SPALLUMCHEEN – A North Okanagan family is speaking out against the North Okanagan – Shuswap School District’s plan to close alternate school programs for kids with mental health and behavioral challenges.
An Armstrong mom fears shuttering the programs will compromise her son’s future but the school district argues the move will allow them to provide more services to a larger number of kids.
In the wake of a car accident in 2011, Devin Caza, 11, lives with a list of conditions including PTSD, OCD and ADHD.
The family was living in Ontario at the time and his mother, Stephanie Hatherill, said he was having a lot of trouble in school there.
Hatherill said Devin was bullied and so anxious that he couldn’t learn.
“Things got really bad to the point where he did some things like setting fires and running away from the school constantly,” she said.
The family moved to B.C. for a fresh start and Devin was accepted into an alternate program in Armstrong at the end of last September.
“He was actually progressing and doing very well. Our family started becoming a family again. [Before] it was just so broken that we thought that we would never get our lives back and Devin wouldn’t have a future,” said Hatherill.
However, now four of the school district’s five alternate programs, in Armstrong and Salmon Arm, are slated to close. Students, including Devin, are expected to move back to their neighbourhood schools.
Instead, the district plans to provide mental health and behavioral programming in neighbourhood schools. The district has argued that will allow them to provide more support to a larger number of students.
The school district’s director of student learning, Morag Asquith, points out the alternate programs that are closing only serve 32 students each year.
“We have over 200 to 300 students that we were not servicing,” said Asquith. “Keeping our alternate programs in our system really did take away from the other students that required those services.”
The district also says that the restructuring will mean two full time positions will be added.
“For the first time in seven years we are able to say that we are adding supports for special needs students rather than taking away,” said Asquith.
However, Hatherill is hoping school officials will change their minds and keep the alternate programs open.
“I feel like without [the alternate program] Devin doesn’t have a future and these poor children don’t have a future. They need help,” Hatherill said.
Right now, three alternate programs are set to close by September and a fourth will shut its doors part way through the next school year.
A fifth alternate program for older students in Salmon Arm will remain open.