ethan. We are agreeing on the plan and set one. Then on Monday they removed the only Education Assistant he has ever known. I found out when I walked in to Parkland Tuesday, his EA was in another class,” she says.
“Even the EA didn’t know what was going on. We were told ‘it is what it is.’”
“There are only 50 kids at the school and when a few more parents take next steps, there will be closer to 40,” she says. Harris may be closer to actual attendance numbers than she knows.
A second parent says she pulled her two children for the same reason.
“Eight children have been removed over the last two weeks, and another six are looking at leaving,” says one parent. Close, say school officals.
"In the last month population of Parkland Elementary has decreased from 50 to 44,” says Christy Fennell, assistant superintendent.
When asked if any school only has 50 students to begin with, does the division have an exit strategy or is a school closure then a consideration – Fennell said a restructuring review was conducted in 2011.
“The board determined that every spring they would look at enrollment to determine if any re-structuring needed to take place. While enrollment is looked at, it is not the only factor that is taken into consideration, geographic location and distance to town and other schools is taken into consideration as well,” says Fennell.
SD 59 officials adds parents do not have final say on the matter when it comes to EA decisions.
“Parents have the right to consult – however they do not get final say on the decision,” says Candace Clouthier with SD 59, noting there was no comment on specific student cases, or concerns the division is currently dealing with.
Previous case law regarding education of autistic children
The BC Supreme Court ruled that the Abbotsford School District breached its statutory duty to meaningfully consult with a student’s parents regarding the education of their autistic child.
As a result of what is none provincially as “the Hewko case”, there are three main parent/child rights: The right to consult. This means that the parents can not simply be “told”, but have a right to participate fully in their child’s education. They also have the right to be consulted prior to an aide being assigned. The aide must have “instructional control” over the child. This is not the same as “functional control”. The child does not need a babysitter. They need the right circumstances for learning. Parents can view all student records (unless it’s a protection/abuse case) and request copies. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy will apply.
Harris says her son’s EA was the only qualified EA to work with toileting.
“She had been his EA since he started school there. They didn’t know about the switch any more than I did, this was a unilateral one that made no sense. All they did was switch Ethan’s EA with my other autistic son Aiden’s EA. The one EA being laid off was a result of me pulling my kids - as the funding was no longer there to cover her hours,” says Harris.
So while not fired, officials note one EA is hoping to be able to work at a different district school, but did lose a position at Parkland.
Harris says like many parents, she is frustrated that it seems no one includes guardians on information related to their own children.
“Nobody tells us anything.”
Harris said she had little choice but to remove her children from the school.
“I have no choice I am sending him into this place for a complete failure- you see that as a parent and you have to do something,” she says.
They assured us were working towards his targets and goals as outlined with the school and division, and they just flipped it all he could have been sitting in his own feces – and they don’t seem to care about that. Something is wrong.”
She says an apology did come from SD 59 – not from anyone related to the decision that was made, however.
“I received an apology for what happened. I brought forward my ideas on how to prevent situations like this from happening again, including paperwork on what meaningful consultation is,” she said. While Harris has already pulled two of her kids – another parent speaking without attribution said they were also looking at a move.
“If our kids are at risk – what else can we do? I have very little trust in the school for the care of children. It’s the same reason I’m not giving you my name,” they said.
“Why does it have to get to a level of going to media to get the attention of SD 59? It’s absurd.”
A fourth parent says there are days now when there is no one with First Aid training in the building, and that other parents are considering moves.
“One of the EAs had the appropriate first aid training, but she has been let go. Now there is only one EA with double the work, double the students under her care, it makes no sense. If another staff is missing, there is no one trained at the school.”
Fennell says at this time of the year SD 59 has had 11 schools decrease, four schools increased, and three schools have stayed the same.
“Any time a student withdraws from any of our schools, connections are made with parents to discuss the reasons for withdrawal.”
Harris says regardless of students being puled from the school – she suggests a larger problem persists: little to no responsibility or oversight.
“They were lining up to have my son sit in his own feces.”
Another previous court decision
On November 9, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) handed down a landmark decision on disability rights. The Moore case says that students with disabilities are entitled to receive the accommodation measures they need to access and benefit from the service of public education. In this regard, the Court said that adequate special education is not “a dispensable luxury”. The Court acknowledged that such measures serve as “the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”