Parents of child with autism frustrated with tougher school zoning rules

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Parents of child with autism frustrated with tougher school zoning rules

The parents of a grade 3 student at West Kent Elementary say they're running into roadblocks trying to keep him at the school. 

Felicity and Jeremy Measham said their son Harrison has autism, and will have to attend the much larger Spring Park Elementary in the fall, unless they're granted a zone transfer from the Public Schools Branch. 

"Consistency is great for [children with autism]. Change can sometimes be catastrophic," said Felicity Measham.  "And my concern is, he's thriving now, and if we move him to a larger, unknown school, he's potentially going to have some serious setbacks."

The Meashams said they've always been zoned for Spring Park, but haven't had any trouble keeping Harrison at the smaller West Kent, where he's gone to school since kindergarten. 

No exception for Harrison

However, the Public Schools Branch (PSB) said it's being stricter with zone transfers, only granting them in exceptional circumstances. 

As part of PSB's new transfer application, parents are asked to provide a "letter of support from the involved branch-based consultant respecting a health, safety or learning need."

But the Meashams say Harrison's autism consultant won't write that letter, because she thinks he'll be fine at Spring Park. 

"[That] in my opinion isn't a fair assessment, because she only sees him a few times throughout the year," said Felicity Measham.

"If you're not going to make an exceptional rule for a child that has a learning disability or special needs like autism, then who are you going to make an exception for?"

The branch's student services director Julia Gaudet says parents can still submit transfer applications without letters of support from consultants, and that the branch will still consider the applications. 

Transfer unlikely without consultant support

But Gaudet cautions that without a consultant supporting the transfer, it's not likely to be granted.  

"If I had an autism consultant stepping back and saying, 'No, this child can make it [in their new school],' we'd be looking to refuse that application," said Gaudet. 

"Autism consultants have insight into the student through their direct involvement," she said.

"They also have a view or understanding of the system in the schools and the other dynamics and variables at play in the education world that the parent doesn't have."

The Meashams said they're still planning to submit their application, along with a letter of support from Harrison's pediatrician. 

They're hoping that will carry enough weight to keep their son at West Kent.

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