Funding dispute keeps Alberta student with autism out of his dream school

WATCH ABOVE: A St. Albert student was accepted to Victoria School but was just told he can no longer attend. Fletcher Kent has the story.

EDMONTON — A St. Albert mother believes her son, who lives with a form of autism, is being discriminated against after he was accepted to Victoria School for the Arts in Edmonton, then later told he would not be able to attend this fall.

Caitlin Wray’s sons, Seth and Simon, both applied to get into the Edmonton arts school in the spring and both were accepted. With a passion for video game design, Simon, who lives with Asperger’s syndrome, was elated when he received his acceptance letter.

“I didn’t think I was going to get in but I actually did and I was really happy,” Simon, who will be entering Grade 7 in the fall, said with a smile. “I spaced out for a second. Then I ran around the house 10 times.”

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Over the summer, the family moved from Edmonton to St. Albert, and Edmonton Public Schools told Wray Simon could only attend Victoria School for the Arts if designated provincial special needs funding was transferred from St. Albert Public Schools.

“It sounded like a routine process. It sounded like it would not be a problem,” said Wray.

However, St. Albert Public Schools said no.

“We were all devastated. My head was spinning. I was trying to think about where my kids are going to go to school at the same time as thinking this is unfair for my son,” said Wray.

According to the school board, its first focus is providing programming in the district.

“Only when administration feels that we cannot provide adequate programming do we consider sponsorship in another district,” said Barry Wowk, superintendent for St. Albert Public School.

“Our practice has been only for providing specific special ed programming that we couldn’t fill, not programs of interest.”

Now, one week before they’re supposed to head back to class, Wray isn’t sure where her boys will go to school. She doesn’t believe it’s fair that Seth is still allowed to go to Victoria School but Simon is not.

“The bottom line is, on September 8 when classes start at Victoria all sorts of non-disabled kids from my community, from my son’s community, will be heading to Victoria School of the Arts to access that specialized arts education,” she said.

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“He competed in the same process that they did and he proved himself in the same ways that they did, but he won’t be allowed to go when they are. And for us, that’s a clear issue of discrimination.”

Wray said Simon has remained positive throughout the ordeal, but doesn’t believe he should have to suffer because of the policy.

“I think a lot of special needs parents will understand that there are times in your child’s life when people put barriers in their way,” she said, holding back tears. “And we’re really tired of barriers being put in our son’s way that he has worked so hard to overcome.”

In a statement to Global News, the province said it has spoken with Wray “to help provide information and to connect her to the right people and boards to find a solution that works for her child.”

On Tuesday Education Minister David Eggen responded to the situation. “I think that it’s important to respect the level of government which the trustees represent, and their responsibilities as well,” he said while appearing on Global Edmonton’s Morning News Ask The Educator segment.

“So I certainly have made it clear, as I am announcing today, that I expect that the school boards can find some resolution to this issue as soon as possible,” Eggen added.

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Bruce Uditsky with Inclusion Alberta said his organization deals with this type of scenario all too often and the province should do something about it.

“I think if you’re going to allow children from one district to be able to choose another district it’s either for all or for none. To say it’s for some is discriminatory,” said Uditsky. “The province and the districts have to work out a way to make that happen more readily for all kids.”

Simon remains hopeful he will be in class at Victoria School for the Arts next Tuesday.

“At first I was devastated but I feel a little bit better now because lots of people are supporting me,” he said.

The Edmonton Public School Board was not available to comment on this story on Monday.

With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.

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