April 27, 2014 3:38 pm

B.C. girl with autism, epilepsy denied student exchange trip to PEI

It was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime for a 15 year-old-girl with autism from Mission, B.C.

Months ago, Brooklyn signed up for a student exchange program to Prince Edward Island through her school, raising funds to pay for the trip and hosting a student from the eastern province in her home.

But Brooklyn has now called off the trip because she says school officials are discriminating against her because she has autism and epilepsy.

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Like most girls her age, Brooklyn dreams of travelling the world, which is what led her to enroll in the exchange program run by Sevec.

Melanie Bowen, Brooklyn’s mom, says she signed waivers about her daughter’s mild disabilities back in November and was accepted to go on a trip on May 13.

However, while hosting students from PEI last month, she had a complex partial seizure, which means she gets flushed and appears to be daydreaming. She was walked to the sick room where she rested before heading home with her mom.

Days later her entire trip was cancelled by Bluefield High School on PEI.

“We feel that Brooklyn was not currently able to meet the mandate of the exchange with regards to social interaction with her twin and PEI peers,” a letter from the school stated.

After dozens of emails and phone calls, Bowen claims the school says the only way Brooklyn can participate is if she stays in a hotel room alone along with a teacher next door.

Brooklyn is devastated by the loss of the trip and says the incident has caused her trouble at school.

“Many of them accepted me, most of them did. But there are a few people who look at me with wary eyes and don’t seem to trust me anymore. It’s just like at my old school again [where I was bullied],” Brooklyn said.

Behaviour consultant Jodi Tucker, who is the founder and CEO of Kids Matter, says what is happening to Brooklyn is a big problem stemming from systemic discrimination.

“What is happening to Brooklyn should be understood in the context of what we value as a society in terms of privacy, identity, what it means to be a Canadian citizen. What Brooklyn is experiencing is not in line with what we feel about inclusion and diversity,” she said.

“Because people don’t know how to respond to differences, they then exclude people with differences… it should never be ok as a society.”

Executive Director of Sevec Wendy Cummings  issued a statement regarding Brooklyn’s case, stating that she “sincerely regrets that this has been upsetting for Brooklyn and her family.

“I would like to reassure everyone that a series of steps were taken to explore ways to accommodate Brooklyn, including participation by representatives of the Center for Epilepsy and Seizure Education during an April 15th conference call SEVEC facilitated that included Melanie, Brooklyn, Brooklyn’s school Principal and Vice-Principal and a PEI school representative. In our role as facilitator, I have contacted the PEI and BC school officials to request a conference call to discuss this matter. I am hopeful that through collaborative and respectful communication this can be resolved,” Cummings said in a statement.

Brooklyn has started a Facebook page to raise awareness against discrimination and is encouraging other people facing similar challenges to support one another.

She already has hundreds of page likes and messages of support are pouring in.

WATCH: Outpouring of support for Mission, B.C. teen denied exchange trip 

Families in PEI are also offering to host her in their own homes.

“My son graduated from Bluefield High School in PEI. He has autism – albeit mild and high function. He went on two Europe trips with students from Bluefield while there. I may be missing something, but my experience was inclusiveness at Bluefield… we live close to Bluefield and would be more than willing to accept her as a billet,” said Neila Auld.

Bluefield High School did not immediately respond to interview requests.

With files from Julia Foy

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