Boy’s schooling up in the air

Mom says officials being unfair by limiting hours

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on June 21, 2014
Zachary Adams hasn’t been attending full school days due to behavioural issues.  His mother doesn’t believe that’s fair. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

The treatment a little boy is receiving at a St. John’s elementary school is nothing short of emotional abuse, says his mother.
And now the family will have the whole summer to think about it.

“They said he’s staying on reduced days (in September),” Christina Adams told The Telegram Thursday after a meeting with officials from St. Andrew’s Elementary.

Over the past five months, her son Zachary Adams hasn’t been attending full school days and has been unable to participate in field trips and outings.

During free time, such as recess and before classes start in the morning, she said he has to sit in the office because they don’t want him around other children.

“They said he’s a safety risk. I understand where they’re coming from, but it’s not always his fault and, when he’s having good days, why can’t they let him stay and learn with his friends?” she said, becoming emotional.

Adams said she’s the first to admit Zachary can be difficult and hard to handle, having been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and other behavioural issues during the past couple of years.

But she’s adamant that keeping him out of school is the wrong action to take.

“He’s not learning as much as he should. He’s missing out playing with his friends. He’s such a good little boy and nobody sees it. I don’t think the school is doing what it should be doing to help us,” Adams said.

She thumbs through a journal that contains messages sent home about Zachary on a daily basis.

“Refused to come to sit on the floor and participate. Refused to write in his agenda. You know children with ADHD find it hard to sit still and write. To me, all I see is emotional abuse towards my son,” said Adams.

“I said that to them at the meeting and they weren’t very happy, but I don’t know what else to think. He’s not getting the help he needs.”

While Zachary has had his moments, she said it all came to a head in January when he was suspended after an aggressive outburst towards a student and staff members. A letter says he pushed a student and was running “uncontrollably around the classroom.”

Once in the office, he threw chairs, hitting and injuring a teacher and punched staff.

Again, Adams said she understands the safety issue, but she questions why is it happening.

“I don’t know. I’m not there. What is causing him to do this? This is what we need to look at,” she said.

Schools and board officials aren’t permitted to speak about individual students and their circumstances.

However, Lucy Warren, assistant director of programs for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said suspending students is a last resort for schools.

“It is a punitive measure, and that is not where our first choice would be,” she said in an interview Friday.

“We have positive behavioural intervention supports in our schools and suspension is only for the most extreme cases and then we  put supports in place for the student and a transition to return to school,” said Warren.

She explained the use of reduced days or partial-day programing is a strategy schools use in extenuating circumstances for students who have challenges with being in school full days.

For those students, Warren explained a team puts together an educational plan, but only after a long list of other interventions have been tried and proven to be unsuccessful.

“When we put it in place, it is reviewed every two weeks by the team who looks at how the child has responded while in school,” she said.

“Our goal is to always increase the amount of time a child is in school. As soon as we see progress, we would increase that time, and it is ongoing. The intent is to increase the partial day as soon as a student is able to function for longer periods of time,” said Warren.

Zachary’s mother said she hasn’t seen any of that going on with her child and has since sought the help of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

When contacted by The Telegram Friday, advocate Carol Chafe said she is unable to discuss individual cases.

However, she did say concerns about educational issues is an example of the type of calls her office receives.

“We get contacts and calls on different issues that can relate to education, health, justice or housing,” she said.

“For school issues, we will assess what the situation is and see what our role can be in terms of helping parents and schools come to a resolution while always focusing on ensuring the rights of the child are the focus and they receive the services they need,” said Chafe.

She said if a child is experiencing any type of health issue and/or behavioral issue, parents should consult with their family doctor who can refer the child to the appropriate health professionals.

And parents should work collaboratively with health professionals and school officials to develop a plan that focuses on the needs of the child, while also ensuring the safety of all involved.

Chafe said if a parent or professional is concerned that the rights of the child are not being considered, or that services are not meeting the child’s needs, they can contact her office by phone at 709-753-3888, toll free at 1-877-753-3888 or via email at office@ocya.nl.ca.

bbelec@thetelegram.com