Nfld. & Labrador

Lack of supports prompt York Harbour parents to keep daughter with autism home from school

A seven-year-old York Harbour girl has yet to go to school this year due to what her parents say is a lack of supports at her new school.

Her parents say they're being put between a rock and a hard place — safety vs. schooling.

Aside from her medical issues, Amy is an otherwise happy, healthy little girl who loves playing with her sisters.

A seven-year-old girl from York Harbour has yet to enter her Grade 1 classroom this year because of what her parents say is a lack of student support hours available at her school.

Last year, Amy Childs, then a kindergartner, had the assistance of an instructional resource teacher for six hours a week at Saint Peter's Academy in Benoit's Cove. When her family decided to move a few dozen kilometres down the road to the town of York Harbour, they said, they were assured those hours would go with her. So far this year, that has not been the case.

Bailey and Mike Childs say they had to make the difficult decision to keep their daughter, Amy, home from school in order to ensure her safety. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

"We applied for her to go to school, and the school applied to the school board for more IRT hours where she was transferred in, and it was denied," said Bailey Childs, Amy's mother.

"Each week [the school has] been phoning me, saying they're applying for more hours, and each week they phone me, 'Well, we haven't heard back today, maybe next week Amy will be in school,' and here we are a month and a half later and Amy's still not in school."

Amy has autism and sensory processing disorder. She also suffers from frequent complex partial seizures, which, if left unattended for more than five minutes, can lead to permanent brain damage. Because of this, Childs said, she needs close to constant supervision at all times at both school and at home.

Amy does homework at her kitchen table while her classmates are in school. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

"I'm afraid that she'll either run away or hurt herself in the classroom because she's prone to stick things in an electrical socket or eat things she's not supposed to eat or just physically hurt herself sometimes if she's in the mood," said Childs.

"If she's not being watched, then who knows what can happen to her?"

Not enough help

Childs said despite numerous phone calls to the school board, she has yet to receive a response or a solution for how to get their daughter back in the classroom. She said there is an instructional resource teacher working at Saint James All Grade, but with three other children with special needs attending the school, there aren't enough hours to go around. 

"I'm very frustrated and I'm also very sad because she's missing out on so much of her education," said Childs.

"But I don't want her to be going to school and not be safe either. I'd rather her be home safe than go to school and [have] an incident happen and I won't have my little girl anymore to send to school."

Last year, Amy had to be taken to hospital after her teacher caught her eating the corners of foam floor tiles. After that, the school was allotted additional hours for an instructional resource teacher. Childs said she also later found out that various other people at the school would pitch in to watch her, including a bus driver, in an effort to ensure Amy was never left unattended.

A friend of the family brings Amy's homework to her so she can keep up at school. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

Childs said she offered to accompany Amy to school this year until more hours are approved, but was told she's not allowed because it could be seen as taking work away from a professional student assistant. In the meantime, she said, she's been taking Amy to her youngster sister's preschool once a week to let her be with other children. 

"I did not think it would get this far. I figured within the first week she would be in school with the rest of her friends," said Childs.

"My friend, she picks up her homework so we can try to keep up on it so she don't have to be behind anymore, right? But it's still just very hard to sit home and not see your youngster go to school and get the education she should be getting."

School district responds

A spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District declined a CBC request for an interview, saying they are unable to discuss circumstances of individual students, but provided an emailed statement instead.

The statement says IRT resources are provided to the district by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for allocation throughout the province. Schools are, however, able to request student assistant resources for students who meet the criteria.  

They also said the district assigns available resources, including IRTs and student assistants, based on "the overall needs of all students within that school community," adding that it's a misconception that they can "belong" to an individual child. 

"The school administration is responsible for ensuring resources are deployed at the school level in a way that maximizes the impact of resources provided, while meeting student's individual needs," says the statement.

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