The number of children diagnosed with some kind of learning disability is growing every year and yet, ironically, it would seem that funding to provide support for these students is too often, falling short.
Just this week, in New York there is a family who has gone public with their story. The parents of 12-year-old Aiden Killoran are seeking a court order after their son was denied enrollment to their local school because he has Down Syndrome.
On a more local level, the Wray family of St. Albert, Alberta is seeking help after their son, Simon, who has Asperger’s syndrome was denied enrollment to a school that had previously accepted him and his brother but withdrew after learning that his funding would go to the St. Albert School District instead of the Edmonton School that he hoped to attend.
It is obvious that we are not the first nor the last to encounter such unnecessary fights on the school grounds. When we first learned that we would be moving to Edmonton, I immediately got on the phone with the Edmonton Public School district to find out what school would look like for both Ella and Jakob. If you have kept up with our story, you know that Ella and Jakob both attended French Immersion in Vancouver. The School was more than supportive and welcomed her without resistance. She had an aide with her at all times should she need a little extra help. She thrived. She did very well in the one-track French Immersion program and LOVED going to school. I knew that we were fortunate and things may not look the same in Edmonton, but I had no idea that they would be as bad as they are.
In April, because we had not physically moved to Edmonton yet, schools and the school board were fairly tight lipped as to whether they had space for our children. Fair enough. I waited until June when we had a signed lease and then got on the phone. I call three public French Immersion Schools and two Catholic French Immersion Schools to see if they had space for our children. All 3 public schools said they were full or did not offer French Immersion beyond grade one as it was a new program.
The Catholic Schools said they had room in grade three but when I brought up Ella the response was, “I would have to take money out of my budget to provide support for your daughter.” Not exactly the warm friendly greeting I was told to expect in Edmonton. I was disappointed. I was directed to Inclusion Alberta, an organization that advocates on behalf of children with disabilities but because schools had been closed for summer, progress was slow. Before the end of the school year however, I had registered both Jakob and Ella at their designated school, which is English and had them put on the waitlists for our neighborhood Catholic School, which is French Immersion.
When the schools reopened, we made the very difficult decision that, should a place not open up for Ella at JH Picard (the Catholic School) we would send Jakob anyway. It broke my heart that they would not be able to be in the same school, but given the cards in our hand it seemed like the best solution. I went and spoke with the English School and offered to talk to the teacher about strategies for teaching Ella effectively. When I asked what support would be given to Ella I was told that instead of having a one-to-one Educational Assistant, the class of 27 grade one students would have a class EA who would be shared among multiple children with disabilities for three hours a day. Keep in mind that these 27 children are coming from half-day kindergarten and while the teacher could not tell me what disabilities the other children have, chances are there are others with undiagnosed disabilities or behavioral issues. This class size is absurd! No matter how good of a teacher you are, 27, 6 and 7 year olds is too many for one teacher. It compromises not only the education of each child but their safety as well and with Ella being prone to wander this situation is the worst possible. Furthermore, because Ella is not one to act out, I fear that she will be left to sit idle, whilst the teacher and the EA attend to the other children who demand attention. This, my friends, would be no more than a babysitting service.
In the midst of this bleak situation however, when we were at JH Picard today to register Jakob, I overhead a teacher say that she was teaching the 1/2 split. A split class?! This means that there is a grade one class and a split class and numbers are no longer an issue in regards to Ella’s enrollment at the school. When I asked the principal about the situation she said that she did not feel comfortable enrolling Ella without full time support in the class of around 24 students. She said it did not seem like it would be beneficial for the school as a whole. I begged. I pleaded. I explained that having even .3 support in a smaller class, in a language she had already done full day kindergarten in, in the same school as her brother would be FAR better than what they were proposing at King Edward (her designated school). She was not convinced. She offered that perhaps, we could enroll Ella in kindergarten (half-day). In this case, the government would provide funding for .3 EA support and she could find enough in her budget for the other .2 to then provide full time support for the half day. BUT this would be a one-year solution and she could not make any guarantees for next year – this she was clear about. Pardon me, but if Ella didn’t have a disability we would not be having this conversation.
Should my daughter not be given fair access to a proper education?! Neither situation is adequate. For a province that prides itself on not only choice in education but also on inclusion, Alberta, you are failing miserably. The clock is ticking – school starts next Tuesday. Is it too much to ask that my daughter be able to continue in French Immersion in the same school as her brother? Is it too much to ask for a fair right to education? Is it too much to ask for the government to provide adequate funding to the schools for children with disabilities?
Not only that but what are we teaching our children?
Christian Killoran’s words resonated with me,