The board of trustees for Red Deer Public Schools opposes the provincial government’s decision to close the Michener Centre in Red Deer and urges the Redford government to reverse its decision.
In our own work with students with exceptionally diverse needs, we very much understand that segregation of individuals with special needs is not desirable. As a school jurisdiction, we are very strong proponents for inclusion of students with diverse learning needs throughout our schools. Red Deer Public Schools has closed 34 congregated programs for special needs students over the past four years and has provided more enabling environments for those students. However, we have also retained eleven programs for students with complex needs since this is the most appropriate environment for them. Inclusion is not simply placing all individuals with special needs in integrated settings.
This is precisely why Michener Centre must not be closed. Over the past number of years large numbers of residents of Michener Centre have been moved to community placements. We support this move to inclusion for these residents since it certainly was not appropriate to have those individuals who were capable of being successful in community placements housed at Michener Centre.
The residents who have remained to this point, however, are those with very complex needs who are extremely well served in their present environment. In addition, for most of these individuals, Michener Centre has been their home for the majority of their adult lives. In many cases these residents have had the same caregivers for many years. Moving these individuals into the community is akin to taking a very young child out of his home and away from his siblings and family in order to place him elsewhere. It is cruel and it is inappropriate.
What is also concerning is that this most vulnerable population does not have a voice to advocate on their own behalf. This then becomes an issue of social justice where others need to speak out for what is fair and just. Our work with diverse students, many with complex special needs and our work in providing the most enabling environments for learning, provides a valued perspective and strong voice in opposing the proposed changes. We believe others in our community need to and are ready to step forward to provide a voice for residents adversely impacted by this decision.
We very much understand the budget constraints that the provincial government faces. We are currently adjusting our budgets in order to react to the fiscal realities — we understand and accept this necessity. What we do not understand, and what we cannot accept, are the actions of the government in the treatment of the most vulnerable among us, the residents of Michener Centre.
We urge the government to reverse its decision.
Lawrence Lee, Board Chair
Red Deer Public School Schools