Paths2Learning, a Halifax private school for students with special needs, is closing its doors this March due to financial problems.
Executive Director Crystal Harms says despite fundraising efforts, the school simply doesn’t have enough money to continue operating.
“I have a huge dedication to my staff, and a fiscal responsibility to the not-for-profit to leave us in good standing,” Harms said Thursday.
“I will not put us in a position where we start incurring tremendous amounts of debt. We need to either break even. At this point, we will probably come out of this with a small amount of debt that I will likely have to find a way to cover but we cannot continue in this way.”
Paths2Learning opened about three years ago and has grown to include 15 students between the ages of three and 19, as well as eight specialized teachers. Some students attend the school full-time, while others “co-school” by spending part of their week at a public school and part at Paths2Learning.
Over the past two years, the school has been applying for Designated Special Education Private School status with the province. That designation would have allowed parents to receive funding for tuition.
However, the school’s application was rejected last week because they could not prove they were financially stable.
“We’re not saying to Paths2learning that they can’t continue to operate, that they can’t do their fundraising but what we are saying to the parents is before we provide tuition support for your child to go to that school, we want to make sure that it’s a stable, viable school,” said Karen Casey, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Harms says without the designation, there is no choice but to shut down their school program by the end of March.
“I kind of understand they don’t want to put public funds into something that looks like it’s unstable but I think what we do here is pretty unique,” Harms said.
“I’m saddened by the decision because I think we could have made this work.”
Sarah Hubley’s son, Alex, has been a student at Paths2Learning since last fall. The Grade 7 student was diagnosed with autism at age five and up until recently, had trouble with social interaction.
“We went through the public school system from primary to Grade 6 and we were never able to find balance. Since he started in September 2015 to now, we’ve seen him reach milestones we never thought he’d be able to reach,” Hubley said.
With the school’s closure, Hubley expects she will have to hire a private instructor for the remainder of the year before Alex returns to public school in the fall.
“When he was in public school, we never found a balance between his social and his academic. The people that he had access to here are people that in the public school system, he will only have access to maybe once or three times a year,” she said.
“We need to get these children educated so they can become productive members of society. My hope was that my child was going to go to college. I don’t have that hope anymore having him in public school.”
Harms says she’s hopeful the students will be able to make a smooth transition to public school and maintain the skills and progress they’ve made.
“We want our kids to be able to get what they need from here and then move on. So I’m hopeful that during this transition, in the next couple months that we can see the kids take the skills and continue to be successful.”
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