Kaye and her son Lazarus Banez are seen in an undated family handout photo. The mother, in Richmond, B.C., said school staff told her earlier that Lazarus would need to return to his Grade 6 classes in person by mid-November or face removal from the independent school. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-*MANDATORY CREDIT*

Kaye and her son Lazarus Banez are seen in an undated family handout photo. The mother, in Richmond, B.C., said school staff told her earlier that Lazarus would need to return to his Grade 6 classes in person by mid-November or face removal from the independent school. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-*MANDATORY CREDIT*

B.C. families of neurodiverse kids left scrambling before school starts: advocates

Advocates say they’d like to see school districts reaching out to families directly to build educational plans

Kaye Banez cried with relief after learning that her eight-year-old son Lazarus, who is on the autism spectrum, can enrol at his school remotely this fall.

The mother in Richmond, B.C., said school staff told her earlier that Lazarus would need to return to his Grade 3 classes in person by mid-November or face removal from the independent school.

The risk is too high for Lazarus to go back at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Banez, since he relies on touch to sense the world around him and struggles with physical distancing.

“We’re also trying to keep everybody around him safe,” added Banez, noting she has diabetes and her kids’ grandparents on both sides of the family have compromised immune systems.

Banez said it was agonizing as her family worried they would be forced to register Lazarus and his six-year-old sister for home schooling. That would mean Lazarus would lose access to supports, such as speech and occupational therapies, that are paid for through funding that depends on enrolment in school or a distributed learning program — many of which are at capacity, she said.

After meeting with staff from her kids’ school and the Ministry of Education’s inclusive education division on Friday, Banez learned about provincial guidelines that stipulate school districts are required to make so-called “homebound” educational services available to students absent from the classroom because of medical and psychiatric reasons.

The expectation that schools work with families who need access to the homebound program is included in the province’s document guiding the response to the pandemic for students in kindergarten to Grade 12.

However, Banez said she is in touch with another mother on Vancouver Island whose child is on the autism spectrum and who hasn’t yet secured a remote learning option through their school.

“She’s done everything that I’ve done and the answer is still no. So, she’s doing now another step of saying she’s aware of this operational guideline,” said Banez, who serves as the vice president of the board of directors for AutismBC.

“It’s still very inconsistent. Even though the process that parents take to advocate for these accommodations is the same, there’s still children being left behind.”

READ MORE: B.C. school staff, older students required to wear masks in ‘high traffic areas’

It shouldn’t be up to parents to explicitly invoke their rights in order to ensure their kids can access the educational instruction and other supports they need, said Banez.

That’s especially true for parents who are newcomers to Canada and may struggle navigating back-to-school resources that are available primarily in English, she added.

“How could they possibly be calling government officials, school boards, principals, media, writing letters, reading operational guidelines (and) documents pages and pages long?” she asked.

The founder and chair of BCEdAccess, a volunteer-run organization that advocates for equitable access to education for complex learners and kids with diverse abilities, echoed Banez.

Tracy Humphreys said she’d like to see schools and districts reaching out to families directly to build educational plans that address their unique needs.

“The public system has had months now to be aware that there’s a pandemic and that September was coming and that they needed a better plan. It does feel like families, like children with disabilities, have been left out of that plan,” said Humphreys.

In an email, Ministry of Education representatives confirmed their expectation that school districts will be flexible and work with families on a case-by-case basis, including helping families of children with disabilities who aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom this fall.

But with school starting in a matter of days, Humphreys said she’s waiting for flexible options that meet provincial requirements and expectations to be fully implemented across the province.

“We’re seeing, you know, 60 school districts, plus independent schools, who are under the same direction from the Ministry of Education, responding in very different ways,” she said.

As for Lazarus, Banez said he’s excited to start what they call “mommy school” on Sept. 21.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Parksville Community Centre. (PQB News file photo)
City of Parksville offers update on closure of community centre

‘Increasing operating costs and annual subsidies provided by the city have been a concern’

(Black Press file)
RDN strengthens security after being alerted to publicly accessible property ownership information

Regional District of Nanaimo investigates, reports to privacy commissioner after anonymous e-mails

Homeless people in Parksville Qualicum Beach are without a designated cold-weather shelter. (PQB News file photo)
Qualicum Beach council looks to solve area’s cold-weather shelter problem

Harrison: ‘It’s likely that there will be a hard winter for a lot of folks’

Qualicum Beach artist Deb Peters at the Gallery at the Qualicum Art Supply, Nov. 30 (Mandy Moraes photo)
Qualicum Beach painter Deb Peters discusses the power of art

‘If you’re given the ability to create something, you need to pass it on to people’

(File art)
Qualicum school district looks to form climate action plan

‘We’re in the right place at the right time’

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Emergency crews used a backhoe loader to clear fire debris from the scene of a fire on Wesley Street Thursday as police and firefighters gathered up propane tanks, stoves and fireplaces used by camp residents to heat tents. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo dismantles downtown homeless encampment after fire

Four to six tents burned up in Wesley Street fire Thursday, Dec. 3

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

BC Ambulance Services reassures people that the service is well staffed and ready to respond. Photo by Don Bodger
BC Ambulance assures the Island community they’re ‘fully staffed’

‘Paramedics are not limited to a geographical area.’ — BCEHS

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Most Read