Families of neurodiverse kids left scrambling before school starts: advocates

Families of neurodiverse kids left scrambling before school starts: advocates

Risk too high due to COVID-19

Kaye Banez cried with relief after learning that her eight-year-old son Lazarus, who is on the autism spectrum, can enrol at his school remotely this fall.

The mother in Richmond, B.C., said school staff told her earlier that Lazarus would need to return to his Grade 6 classes in person by mid-November or face removal from the independent school.

The risk is too high for Lazarus to go back at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Banez, since he relies on touch to sense the world around him and struggles with physical distancing.

“We’re also trying to keep everybody around him safe,” added Banez, noting she has diabetes and her kids’ grandparents on both sides of the family have compromised immune systems.

Banez said it was agonizing as her family worried they would be forced to register Lazarus and his six-year-old sister for home schooling. That would mean Lazarus would lose access to supports, such as speech and occupational therapies, that are paid for through funding that depends on enrolment in school or a distributed learning program — many of which are at capacity, she said.

After meeting with staff from her kids’ school and the Ministry of Education’s inclusive education division on Friday, Banez learned about provincial guidelines that stipulate school districts are required to make so-called “homebound” educational services available to students absent from the classroom because of medical and psychiatric reasons.

The expectation that schools work with families who need access to the homebound program is included in the province’s document guiding the response to the pandemic for students in kindergarten to Grade 12.

However, Banez said she is in touch with another mother on Vancouver Island whose child is on the autism spectrum and who hasn’t yet secured a remote learning option through their school.

“She’s done everything that I’ve done and the answer is still no. So, she’s doing now another step of saying she’s aware of this operational guideline,” said Banez, who serves as the vice president of the board of directors for AutismBC.

“It’s still very inconsistent. Even though the process that parents take to advocate for these accommodations is the same, there’s still children being left behind.”

It shouldn’t be up to parents to explicitly invoke their rights in order to ensure their kids can access the educational instruction and other supports they need, said Banez.

That’s especially true for parents who are newcomers to Canada and may struggle navigating back-to-school resources that are available primarily in English, she added.

“How could they possibly be calling government officials, school boards, principals, media, writing letters, reading operational guidelines (and) documents pages and pages long?” she asked.

The founder and chair of BCEdAccess, a volunteer-run organization that advocates for equitable access to education for complex learners and kids with diverse abilities, echoed Banez.

Tracy Humphreys said she’d like to see schools and districts reaching out to families directly to build educational plans that address their unique needs.

“The public system has had months now to be aware that there’s a pandemic and that September was coming and that they needed a better plan. It does feel like families, like children with disabilities, have been left out of that plan,” said Humphreys.

In an email, Ministry of Education representatives confirmed their expectation that school districts will be flexible and work with families on a case-by-case basis, including helping families of children with disabilities who aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom this fall.

But with school starting in a matter of days, Humphreys said she’s waiting for flexible options that meet provincial requirements and expectations to be fully implemented across the province.

“We’re seeing, you know, 60 school districts, plus independent schools, who are under the same direction from the Ministry of Education, responding in very different ways,” she said.

As for Lazarus, Banez said he’s excited to start what they call “mommy school” on Sept. 21.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Black Press file photo.)
Red Deer city council holds closed-door discussion about proposed aquatics centre

Recommended design, cost and location won’t be made public until next spring

A community gathering space was created in front of the new Red Deer Culture Services Centre before the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer’s Culture Services Centre to get additional $4.6 M in renovations

It’s one of many capital projects approved by city council

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, reported an additional 1,307 COVID-19 cases Tuesday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

Mayor
Mayor Veer appointed as Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer has been appointed an Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel by… Continue reading

Const. Jason Tress
Mountie testifies another RCMP officer sexually assaulted her at 2012 party

Former Mountie on trial for sexual assault in connection with incident in northwestern Alberta

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary's Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season's top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
CP NewsAlert: Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

CP NewsAlert: Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney watches late in the second half of the team's MLS Cup soccer match against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Seattle. Vanney has stepped down as coach of Toronto FC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo-Elaine Thompson
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney steps down, says it’s the right time to move on

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney steps down, says it’s the right time to move on

Hamilton Forge FC's Giuliano Frano (8) heads the ball against CD Olimpia's Jorge Benguche (9) during Scotiabank CONCACAF League 2019 second half soccer action in Hamilton, Ontario on Thursday, August 22, 2019. Forge FC looks to win its way into the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday when it takes on Haiti's Arcahaie FC in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF League, a 22-team feeder competition that sends six clubs to CONCACAF's elite club tournament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Forge FC loses penalty shootout to Haitian side in CONCACAF League quarterfinal

Forge FC loses penalty shootout to Haitian side in CONCACAF League quarterfinal

Public health must balance science and society: former top doctor

Public health must balance science and society: former top doctor

California boat captain indicted in fire that killed 34

California boat captain indicted in fire that killed 34

President Donald Trump participates in a video teleconference call with members of the military on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Trump headed to Georgia as runoff boost, but also a threat

Trump headed to Georgia as runoff boost, but also a threat

Flames and exhaust trail behind a Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang'e 5 lunar mission after it lifted off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province, early Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back material from the moon's surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
China spacecraft lands on moon to bring rocks back to Earth

China spacecraft lands on moon to bring rocks back to Earth

FILE - In this March 16, 2020, file photo, vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 rest on a lab table at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. An influential scientific panel on Tuesday, Dec. 1, is set to tackle one of the most pressing questions in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic: When the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine become available, who should be at the front of the line for shots? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
US panel: 1st vaccines to health care workers, nursing homes

US panel: 1st vaccines to health care workers, nursing homes

Most Read