Mother hopes landmark case will bolster her fight

·3 min read

A Manitoba mother wants a retrial of her claims a school division has repeatedly failed to adequately support her son, who has autism spectrum disorder and other diagnoses that affect his self-regulation and study skills, so he can learn in a traditional classroom setting.

Maxine Wells filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in 2016 in which she alleged Border Land School Division had both discriminated against Harvey Wells, now 16, on the basis of his disabilities, and failed to reasonably accommodate his needs.

At the time, Wells said private testing showed her youngest child had global learning difficulties that had not been “fully observed” by school staff and as a result, neither the appropriate teaching, support staff, nor support materials had been made accessible to him.

“They have never understood or accepted that Harvey has been masking and having meltdowns at home. They say he behaves well at school (but) he has managed behaviours at school, by pacing around or refusing to do work — and then has meltdowns at home,” said the mother, during a phone call from the family’s farm near Tolstoi.

Wells said she and her husband have disclosed concerns about Harvey’s developmental delays and academic difficulties since they enrolled him in Grade 1 at Roseau Valley School in 2012, shortly after their family moved to Canada from the U.K.

Harvey showed early signs of auditory-processing delays, verbal communication challenges and sensitivity to noise and movement, his mother said.

Throughout the last decade, the family has sought in-school assessments and external diagnostic tests.

Wells said the trend is that the division’s findings have been limited in comparison to outsider clinicians’ conclusions. For example, a school speech and language pathologist determined Harvey struggled with pronouncing the “T-H” combination, while a private clinician found more widespread pronunciation challenges that warrant extensive intervention, she said.

In the mother’s view, the specialized reading supports provided to Harvey at school, including the Reading Recovery and Barton System programs, have been insufficient to address his dyslexia diagnosis and other challenges. Wells said her son should have “relevant supports” and responsive, one-on-one support in the classroom.

Harvey became increasingly frustrated with his anxiety at school to the point where he went into “full school refusal behaviour” in 2015, Wells said, adding she has tried to homeschool her son since then.

Court records show the human rights commission concluded in November 2021 that the division had reasonably accommodated Wells’ son’s disability-related needs in his schooling.

Wells filed a notice of application on Aug. 22 to request a leave to appeal the commission’s decision. She cited several factors, including a personal health condition, that affected her ability to appeal the decision within 30 days of receiving it.

The rural mother argues a landmark case on the rights of students with learning disabilities in Canada, Moore v. British Columbia (Education) backs her family’s fight for increased funding for Harvey. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a school board discriminated against Jeffrey Moore by not doing enough to give him the help he needed as a student with dyslexia.

In an email, Karen Sharma, acting executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, said she had yet to be made aware of a notice of application for judicial review.

Border Land superintendent Krista Curry did not respond to a request for comment.

“We have an education system that is there to provide education to everybody. It’s also the responsibility of the school to supply relevant support. Should they choose not to supply relevant support, do students then just not get an education?” Wells said. “I don’t think I — or many people — would agree with that.”

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press