Special needs kids stressed about coming year

There are about 30 Nova Scotia special needs students to be transitioned out of specialized schools and into the public school system — whether they are ready or not.

N.S. playing 'Russian roulette' with special needs education: parent

While most students are looking forward to their summer vacations, about 30 Nova Scotia special needs students and their families are already stressed out thinking about the school year to come.

That's because they'll be transitioned out of specialized schools and into the public school system this fall — whether they are ready or not.

For the past few years their tuition at schools like Bridgeway Academy in Dartmouth and Landmark East has been subsidized under a provincial tuition support program. The program allowed the basic $7,100 in funding allotted for each student in the province to be transferred to the school.

Last year, the Department of Education decided to cap student time in the program at three years, with a fourth year for transition. Former Education Minister Marilyn More also decided against a committee recommendation to allow an appeals process that would give parents, educators and psychologists a chance to advocate to keep the most learning disabled students in the program.

Jennifer Kendall's 15-year-old son Mitchell has been at Bridgeway Academy since fifth grade. He'll be forced to enter Grade 10 in the fall in Fall River. Kendall can't afford the $13,000 in tuition to keep him at Bridgeway.

"My fears are he'll fall behind and he'll quit school ... he'll give up," said Kendall.

Classes at Bridgeway range between six and 18 students allowing for more individual attention and support for her son's learning disabilities, which include ADHD and memory problems, Kendall said.

"I'm afraid he'll become another statistic. I don't want him to just be able to work. I'm not saying McDonald's is a bad place to work, but I want him to have options and putting him into Bridgeway was all about options."

Kendall also worries that the students are being thrown into the public system, without a safety net.

"That's my question to the government, if my son does fall behind and he loses everything he's gained and worked so hard for - what happens then? Like, where does he go from there? Can we put him back to Bridgeway? Are they going to give the supports then? And this is what I mean by Russian roulette, how far are you going to let him fall before someone says 'this is not working'?" questioned Kendall.

Wade Brummett, chair of the Equal Education Association of Nova Scotia, said the tuition support program actually saves the province $4,500 per student.

"It works and it does it for less money than we do it in the public system, so why would we change that?" said Brummett.

Brummett said he'd like to put that question to Education Minister Ramona Jennex, but has yet to receive a response to a meeting he's requested.