Manitoba

Brandon parents say division failing to accommodate immunocompromised son

A Brandon family is preparing to file a human rights complaint against their school division and the province, claiming they haven't done enough to accommodate the family's immunocompromised son who needs an educational assistant.  

Bruce Strang and Nancy Hennen say division's and province's plans are discriminatory

Bruce Strang says the back-to-school plans the Brandon School Division and the province provided are discriminatory against his son, Sean, who is immunocompromised and lives with Down Syndrome. (Submitted by Bruce Strang)

A Brandon family is preparing to file a human rights complaint against their school division and the province, claiming they haven't done enough to accommodate the family's immunocompromised son who needs an educational assistant.  

Bruce Strang and Nancy Hennen say they've been trying to work out a safe plan for their 15-year-old son, Sean, to return to school since early July.

In addition to having a compromised immune system, Sean also lives with Down Syndrome and hearing loss. Because of this, Strang said he needs an educational assistant to help him work. 

Sean is very social and does well in school, but needs an educational assistant to help him get his work done, Strang said. (Submitted by Bruce Strang )

But Strang says the Brandon School Division has told them that because he's immunocompromised, Sean will have to continue remote learning at home, and won't be assigned an educational assistant, instead of accommodating his needs at school. 

His youngest son, Marc, will also have to stay home because of Sean's health issues. 

"So we think they're being discriminatory against him in two ways: pushing him away from the school system in the first place, and then failing to provide an equal education once they've made Sean have to work from home," Strang said. 

Because of Sean's compromised immune system, he's at risk of severe complications — or even dying — if he contracts COVID-19, Strang said, so he and his wife started inquiring about their options back in July. 

No discussion

They had one meeting with officials about their concerns, but Strang says nothing came out of it. 

"We've been pushed away time and again told to wait until the plan comes out," he said. "They've never actually discussed with us what safe education would look like for Sean."

Sean is very social, and is feeling left out by not being able to go back to school, Strang said. He said he and his wife just want to have a conversation with officials about getting help from an educational assistant and/or having Sean in school. 

Now, they are in the process of filing a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. 

"But filing a complaint doesn't mean it's the end of an opportunity for discussion," Strang said. 

"I hope that the school board and I hope that the provincial government will engage in some type of solution. The problem with the human rights commission is it could take years to get a ruling, and Sean needs help today, not two years or three years down the road."

In an emailed statement, Marc Casavant, superintendent and CEO of the Brandon School Division, said the division and its schools remain willing to discuss individual education plans for its students. 

"We are committed to providing a quality education to all students in these challenging and unprecedented times."

In another emailed statement, a spokesperson for the province said Manitoba's Children's Disability Services has reached out to the family to offer assistance, and will work to ensure the family is supported as their child returns to school.

With files from Riley Laychuk and Janet Stewart

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