In the city of Winnipeg, there are 6 school divisions, and I've come to learn that they don't all operate in the same way. Each school division is given money from the government to disperse at their own discretion.
I didn't know this almost two years ago when I moved from the Louis Riel school division to St. James. Even if I had known this, chances are I would still have moved to St. James, as this was the only place I could find housing. Housing availability right now for renters is at 0%. You can not purchase a decent home for under $250,000 anymore, and they are few and far between. Moving into a new school division is impossible right now.
Our current government in Manitoba is not allowing parents a choice in educating our children. This is not only the province of Manitoba that is binding our hands behind our back, most provinces in Canada are dealing with the same thing. Take for example this case in B.C, where a six year old child has been kicked out of school because of the danger posed by the six year old autistic boy. http://networkedblogs.com/gBomX. "No one referenced in the article speaks of the need to have teachers and aides with autism specific training working with autistic school children." Seeing as how 1 in 150 children (although I believe it's closer to 1 in 100, that's one percent of our children!!!) are being diagnosed with some form of autism, it seems none of the provincial governments in charge of education think it important to train their staff when it comes to autism to successfully "include" our children and mainstream them in public schools. And yet, the provincial government's policy of inclusion prevents parents to seek other alternatives. As parents, we have no choice but to send our children to these public schools, where our children are misunderstood and viewed as difficult or defiant on a daily basis. Staff firmly believe that at the core of the problem is our parenting, rather than viewing autism as a neurological disorder, unless of course the child has classic, low functioning autism. It seems the only province in all of Canada that recognizes autism for what it is, is Alberta, which allows for schools designed for children with special needs, such as Renfrew school http://www.renfreweducation.org/aboutrenfrew/testimonials.aspx, charter schools in Calgary and school of choice in the city of Edmonton. I will give more information on charter schools and school of choice soon. They deserve a post of their very own ;)
So I did some homework I'm sharing with you today. How nice of me, eh?
I've called all six of Winnipeg's school divisions, and they all agree that level 3 funding (meaning your child has a full time aid and they are allowed to be autistic all day long) helps in getting services in the school division for your child. In saying this, you must not only move to their school division, but also live in the catchment area of the school you feel would be the best fit. In other words, Winnipeg is not autism friendly. You may only have autism if you live in a certain are of the city, namely school division 1, which has schools that offer autism programs and adaptive skill programs (aka life skills programs) in their schools.
Some interesting information...
I've posted my email to the premier on the blog. I've talked to our MLA... they contacted Manitoba Education on my behalf. I get a call from a Marlene Gregory from Manitoba Education, who tells me that I should fill out a "school of choice form" and have it submitted by May 15th...
I contacted Winnipeg School division right away, based on my research, it seemed the best thing to do. Barb Ivans informed me that they don't accept these applications for children with special needs. I call Marlene Gregory back sobbing... "They, they, they won't take my baby..."
"Well Lou, the school division has the right to deny you... Call the rest of the school divisions, there are lots of autism programs out there in other divisions..."
And so I did... Did she seriously think she could get rid of me so easily?
Here is the break down of services offered by Winnipeg school divisions:
St. James School Division: (this is the school division my family lives in)
There is only one Occupational Therapist in this school division, who works part time and is spread thin across 26 schools!!! Unbelievable! No wonder Dayton is falling through the cracks!!! The school division has eight speech therapists, and speaking to one of them today, I found out she had seen Dayton ten times since September. I don't understand... Not only did the school not tell me Dayton was being seen by a speech therapist, but they keep telling me that they don't need my help because they are the "professionals." Also important to note, this school division does not require their educational assistants to have a para educator diploma or any post secondary education related to the field. They do offer a para educator program of their own for $7,000.00 and the program lasts 6 months, however it is not mandatory to take the program in order to become someones child's aid. Teacher assistants that take this program will only "touch" on autism briefly during the program. Isn't that FANTASTIC?! (Yes, I'm dripping with sarcasm). School division's phone number is 885-1334, contact person is Candice Borger. Candice was awesome on the phone, knew her school division inside out, and was very concerned about Dayton's school experience. Kristi Benwa, the speech therapist, also was very concerned, and was more than happy to talk to me about my ideas for Dayton's education and what works for me at home. I just wish his school was just as open to ideas... Also, I wish they had stronger programming. This school division has no autism programs or adaptive skill programs. http://www.sjsd.net/
Pembina Trails School Division:
