School ruined education of special-needs son, dad says
Kurt Headrick unhappy with Labrador school; administrators defend help available
A father says a school in Labrador ruined his son's future when his special needs weren't met in the classroom.
But the former Labrador District School Board says help is available for such students in the area.
Kurt Headrick's son Adam was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and an anxiety disorder when he was five.
"Everyone who interacts with him says, 'This kid is obviously smart,'" Kurt Headrick said.
"So for someone who is smart and who could be a productive member of society to not be able to support himself, I mean, obviously, that's devastating."
But things changed when the Headricks relocated to Labrador.
Adam first encountered problems when he started Grade 4 in 2005 — his first year at Queen of Peace Middle School in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
"There was no support at all for Adam," Headrick said.
He said the principal told him they "would have to demonstrate need" in order to be able to get support.
"I told [the principal] that to have a kid with an anxiety disorder and require him to fail before we could get support was a very potentially traumatizing thing, and it could severely damage or even destroy his ability to go to school."
Headrick said without a proper classroom aide, a flexible curriculum, and flexibility from staff to accommodate Adam, things took a turn.
There was no support at all for Adam.- Kurt Headrick
"By January of that year, basically Adam was running out of the school building," he said.
After numerous meetings, phone calls, and emails to everyone from the school principal, to school board officials, and even the premier, the Headricks felt they weren't going to get the help Adam needed in Labrador.
Headrick said school administrators turned any conversation towards how few resources they had, and how overworked they were.
Officials in Labrador disagree.
Henry Windeler, the then-director of education with the former Labrador District School Board, said earlier this year that supports are available. (The Labrador board has since collapsed into the province-wide English language super-board.)
"We are providing programs," Windeler told CBC News. "Would more resources help? I would say yes. But in terms of meeting the immediate needs of children through student support services, through assessment, through speech language, behavioural management, autism itinerant [extra assistance] — you know, I think we're doing a very good job."
In a statement issued late Monday, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said in complex medical cases, it works with families and medical professionals to address the individual needs of a student.
"We believe that each student, no matter their specific needs, must be given the opportunity to succeed and we will do our utmost to ensure that happens," wrote Ken Morrissey, the district's director of communications.
"This will include working with the student, the parents/guardians, and others to address the specific circumstances of the student and provide an environment and supports where success is possible."
The statement said people with concerns about their child's special needs should speak with the student's teacher and school. The district said issues usually can be addressed and the needs of the student can be met.
'We always need and want more resources'
Scott Crocker, the executive director of the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, previously worked for 37 years in the education system.
He said resources and teacher training have always been critical issues.
"We always need and want more resources to be able to do what we want to do," he said.
"The focus for special services training was on the special services teachers. Now, with the inclusionary model, it's equally important that the regular classroom teacher... have access to that same type of training, because they are dealing with the students on a full-day basis as well — lots of times when the special services teacher isn't there."
Attempts were made, school board says
Windeler told CBC News the former Labrador school board can't comment on the specifics of Adam's case, but attempts were made to help.
"Like we do in all cases, we look at the needs of the child, we work with the parents into providing service for that child. And I would say in most cases, we are able to come to an agreement with the parents, and unfortunately in some cases we are not, and that's why we have the appeal process," he said.
The Headricks, frustrated and upset, moved to St. John's in 2007, with hopes of getting more support for Adam in his schooling.
A year later after that move to St. John's, they said, a psychologist at the Janeway Children's Hospital diagnosed Adam with post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences at Queen of Peace Middle School.
"When [Dr. David Day] said that, it was like a light bulb going off, because it explained everything," Headrick said.
"I remember his teaching assistants at Vanier [Elementary] talking about, like, [Adam] was flashing back to school, and he would arrive at school expecting bad things to happen to him."
(Queen of Peace Middle School in Labrador also hit the news this year when an internal report cited animosity and chaos at the school, and described the work and learning environment as toxic.)
Full appeal process
The Headricks decided to go through the full appeal process, and filed a lengthy complaint with the Human Rights Commission in 2007.
In March, 5-1/2 years later, the family received a single piece of paper in return, stating that their complaint was dismissed due to "insufficient evidence."
Adam, who's now 17, has been out of the classroom since December, and has no desire to go back.
Headrick said he's worried about his son's future.
"Parents sometimes have ideas for how they want their kids to live their lives. And I said, 'All I want for you is I want you to be happy, I want you to be able to support yourself,'" he said.
"[Adam is] reasonably happy... but what prospect is there for him being able to support himself?"