Manitoba

Family of girl who needs constant care told to choose between school bus or support worker

The family of a 12-year-old girl who lives with a developmental disability is being forced to choose between sending her to a school where she has a dedicated care worker — but one she has no way of getting to — or a school where she won't get the same level of care.

April English, 12, needs a dedicated care worker but her mother was told the new school doesn't have one

Pamela English and her family moved outside of April's school's catchment area and now must choose between school bus service or keeping April at the school where she has a dedicated care worker. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The family of a 12-year-old girl who lives with a developmental disability says they are being forced to choose between sending her to a school where she has a dedicated care worker — but one she has no way of getting to — or a school a bus will take her to, but where she won't get the same level of care.

That's because they recently moved outside of her current school's catchment area. 

"It seems silly that policy is getting in the way of what's best for a disabled child, and her well-being and her education," said Trisha Bedard, the girl's aunt.

April English has cri-du-chat ("cat's cry") syndrome, also known as 5p minus syndrome, a chromosomal condition characterized by intellectual disability and delayed development.

"She does not speak — she says a few vowels but not many. She's not potty trained so she does wear pull-ups," said her mother, Pamela English.

The Grade 7 student needs round-the-clock care and relies heavily on a consistent routine to keep her from having emotional outbursts.

"She has always been a routine girl. If her routine is messed up she becomes very emotional, she becomes very violent," English said.

In October, the family moved out of their Manitoba Housing rental after English's fiancee's salary became too high for them to stay.

They moved nearly two kilometres away, just outside the catchment area for Salisbury Morse Place, the River East Transcona division school where April has been going to school for 2½ years.
Pamela English has two other young children. Emma is nearly three years old and Boston is one. She says trying to get all three kids out the door to take April to school is a challenge. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

English said she wasn't initially aware the new house was outside of the school's area, but was later told that April could continue going to the school if the family paid for her to use the school bus, which English was fine with.

"About a week later they called me and they said no, transportation was not provided for her."

The family was already in the process of moving and English was told that if April transferred to the assigned school for her area, Valley Gardens Middle School, a bus could be provided.

English later enrolled April there, but was told that Valley Gardens did not have a Level 3 care worker — the level April requires — and she would instead be cared for by a combination of Level 1 and 2 workers, something English is not comfortable with.

"I would prefer just one person with her [that] I know and trust, and that I feel comfortable with someone taking her into the washroom and changing her," said English.

Bus will take girl to new school: division

The River East Transcona School Division, which includes both schools, said although it does provide school bus transportation on a fee-for-service basis, space must be available on buses on existing routes.

"April's address is outside the Salisbury Morse Place School catchment area and consequently not on any scheduled school bus routes to this school," a spokesperson said.

They said the transportation policies ensure equal treatment of all students and staff.

"Busing is available for April within our school division at Valley Gardens Middle School, her designated school, based on address," said Kelly Barkman, the devision's superintendent, in an emailed statement to CBC.

"If April received intensive support at Salisbury Morse Place School, she will absolutely receive intensive support at any other school within River East Transcona School Division, including Valley Gardens Middle School."

The school division said April would receive support from a Level 3 educational assistant at Valley Gardens, but could not clarify before the time of publishing if that meant she would receive one dedicated worker or multiple workers, or how many hours the Level 3 would be with her.

English said she hasn't been told of any Level 3 worker being made available for April, or what that might mean for her daughter's care.

April has had the same worker for almost three years, who English said she loves and looks forward to seeing every day.

"It breaks my heart to know that she's going to leave someone that she loves just as much as she loves her mama," said English.

The family of a 12-year-old girl who lives with a developmental disability says they are being forced to choose between sending her to a school where she has a dedicated care worker — but one she has no way of getting to — or a school a bus will take her to, but where she won't get the same level of care. 2:07

The two middle schools are about a kilometre apart, and English said she has seen where some of the kids are picked up by the school bus that goes to Salisbury Morse.

She said she would be willing to walk her daughter to that stop, which is just a few blocks away.

But she also has two other children, ages two and one, and said she relies on the routine and structure the school bus provides. She does not always have access to a vehicle and walking to school with April is not possible due to her disability.

"Their policy doesn't make sense to me. They're going to have to add a pickup for April to go to Valley Gardens. I just don't understand why they couldn't put a stop in to take my daughter to the school she knows and she trusts and loves."

Family seeking to file human rights complaint

Trisha Bedard, April's aunt and English's sister, has been advocating for the family and is in the process of filing a human rights complaint.

She said her niece shouldn't have to accept a lower level of care because a school bus policy won't allow any additional stops or changes to the route.

April is "not going to get the care that she needs … she's going to have strangers taking her into the bathroom, changing her, wiping her down. It's going to be horrible. It's not acceptable," she said.
Pamela English says her daughter April has thrived at her current school with her dedicated worker of several years. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Bedard said the issue isn't about the convenience of having a school bus.

"It's about her dignity. It's about allowing her to feel safe and to have a trusted adult care for her," she said.

"She has a hard enough life already. She's non-verbal, so she doesn't have a voice for herself — so we have to be her voice."

About the Author

Holly Caruk

Video Journalist

Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: holly.caruk@cbc.ca