Nova Scotia

N.S. reviews fire drill protocol for disabled students

Concerns raised by the mother of a student with a disability have sparked a province-wide review of fire evacuation plans at Nova Scotia schools.

Students with mobility issues remain in so-called 'area of refuge'

Concerns raised by the mother of a disabled student have sparked a province-wide review of fire evacuation plans at Nova Scotia schools.

It has taken emails, phone calls and meetings but Lindy Weilgart said she finally believes she's making progress.

"Words cannot express that it would take this long for what I consider a no-brainer," she said.

Her daughter, Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead, is in Grade 12 at J.L. Ilsley High School in Halifax.

She has cerebral palsy so while other students leave the building during fire drills, Sonja has to stay behind with a staff member in a refuge area.

In her case it’s a stairwell.

"It honestly feels like I'm a second class citizen," said Weilgart-Whitehead. 

Weilgart said on one occasion when the elevator broke down, she inquired about the possibility of someone carrying her 100-pound daughter up the stairs so she wouldn't have to miss class every time the elevator was broken.

School officials told her that having someone carry Sonja was not an option, even in the event of a fire.

Her case has led the education minister to set up a working group to review fire evacuation plans across the province.  

"Everything will be considered and if it is a case where a child needs to be carried out, there are protocols and ways that a child can be carried. I know people can be trained to appropriately carrying a person out of a building," said Ramona Jennex.  

Weilgart said she is grateful.

"She needs three sort of. She only needs one but you know three for redundancy in case someone is sick or so on so I would hope there's three that would be volunteering but I'm strongly against anyone being forced to do that," she said.

The working group will be made up of teachers, school board representatives and the department's safety officer and will start its work immediately.

But officials 12 at J.L. Ilsley High School aren't waiting.They've already started practising carrying the teenager out of the building — a complete reversal of policy.