Thursday, November 19, 2009

Due to funding dispute, Canadian child with spina bifida asked to leave her school

From the Saskatoon Starphoenix:

SASKATOON, Canada — The mother of an 11-year-old girl with spina bifida is outraged her daughter was told to pack up her desk before leaving a Saskatoon school Nov. 13, thanks to a bureaucratic tussle over money between school divisions.

On Nov. 13, without a phone call from the principal to her mom, Breanna Abbott’s (pictured) Grade 6 teacher at Brunskill school apologetically helped the student pack up her things after class. The girl, who is considered a special needs student and uses a wheelchair to get around, was in tears.

“To her, she was kicked out,” mother Lisa Abbott (pictured) said Nov. 17.

It happened because the family moved to Warman, about 24 kilometres northeast of the city, which is in Prairie Spirit School division, not the Saskatoon Public School division.

“My daughter felt rejected and demoralized . . . she felt sad she wouldn’t see her friends, and she felt powerless,” mother Lisa Abbott wrote in a letter to the school.

Meanwhile, Breanna’s able-bodied sister Sierra, also a Brunskill student, stayed put.

Saskatoon Public Schools says the principal was merely following a division policy about special needs students. The hurt feelings were a result of miscommunication on everyone’s part, deputy director of education Avon Whittles says.

Abbott lived in the Varsity View neighbourhood so her daughters could attend Brunskill. However, when rent became unaffordable and with wheelchair-accessible housing scarce, Abbott said she had no choice but to move to an accessible condo in Warman on Nov. 1.

Four days later, Abbott says, the Brunskill principal told her she needed to produce a letter within a week confirming that money for her daughters’ transportation and Breanna’s special needs would be transferred from the Prairie Spirit to Saskatoon Public Schools.

Abbott says the incident wasn’t simply a case of miscommunication. The school divisions put policies before people, and this agreement discriminates against students with disabilities, she says.

“I am more than offended that this principal has made the decision to move quickly in kicking my child out of the school based solely on a funding and resource issue, rather than taking Breanna’s entire needs into consideration,” Abbott wrote in her letter.

Breanna says she loves Brunskill and wants to stay there.

“Because all my friends are there, and my sister’s there,” she said. “And all the good teachers — it’s a good school.”

By Monday morning, the public school division assured the Abbotts Breanna could stay at Brunskill — but only for the rest of this school year.

Abbott is pleased but says if the family is back in the same position at the end of the year, she’ll likely file a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.