'It really is heart breaking': Mom of student with autism faces agonizing back-to-school choice
VANCOUVER -- When COVID-19 shut down B.C. schools in March, Kaye Banez turned her Richmond dining room into a classroom for her eight-year-old son Lazarus, who has autism.
“We called it mommy school,” said Banez. “And he was very much looking forward to mommy school every day.”
But she also had help. Lazarus’ specialized school-based autism supports and classroom instruction were both offered online in the spring, and his parents had hoped to continue with that in September.
“We received an email from the principal last week saying no remote learning will be available,” said Banez.
She has diabetes and doesn’t think her son, who she describes as impulsive and unable to understand physical distancing, can safely return to the classroom to start Grade 3. But if he doesn’t report in-person, he’ll lose out on those school-based autism supports that are funded by the provincial government.
“It really is heartbreaking to have to be faced with that,” said Banez.
The executive director of Inclusion B.C. said many parents of special needs students are having to make agonizing decisions about their child’s health and education. “I don’t think many people want to remove their student from their school-based team,” said Karla Verschoor.
She wants online options made available for special needs students that would keep them connected to their neighborhood school and supports. “I wouldn’t say all students with diverse learning needs want online at home, but I do know that it meets some students needs, and needs to be available for them,” said Verschoor.
With distributed learning classes already at capacity, Kaye Banez has written a letter to the education minister asking that the province ensure all school districts offer online options for children who can prove they need it. Liberal MLA Jas Johal, who represents the riding of Richmond-Queensborough where the Banez family lives, is supporting her.
“I think the fact Lazarus’ mom has to come out and speak out on this, and many other parents have as well, there hasn’t been enough clarity from the ministry of education in regards to what school plans look like,” said Johal. “Many, many parents want a robust online program that’s available, and they’re not seeing that clarity at this particular point.”
If an online option isn’t offered at Lazarus’ independent catholic school, his mother has decided to withdraw him. She’s willing to homeschool both of her kids, but Banez believes the $16,000 of provincial autism funding his school receives for Lazarus should be made available to his parents to they can hire specialists.
“That’s a legitimate complaint that Kaye has raised,” said Johal. “It’s very important that money follow Lazarus and provide the services, because that’s what the money is for.”
With only three weeks left til the school year is set to begin, the uncertainty is taking a toll on Lazarus and his parents. “I think it’s really unfair to have kids that are already vulnerable and to have this extra layer of stress and hardship on them,” said Banez.