Edmonton

Girl with spinal condition 'unregistered' as Hinton dance school reviews disability policy

Dad has started a petition after the Hinton School of Dance brought in the draft of a policy that will require medical clearance for disabled students

School is assessing a draft policy requiring medical clearance for disabled students

Ian Rosseel wants his seven-year-old daughter, Alexis, to be able to continue her hip-hop and ballet dance lessons at the Hinton School of Dance, activities that she has enjoyed since September 2015.  (Submitted by Ian Rosseel )

A seven-year-old girl with a spinal disability has been told she can't immediately resume her lessons at the Hinton dance school where she has enjoyed ballet and hip-hop classes for the last four years while the school assesses its policies for disabled students.

Ian Rosseel said his daughter Alexis, who has a rare spinal condition that causes her to need a wheelchair or walker, was "unregistered" from the Hinton School of Dance because the academy is looking at a new policy dealing with students with disabilities. 

Born with caudal regression syndrome, a disorder that impairs the development of her lower body, Alexis is unable to fully bend her knees and move her ankles, so she uses the wheelchair and walker to travel longer distances.

After enrolling his daughter for the upcoming year, Rosseel said the school told him on Aug. 21 that his daughter had been "unregistered" from dance classes until a draft policy is reviewed by insurance providers and lawyers. 

"We registered with the local dance school once again and we were unregistered by them, saying they need to put in a new policy about dancers with disabilities," he said.

Rosseel said the treatment is unfair and has started a petition on her behalf. 

In an email statement to CBC News, Melissa Pattison, the school's executive director, said: "The Hinton School of Dance has, since its inception, strived to foster an inclusive and accommodating environment for all of its students. We are committed to providing exceptional-quality dance instruction in a nurturing, positive and safe environment," the statement reads. 

'That's not the point of inclusion' 

The draft copy of the new policy states that students with disabilities can only be enrolled in the school once they have medical clearance, Rosseel said. Once they have clearance, he said, they would be put into "an accessibility class." 

"They want to put a class just for her, or have a minimum of six kids with disabilities to a maximum of eight, which is not what we want. We want her to be with other kids. That's the point of inclusion ... not to segregate her and put her as her own," he said.

"This is discrimination, you can't just treat her different than the other kids."

Alexis Rosseel was born with caudal regression syndrome, a disorder that impairs the development of her lower body. (Submitted by Ian Rosseel)

A draft copy of the policy sent to CBC News states that students with disabilities need a doctor's letter outlining their disabilities, medical concerns, physical limitations, restrictions and a "list of permitted and capable movements and activities set out by the specialist." 

If the student meets all these requirements, the school would first work to place them in an accessibility class where "any specialty equipment must be supplied and stored by parents." The second step, if there isn't enough students for a specialized class, would be to place the student in a private class.

The final choice would be to integrate the student into the regular program. The draft policy states this would only happen if the private and accessibility class options aren't possible and would be contingent on the student not needing specialized equipment and possessing the physical abilities to participate safely. 

'No new policy has been put in place' 

Pattison emphasized that the draft policy is not in place yet and has been provided to parents "for the sole purpose of requesting their feedback.

"The parents were made aware, more than once, that the policy was only a rough draft," Pattison said. 

The school's board of directors said it drafted the new policy up as part of the school's "due diligence" around various considerations including insurance.

"Any changes done relative to our enrolment processes has nothing to do with any individual registrant," the board said in an email to CBC News. 

"Underlying all of this, however, is the paramount requirement that we maintain a safe environment for all of our students and instructors, Pattison said in her emailed statement.

"This requires HSD to comply with its insurance requirements and to ensure each instructor is able to assess and maintain safety in class while accounting for the class size, difficulty of movements and any limitations particular students may have," the statement reads.

If a particular class or discipline may be unsafe for a student, the school will help find suitable alternatives, she said.

Rosseel said his petition 'Let Alexis Dance, published on Avaaz.org two days ago, now has approximately 1,600 signatures. 

"My girl loves dancing and that is our main goal, is to get her to dance again and without repercussions of this," he said. 

"There's all kinds of kids out there ... with different disabilities and challenges they have in their life, and they should all be accepted and found a place for, and not stuck in their own class all by themselves." 

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