Kaye and her son Lazarus Banez are seen in an undated family handout photo. 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 CANADIAN PRESS/HO-*MANDATORY CREDIT*

B.C. families of neurodiverse kids left scrambling before school starts: advocates

Advocates say they’d like to see school districts reaching out to families directly to build educational plans

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 3 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.”

READ MORE: B.C. school staff, older students required to wear masks in ‘high traffic areas’

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.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducationSchools

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

Just Posted

RCMP remind Albertans to practice rail safety

In 2019, Alberta had the second highest number of total railway crossing incidents

Central zone down to 16 active COVID-19 cases

Alberta Health Services’ central zone is down to 16

Sylvan Lake woman says Town’s response time to concerns isn’t enough

Glenda Jackman says it took almost a month for the Town to act on her complaint about a playground

Central zone down to 19 active COVID-19 cases on Thursday

Provincially, 158 new COVID-19 cases were identified

Alberta politicians reject throne speech

Premier Kenney disapointed with lack of support for Alberta energy

Alberta’s top health official says province is not in a second wave of COVID-19

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that Alberta had identified 158 new cases in the province

No winning ticket for Friday night’s $50 million Lotto Max jackpot

Jackpot for the next draw will grow to approximately $55 million

Wilkinson aims to be B.C. premier after cabinet role, working as doctor and lawyer

The B.C. election is Wilkinson’s first as the Liberal party leader

First Nations police services look to throne speech pledge for higher, stable funding

‘I won’t be happy until I hear two words: royal assent’

8 charged, $260K in drugs and cash seized in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Millet Agriplex to become a hub for indoor soccer

Wetaskiwin Soccer Club will be operating out of the Millet Agriplex this season.

‘We’re losing what makes the Parkland so distinctive,” conservation specialist says

The Lacombe district will lose two sites with provincial park status: JJ Collett and the Narrows

Ermineskin Kindergarten has a confirmed case of COVID-19

The school has shut down and Cohort 2 is in self-isolation

Most Read