Catholic board discriminating against disabled students, say parents

Some parents are accusing Edmonton Catholic Schools of discriminating against special needs students for failing to accomodate them during the support workers strike.
Brenda Long watched her son Willi, 17, as he works on a computer while waiting to go back to school. (CBC)

Some parents are accusing Edmonton Catholic Schools of discriminating against special needs students for failing to accomodate them during the support workers strike.

Only 12 of 40 children with high-level special needs have been able to attend school since 916 support workers went on strike almost weeks ago.

"He's not welcome," said Brenda Long, referring to her 17-year-old son Willi, who attends Austin O'Brien High School. "I just think that's not acceptable."

Willi has cerebral palsy and Down syndrome and while he requires constant care, he enjoys school.

"It's just important for him to be busy and active and learning at this time in his life," said Long. "That's what you do when you're 17."

But Edmonton Catholic Schools has told parents that students like Willi cannot attend class unless their parents hire a full-time caregiver.

Long and her husband, both doctors, say they intend to do just that, but they recognize few others can afford to do the same.

Cassady Fontaine, 19, cannot walk or talk on her own and has been at home since the strike began.

"She can't be left alone.  She has to be supervised all the time," said her mother Heather Fontaine.

Fontaine also believes disabled students are being discriminated against.

"If Cassady was a regular teenager she'd be at school," she said. "(Because) she was born with some challenges other kids don't have, she has to sit at home.

"The school board has missed the mark," she said. "They should've had a contingency plan."

The school district said replacement workers with the necessary skills are difficult to find.

"We're advertising, we're phoning different agencies we're doing whatever we can," said spokesperson Lori Nagy.