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Calgary Board of Education’s All Boys Program faces possible closure

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Calgary Board of Education all boys program faces possible closure
Parents at an all-boys school in Calgary are fighting a possible closure. The Calgary board of education says enrollment numbers are falling and the program's future is up in the air. As Sarah Offin reports - that has some local students with specialized learning needs -- feeling pushed out – Mar 15, 2024

For many families, success in any given school year can feel like a roll of the dice — dependent on teachers, peers and a child’s personal development.

And for those with specialized learning needs, like Danny Piri, an inclusive model used at most Calgary school boards isn’t always a fit.

“He was flagged by his teacher due to hyperactivity and lack of focus in Grade 1,” said Piri’s mom, Deborah Mathias. “At one point they took him and his desk and put them in the hallway.”

“They screamed at me, specifically. Just me. And they were all so calm with the other students,” Piri said of his teachers.

After missing much of the fourth grade, Piri’s move to the All Boys Program at Sir James Lougheed School, part of the Calgary Board of Education, was transformative.

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“Everything was just built into that school — all of the accommodations that we would have asked for — it was just normalized,” described Mathias.

The All Boys Program is a boy-focused hands-on approach, emphasizing leadership and athletics. But many families are drawn to the school for the extra supports.

Click to play video: 'Alberta parents of children with special needs ask province to allow in-person therapy'
Alberta parents of children with special needs ask province to allow in-person therapy

“It kind of evolved over time. The more students they had with those needs, they just met those needs,” described parent council member Simone Lalonde. The parent council raises tens of thousands of dollars every year.

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Accommodations have included dimmed lights, noise control, speech pathology, wiggle chairs and class sizes between nine and 12 students.

“The teachers are really understanding. They calmly tell us, say, if we’re being disruptive, to take a timer and go for a walk,” described Piri.

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As part of a statement to Global News, CBE said, “We are currently gathering feedback with the school community about the future of the program.”

“During the 2018-19 school year, the program was identified on the CBE’s Three-Year System Student Accommodation Plan (SSAP) because of low enrolment and school utilization rates. Since then, enrolment has declined further.”

There are currently about 50 students enrolled in the program.

Parents have their own theories about why the program is in jeopardy.

“This doesn’t fit the model for what they had anticipated of being a boys’ school with a masculine influence,” said Mathias. “It ended up being an accommodated school for ADHD and autistic children.”

“I don’t want to say it’s like picking on the smallest dog, but it kind of is,” said Lalonde. “These kids really need this.”

Parents suggest the CBE should instead be using the program as a model that could replicated across the country. They would like to see the CBE doing more to promote it.

“They just need to get behind it,” said Lalonde. “They need to support their own program.”

The CBE said a recommendation will be made to the board in the fall based on an engagement process that will continue until May. Should trustees decide to move ahead with the closure, the 2024-2025 school year would be the last for the program.

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