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Staff change leaves Landmark student in limbo

By: Dave Baxter

Posted: 08/21/2017 11:30 AM

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Students across Manitoba are preparing to go back to school next month, but one local teen going into her final year of high school says she is now worried recent staff changes will mean Grade 12 is not going to turn out the way she had imagined it would.

"When I found out it was beyond horrible," said Mikayla West, a 17-year-old Landmark resident. "I was looking forward to Grade 12, but now, not so much."

"I just think it’s not going to be that fun of a year. I’m going to have to miss out on a whole lot of things, and I’m not looking forward to it."

West, who will enter the doors of Landmark Collegiate next month, lives with spinal muscular atrophy, and uses a wheelchair to get around.

She found out near the end of her Grade 11 year that, due to staff changes, the educational assistant (EA) who has been working with her for the last two years will not return to Landmark Collegiate this fall.

West declined to give the name of the EA in question, and the EA was not willing to speak to the media.

While at school and on field trips, West needs an EA for personal and physical assistance. Some of the services her EA provided over the last two years require physical strength, as well as a level of compassion and trust between the two individuals. The EA that has worked with West for the last two school years has had to lift her up and help her when she needs to go to the washroom, and West doubts whoever takes over as her EA will have that same physical strength.

"It is difficult for the person helping, and it can be uncomfortable for the person helping and the person being helped with that kind of personal situation, like going to the washroom," West explained.

She said she has come to rely on the physical strength, the personality, and the hard work that her EA has provided over the last two years, and she now fears losing someone she said she "confides in and trusts" and "considers a friend."

"She literally helps me with everything, and we have gotten to the point that she knows what I need before I even say it. I literally just look at her and she knows what I need," West recalled.

"She helps me in class if I need assistance, she helps me go to the washroom, and she comes and gets me and brings me home at end of the day."

One of West’s biggest concerns about the loss of her EA is how it will affect her ability to go on field trips, school camping trips, and other external outings. She wondered if she will even be able to continue to participate in those activities.

"If she goes [away], I’m going to miss out on a bunch of stuff because I can’t go on these field trips now unless my mom comes, and she can’t come if she has to work."

West’s mother, Patricia West, said she is very concerned about what the loss of the EA could mean for West during the upcoming school year, and has reached out to the Hanover School Division and Ian Wishart, Manitoba’s minister of education, to see if there is any way this staff change can be reversed. So far, she said, she has not received an adequate response from either governing body, and feels her and her daughter’s concerns are not being taken seriously.

"We have asked, and they say it is up to the union that she is with, and its collective agreement," Patricia West said. "I’m hoping it’s not a done deal and there is something that can be done, but at this point I really don’t know."

A request for more information on the issue was sent to Randy Dueck, superintendent and CEO of Hanover School Division.

Dueck said he could not comment specifically on West’s issue, but did comment on what he said is the division’s commitment to care for all students.

"Unfortunately, I just cannot see a way that I can address this as it involves speaking about an individual's level of care," Dueck said in an email. "What I will say is that Hanover School Division is always committed to providing the highest standard of care for every one of our students. And we are especially committed to a high level of care for our students that have unique needs."

"Where training is required to provide that high standard of care," Dueck continued, "we will ensure that appropriate training is received."

A request for information was also sent to Wishart. A provincial spokesperson said in an email they have been in touch with the West family, but currently do not believe they can get involved in the decision to move staff at the school.

"Hanover School Division is the employer and, therefore, has the authority to assign staff based on the needs of the school division," the spokesperson said in an email, adding all school divisions in the province work to make sure there is inclusion for all students.

"School divisions consider the needs of each individual student carefully when assigning staff to support them, and training is provided by appropriate health care professionals to ensure the necessary support is provided safely," the spokesperson said.

"School divisions in Manitoba are committed to a philosophy of inclusion and adhere to Appropriate Educational Programming regulations in The Public Schools Act, which states that, ‘School divisions must ensure that school-related activities such as assemblies, sports days and field trips reasonably accommodate the needs of all students.’"

The province also said they have made an offer "for a further follow-up conversation with the West family upon their request."

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