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Richmond mom of student with autism faces back-to-school dilemma

By Don Fennell

Published 12:32 PDT, Fri August 21, 2020

Last Updated: 12:44 PDT, Fri August 21, 2020

A Richmond parent is agonizing over the Education Ministry’s back to school plan.

Kaye Banez, whose son Lazarus is on the autism spectrum, says students with special needs are at risk if they are forced to return to classes. She is instead requesting they have access to remote learning through their current schools.

“In our case, in Larazus’ case, (going back to school) is not safe,” she says.

In a letter written to Education Minister Rob Fleming on behalf of Autism BC, with whom she serves as vice-president on its board of directors, Banez explains that Lazarus needs “hands-on” support. Though gifted, notably in music, the Grade 3 student can get easily impulsive, distracted and dysregulated to the point where he will lay on the ground. In addition, he will touch dirty surfaces and then immediately put his hand into his mouth, as well as take random objects and chew on them as a form of soothing behaviour.

“Many kids on the spectrum are unable to adhere to the COVID safety protocols of the school,” she writes in the letter. “The greatest risk always falls upon the most vulnerable. Our special needs children are the most vulnerable.”

Banez writes that in March, after the pandemic was declared that effectively closed all schools, Lazarus and his sister Estella (who is neurotypical and entering Grade 1) began their remote learning journey through their school and were “thriving.” She says the teachers and education assistants offered support via Zoom calls to help ensure learning objectives were met. Speech therapy and behavioural therapy also moved online.

“(Lazarus) was safe, happy, included and well-connected to his peers and teachers,” Banez says. “Everyone’s safety is our No. 1 priority, especially in the case of our family, where there are immunocompromised members like grandparents and those who have pre-existing conditions,’ she says. “The only safe option for our family and other families who are in similar situations is for our children to continue to learn from home.”

Banez stresses when she says learn from home, she doesn’t mean withdrawing from the children’s current school and applying to district learning schools that have no availability. 

That leaves, she says, homeschooling as the only option—problematic for parents of children with Autism spectrum disorder. Not only will their children lose their spots in school, with no guarantee they can return to their previous school community when the pandemic is over, but the children will be excluded from any school community, and children with autism over the age of six will lose a huge portion of the essential autism funding that the brick and mortar and district learning schools use to provide for the needs of these children, Banez says.

“The solution we would like to see is an education system that will provide a remote learning option at the brick and mortar schools, so that high-risk and vulnerable children can continue to learn safely and continue to belong in their school community,” she says.

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