Alberta parents fight for funding and support for students who are visually impaired

Click to play video 'Alberta parents rally for more school support for kids who are visually impaired' Alberta parents rally for more school support for kids who are visually impaired
WATCH: A petition for the Alberta government to provide more support and money for students who are visually impaired is getting a lot of support. Tomasia DaSilva reports – Aug 17, 2020

A petition calling for equitable education for all Alberta students is gaining momentum.

Calgary mom Chris Abdalla started the petition on behalf of her 13-year-old son Zachary, who is visually impaired, as well as all Alberta students with vision loss.

“All we’re asking is for them to have the same educational outcomes as their sighted peers,” Abdalla added.

The petition points out the announcement of a new funding model earlier this year, and the disbanding of the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD) and the limitation of Services for Students with Visual Impairements (SSVI), have left the educational supports for Alberta’s students with vision loss vulnerable.

Parents call for support for students with visual impairments
Parents call for support for students with visual impairments. Global Calgary

Read more: ‘Absolutely devastating’: Alberta parents concerned about education support funding review

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Abdalla said educational resources for these kids were already limited before the changes.

“They do not have the best equipment to fit their needs,” she said. “There’s a lot of make-do’s”

Zack Abdalla agreed and is worried it’s only going to get worse.

“A lot of the technology stuff, like the more high-tech things, I feel like I won’t be able to get that,” he said

Gabriel Pigeon said he was already feeling like he wasn’t getting the support he needs.

“It makes me feel different and mad,” the 13-year-old said.

Abdalla said with just weeks to go until schools reopen, the government hasn’t done anything to address their concerns.

“We’re hearing nothing about how the government is going to take responsibility and accountability to ensure that these kids get the same access as the other students.”

Alberta government response

Global News asked the the province to respond to those concerns and the petition.

In a statement, a representative for the education minister said, in part: “The decision to redirect Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD) funding to individual school authorities was made after extensive consultation with school authorities, and all of the funding that used to flow to RCSD remains in the education system.”

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Acting press secretary for education Kassandra Kitz also added: “Budget 2020 includes $556 million for the Specialized Learning Supports Grant. Every single school authority will be seeing an increase in their operational funding and they will receive the funding they need to support all of their students.”

Kitz said if a school authority chooses to change its support programming, that’s a decision it has made independently, despite seeing increases in government funding.

Read more: Parents of Alberta students with disabilities worry about return to school

Pandemic concerns

Abdalla and other parents of children with visual impairments said the possible lack of resources will only worsen with the ongoing pandemic, and they’re stuck in a no-win situation.

“I feel like I’m having to choose between his safety and his education and his future,” she said.

“In Alberta no parent should have to choose between these things.”

Parents call for support for students with visual impairments
Parents call for support for students with visual impairments. Global Calgary

Curtis Ruttle, who is going into Grade 10, said he’s excited to get back into the classroom, but he’s also worried.

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“How they’re going to work with all the restrictions based around COVID(-19),” he said. “I don’t know how all of that will go.”

Cassandra Ruttle agreed.

“I can do most stuff,” the 12-year-old said. “But for other stuff, I’ll need help. Like if there’s arrows on the floors, seeing those, and social distance lines.”

Their parents just hope the system won’t play around with their kids’ lives and futures.

“Please keep us in mind,” mom Christine Sizer said. “These are hard times financially, regardless of COVID(-19), we appreciate that, but just remember those that need an extra hand.”

Concerned parents and their kids will gather in front of the education minister’s office in Red Deer on Aug. 18, and plan to have a rally in front of the Alberta legislature later this month.