Mother fights to keep child with health issues in same school amid rezoning

A mother in Eastern P.E.I. is fighting to keep her daughter at Georgetown Elementary School for what she says are medical reasons — but says so far her request has been denied by the Public Schools Branch.

8-year-old Maria has been diagnosed with a form of epilepsy

Jenny MacKinnon is upset after her daughter Maria (left) was rezoned to go to another school, but she says staying in Georgetown would be best for Maria's health. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

A mother in Eastern P.E.I. is fighting to keep her daughter at Georgetown Elementary School for what she says are medical reasons — but so far her request has been denied by the Public Schools Branch. 

8-year-old Maria MacKinnon has been rezoned to Cardigan Consolidated School for next year. Maria and her family used to live within the Georgetown Elementary zone, moved out of the zone a few years ago, but decided to keep sending her to the same school. 

Before the extensive review of Island schools this past winter, criteria for a transfer request was generally approved if there was enough space, capacity and willingness for guardians to transport students themselves. However, since the review, criteria has become more stringent. 

My daughter means the world to me and whatever's going to be best for her.— Jenny MacKinnon

Maria was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy last October. Her mother, Jenny MacKinnon said it would be in Maria's best interest to stay in a familiar environment at her current school.

Transfer request supported by doctor

MacKinnon said she also submitted a letter from a doctor at the IWK in Nova Scotia after she put in the transfer request. 

8-year-old Maria MacKinnon is upset she can't stay attending Georgetown Elementary School because of rezoning. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"He had said, 'I strongly suggest that you don't move her from school. That will probably trigger her anxiety and everything and right now we have everything under control so let's try to keep it that way,'" said MacKinnon.

Some of Maria's symptoms include throwing up and blacking out with no memory afterward and her doctors and family still aren't sure what triggers it.

'Friends are like a family to me'

MacKinnon said Maria has dealt with anxiety around her illness, but is making a lot of progress at Georgetown Elementary. She is doing well in school and participating more and making friends. 

"My friends are like a family to me," Maria said with tears in her eyes. "I have so many friends at Georgetown school, it feels like I can't leave."

"My daughter means the world to me and whatever's going to be best for her and is in her best interest is what I'll be doing," said Jenny MacKinnon, also holding back tears. "It does make me emotional … honestly it upsets me."

Request denied by Public Schools Branch

"It would just be too much for her to have to go meet new friends and do all this over again," said MacKinnon. 

Maria MacKinnon's mother says her daughter has made a lot of progress after being diagnosed with a form of epilepsy and wants her to stay in a familiar environment at the same school. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

MacKinnon said she was told her transfer request has been denied by the Public Schools Branch because the situation did not meet the criteria and that there would be better resources for her daughter at Cardigan School.

All schools capable of supporting students

Director of students services for the Public Schools Branch, Julia Gaudet, said she couldn't speak to the specific case, but said all of P.E.I.'s schools are capable of meeting the individual needs of students.

Gaudet said some students do get transfers to take part in certain programs, because not all schools have every program — but every school does have medical support and individualized planning. 

Maria MacKinnon hopes to stay at Georgetown Elementary even though she's been rezoned to attend a school in Cardigan. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"We've gone to great lengths to make sure that there is transitional planning in place so that students who are moving from one school to another … will have help with that so that they become more familiar with their school and so that the school who's about to receive them can be best prepared," said Gaudet. 

Gaudet acknowledges the transition may not be happy news for families, so she understands why people are applying for out of zone transfers. As of last week there had been about 202 transfer applications, she said. 

"But clearly within the outcome of the school change study it was very clear that the branch had been directed to implement the decisions of the board of directors and to have students attend schools to which they are zoned," said Gaudet. 

1,100 students not attending schools zoned for

Gaudet said prior to the rezoning 1,100 students were not attending the schools in the zones they live in. 

"A lot of effort and time and angst and heartfelt emotion went into the meetings that took place over the course of the winter and it was clear that with 1100 students being out of zone that most of the contributors felt very strongly that there was a need to correct that," said Gaudet. 

Jenny MacKinnon says Georgetown School is the best place for her daughter Maria because of the health issues the eight-year-old is facing. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

But MacKinnon said she and her doctors know what's best for Maria. 

"To be truthfully honest I don't think a doctor's note should be overridden in any way by any Public Schools Branch person," she said. 

Appeal to independent board

MacKinnon appealed the branch's decision earlier this week.

Now her appeal will be reviewed by an independent appeal board made up of three people not associated or connected with the Public Schools Branch in any way.

MacKinnon, or any parent that appeals, and the PSB will both get a chance to communicate with the independent board and a final decision will be made. 

MacKinnon said she hopes to hear back about her appeal next week.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.