There are 33 schools that make up this school division. They have 8 Speech Therapists and 4 Occupational Therapists, all working full time. The para educators (your child's aid) have two years training in something called Rehab Assistance Program. This program is designed to help aids to follow Occupational Therapy programs!!! This kind of makes me giddy! Sounds really good, but I wonder if it's as good as it sounds. Jane Freesen (the director of Clinical Services) was very professional on the phone and answered my questions well, and made me feel like I wasn't wasting her time. I was really impressed with her ease of navigating through her school division like a pro. She didn't seem to hide anything, and didn't give me any run arounds like most of the school divisions. Unfortunately, this school division has no autism program or adaptive skill programs for elementary school children until they hit middle school... School divisions phone number is 488-1757. http://www.pembinatrails.ca/index.html
River East Transcona School Division:
Mary explained to me that the school division consists of 42 schools. The school division has five Occupational Therapists, some working full time, some part time. They have 8 Speech Therapists, and each therapist services six to seven schools. These therapists do not work one on one with children, they observe and make recommendations. The children are observed once every four to six weeks. The para educators do not require training, and can be hired off the street. Education is not mandatory to be a child's aid. There are no autism programs or adaptive skill programs in the school division. Mary was not interested in talking to me, and made me feel like I was pulling teeth for information... The division's phone number is 222-9577. http://www.retsd.mb.ca/
Louis Riel School Division:
One of my favorite bloggers (Welcome to normal, population 0 at http://www.welcome-to-normal.com/) and fellow autism mom had her son enrolled in a school within this division, and each year she tries to put her son back in school, she yanks him out and home schools her children. My son was also in one of their schools and was locked in a closet size room with the lights turned off and no one could find the keys to the room... Numerous suspensions and numerous physical restraints until the day the staff bruised Dayton's face from his ear to his jaw. Knowing this, I still did the research... You can decide for yourself if this is the school division for you. Who knows, maybe they've changed since we last lived in their school division...
Speaking to Lora Molgat, I learned the school division has an autism support teacher, who has her own para educator that goes around and teaches other para educators on autism, compliments no doubt of my autism mom friend who is a strong advocate for her son. This mom has spent countless hours of time advocating and advocating and advocating some more. Yes, I respect this autism mom very dearly...
The division is in charge of forty schools, with four Occupational Therapists and between ten and twelve Speech Therapists. The division has some adaptive skill programs (Lora wouldn't name them or tell me how many), which are reserved for children with severe autism. They do not have any autism programs, and their para educators have five to seven years experience. Some of the para educators have their para educator diploma from Red River College, some don't. Their phone number is 257-7827. http://www.lrsd.net/
Seven Oaks School Division:
Sharon Holderson is the division's Director of Education and Clinical Support Services (ECSS). The division has twenty-one schools, with four Occupational Therapists (two working full time, the other two work part time), six Speech Therapists (four of them work full time, the other two part time) and three Physio Therapists (I was shocked to find out they had Physio Therapists and forgot to ask if they worked full time, sorry). Some para educators have their diploma some don't. The division is moving away from para educators working one on one with children, which I'm not particularly fond of. All para educators have to take a course in Non Violent Crisis Intervention. While this school division has autism programs for middle schools, they have none for elementary schools (what happened to early intervention???) They have no adaptive skill programs. Their phone number (ECSS) is 582-3383 and the school division's number is 586-8061. http://www.7oaks.org/Pages/default.aspx.
Winnipeg School Division (aka school division one):
This is Winnipeg's largest school division, in charge of seventy-seven schools. I spoke to Barb Ivans, the special needs coordinator, and Julie Miller, a student support services worker. They weren't able to give me the number of Occupational Therapists. They have thirty-five Speech Therapists, eighty percent are working full time. To work as a para educator in the school division, all you need is your grade twelve diploma. Some aids have their para educator diploma, some don't. Their starting wage for level A (meaning the aid does not work one on one, but is a teacher's helper) is $14.69. Level C and D means the aid is working one on one and they make over $18.00 an hour.
Adaptive skill program school: Prairie Rose, Woolsley, Lord Roberts, Norquay, Inkster and Greenway.
Schools offering autism programs: Robertson, Greenway, Inkster and Montrose.
Winnipeg school division number is 775-0231
Student support services (Julie Miller) number is 788-0203
Barb Ivans' (special needs coordinator) number is 774-4525 (this is the one that made me cry)
Oh, and by the way, Barb Ivans informed me that even if I moved to Winnipeg School Division, their autism programs and adaptive skill programs are... FULL!!!
NONE OF THE SCHOOL DIVISIONS ACCEPT THE SCHOOL OF CHOICE APPLICATION IF THE CHILD HAS SPECIAL NEEDS!!!
So, ummmmm, what's the point of this application?!
I'm sorry... WHAT?! For those of you that are perturbed along with me, you can reach Marlene Gregory of Manitoba Education who sent me on this freaking wild goose chase for NOTHING at 945-5563
Marlene, if you're reading this post, you can bet I'll be banging on your door for some answers. For those that wish to join me, here's her office address: Room 307, 1181 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg R3G 0T3
And for the record Marlene, you can't get rid of me.
My friends, consider yourselves hugged.
Marlene, no hugs for you. Maybe a foot up the... nah, you're so not worth it.