4-year-old with special needs turned away from Sask. pre-kindergarten due to lack of classroom support

A Kindersley, Sask., family was told their son could not attend pre-kindergarten because there was no educational assistant in the classroom.

NDP says more funding needed to solve problem

The province says pre-kindergarten classes aren't always equipped for children with special needs like Leslie Steer (in red). (Left photo: Chris Steer/Submitted. Right photo: Susan Burgess/CBC)

A Saskatchewan father is frustrated after he tried to enrol his son in pre-kindergarten to get him used to being around other children — and was turned away.

Leslie, 4, from Kindersley, Sask., lives with global development delays and has pulmonary hypertension. His father, Chris Steer, said the boy's skills fall in the 18- to 24-month range when it comes to speaking, walking and writing.

After Steer submitted the necessary paperwork, the principal of Westberry School called to tell him that his son was denied enrolment due to health issues.

Although Leslie's parents and doctors insisted an educational assistant wouldn't be necessary, the school said he would have to stay home a year because the classroom didn't have one.  

"It was very frustrating to hear that," Steer said. "I think every kid in Saskatchewan, or anywhere, that has a disability or anything should be allowed to go to school — even if there is budget cuts."

Steer said he called Premier Brad Wall, who referred him to the Ministry of Education. In his talks with the province, Steer said he was never offered a concrete solution, but was told he could send his son to kindergarten next year.

"The way that the pre-k programming is set up is that it's not necessarily tailored, as a rule, for special needs and intensive kids," said Minister of Education Bronwyn Eyre. "I understand the family's position and we tried to work with them."

'We've cut resources to the classroom so deeply'

NDP education critic Carla Beck said funding should be given to support more pre-k students.

"We've cut resources to the classroom so deeply that schools don't feel that they can adequately supervise and provide for the needs of these children," said Beck.

"The Ministry of Education and the people of Saskatchewan have an obligation to provide children in this province with an adequate education, at the very least."

The Ministry of Education says since 2007 it has expanded the number of pre-k spaces to 5,056 from 2,480.

School divisions have the power to allocate these programs to children they choose.

Eyre said the ministry did suggest other early-education programs that might be suitable for Leslie.

Steer recently signed his son up for daycare, where he will go for two days a month so that he can spend time with other kids.

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition