Parents concerned by possible closure of Calgary school for students with learning disabilities

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WATCH ABOVE: It’s an uncertain future at a Calgary Catholic school for students with special needs. St. Anthony School is facing potential closure. As Sarah Offin reports, worried parents wonder what it will mean for their kids – Nov 16, 2016

School hasn’t always been easy for 11-year-old Joshua Stalker. His challenges have included a learning disability, autism and brain cancer -something he’s been fighting since he was five.

But he credits his special school with impressive developments he’s made over the last year.

“Since I’ve been in St. Anthony’s, my reading has levelled up to the next level,” Stalker said. “My favourite subject is math. I love science.”

St. Anthony School offers exclusive enrolment to students with learning disabilities from grades four to six. But about a month ago, Joshua brought home a letter from school informing parents about a possible closure.

“Right now, we’re looking at a proposal for moving the programs from St. Anthony to two different schools within our school district and that will provide us with improved accessibility and as well increased capacity for those in the program,” Cheryl Low, the board chair for the Calgary Catholic School District (CSSD) said.

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It’s a possibility Joshua’s family has found deeply unsettling.

“If they close St. Anthony they would place Joshua into another school, which happens to be the feeder school for this area for one year… and then he would go on to the school he is supposed to go into for seven, eight and nine,” Joshua’s mom, Victoria Wychick, said. “That’s a lot of change.”

Valerie Hong shares some of Wychick’s concerns. Her five-year-old daughter Shayla was diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder at a young age. She’s only in kindergarten now, but says options for students with learning disabilities can be limited.

“These kids with learning disabilities and special needs … they need the support and then once they get out into the school system, the support is not there,” Hong said.

CSSD assures parents the same programming will remain in place with St. Anthony students congregated at their new schools. But some parents worry about bullying.

“Just the thought that he’s going to end up going somewhere he doesn’t fit in, that he’s going to go backwards again and become insecure … is a very difficult thing to see,” Wychick said.

CSSD said the closure is by no means a done deal. A public meeting was held Nov. 8 and it said consultations are continuing with parents. Anyone with concerns or questions has been advised to contact their local school trustee.

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The board will vote on the proposal at the end of the month.

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