Kurt Headrick is chief chemist at a major industrial project and a career consultant with the American Chemical Society.
He’s a smart guy, brilliant even.
So, if the system can fail his autistic son Adam — despite a full-on fight from Headrick and his wife, Danielle — he believes it can fail anyone.
He’s right, sadly, and that’s why everyone should know his story.
CBC watchers might recognize Headrick’s name from a recent piece about a father who contends the former Labrador school board didn’t meet his son’s needs.
Based on the “War and Peace”-sized stack of documents Headrick gave me this week, it’s obvious why he feels the education system fell short for Adam, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and an anxiety disorder at five.
On top of the documents: Adam’s Grade 2 report card from Edmonton’s Queen Alexandria School.
The final grades are all Bs, with the exception of an A in science that likely made his chemist dad real proud.
“Adam is a very capable student with an enthusiastic attitude about learning many things,” Mrs. Humphrey wrote under the personal development section of the progress report dated June 27, 2004.
But what a difference a couple of years and a transfer to Queen of Peace Middle School in Labrador made.
Under five subjects in Adam’s Grade 5 report, the teacher wrote “Unable to evaluate.”
Headrick says Adam needed a half-time aid and flexibility when he started at the school.
The absence of those supports traumatized his boy, and that trauma compounded his son’s needs — needs the school was never able to meet, despite its attempts.
Eventually, Headrick says, Adam was being treated as a problem child and the school abandoned its policies.
He was concerned about the way staff dealt with his son.
After two really frustrating years of poor attendance and escalating problems with the school, they ended up taking Adam out of Queen of Peace.
The Headricks left Labrador and moved to St. John’s in 2007, banking on getting more support there. Immediately after relocating, they filed a complaint with the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.
The complaint, with disability as the grounds of discrimination, was against Queen of Peace school, the Labrador School Board, and the minister of education (Joan Shea at the time).
The Headricks argued Adam didn’t get support deemed medically necessary.
And so began a human rights investigation that would take years, inconceivable considering a child’s education was at stake.
As that played out in late 2009, pediatric psychologist Dr. David Day diagnosed Adam with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Is it possible a condition usually associated with soldiers who witnessed war atrocities was gripping a teenager because of his experience at a Labrador school?
It’s a startling notion, and Headrick says Day was under government pressure to change his diagnosis.
Day was suspended for unknown reasons in 2010 and Headrick hasn’t spoken to him since. The psychiatrist is no longer at the Janeway.
In 2011 — four years after the human rights complaint was launched — the Headricks filed a statement of claim for “damages arising out of and relating to the diagnosis of PTSD inflicted” by the Labrador School Board.
The board then asked that the human rights complaint be deferred until the civil suit was settled.
Three days after that deferral was denied on Nov. 19, 2012, Human Rights Commission investigators finally issued a report.
The large document was dismissed by the commissioners this March. No explanation or reasons were given — a complete shock to the Headricks considering they felt investigators were initially excited about the family’s documentation of what had happened.
Headrick is left with a lot questions.
Why did the investigation take so long?
Why didn’t the Human Rights Commission explain why the complaint couldn’t proceed?
Why did it dismiss the complaint when the school board never denied that it had failed to accommodate Adam when he started at Queen of Peace?
Was the Human Rights Commission influenced politically?
And what happened to Dr. Day?
The Headricks dropped the civil suit, thinking the prospects for getting justice were slim given the commission’s dismissal.
They could ask for a judicial review of the human rights investigation, but that would be a costly move that could take years.
Headrick says the commission would not have to follow the ruling of such a review. (The commission, however, says it would be bound by the terms of any court order.)
There’s no mechanism to hold anyone accountable, Headrick says.
He knows the same kind of systemic failure will continue to happen, and that worries him.
Meanwhile, Adam is now 17 and no longer in school.
He’s bright and writes a blog, but the PTSD raises his anxiety level and makes it extremely difficult for him to be in a classroom setting.
Headrick says it’s been that way since his son attended Queen of Peace, which, according to an internal report that made news this spring, was a toxic place to work where kids are treated with disrespect.
He doesn’t know what the future holds for Adam, but he’s not giving up on him.
His efforts involve sharing this story with the hope of making a difference.
Email Steve Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This article was updated Oct. 8, 2-13.)