Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 1999
Parents push special needs program
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Twelve-year-old Matthew Mussolum leaves his home at 8:10 every morning to catch the school bus.
Then it's a 10-minute ride with his friends to Ecole St. Angela School in north Edmonton, where Matthew is in the Enriched Education (EE) III program for Grade 6. The program encourages students with learning disabilities to develop according to their capabilities, while integrating them into as many regular classroom activities as possible.
Because of his learning disability, Matthew is an easy target for kids looking for someone to pick on. But his parents aren't worried about him as long as he's at school.
"He's developed a real peer group with the other Grade 6 kids," says Matthew's father Mike. "If someone picks on him on the playground, there are 40 other kids who will stand up for him."
But that could all change in September, and that has Mike Mussolum and other parents concerned.
Matthew and four other students from St. Angela will begin junior high school in September, and the junior high program for EE III students is based at St. Basil School, close to downtown.
"It's taking kids that are already disadvantaged out of their communities and their peer groups, and it doesn't make a lot of sense," Mussolum says.
"They're recognized in their community, so if they're in distress, people know who they are and can help them, and they know where to run if someone is bothering them."
In an unfamiliar neighbourhood, Mussolum says, the children are at risk, particularly since many of them are "less than streetwise."
Add to that, a roundabout bus trip of an hour and a half one way, and you have "a formula for disaster," Mussolum says. Leaving early in the morning and getting home late would leave the children too tired to focus on homework, family activities and getting ready for the next day of school.
So, a group of parents with children in the EE III program at St. Angela and St. Francis schools have been meeting weekly since October to come up with an alternative, and they think they've found one.
St. Edmund's School in north Edmonton has been slated for partial closure in a consultants' report released in February. The parents suggest the unused space be used to house the five junior high students from St. Angela's, three from St. Francis, and two from the St. Angela community who are currently at St. Basil's.
Now they're trying to sell the idea to the Catholic school board. But it hasn't been an easy sell so far.
A presentation was to be made at a board meeting April 26. But a few days before the meeting, Mussolum received word that approval for the presentation was contingent upon first consulting with administration, something the group has been trying to do since January.
A meeting date has now been set for April 29 with the district's director of school operations. Although frustrated, Mussolum says he hopes the meeting will bring some closure to the issue.
"The doors are not closed, because I understand that the budget will not be solidified until the end of May," he says, adding he suspects budgetary considerations will play a big part in any decision.
Part of the presentation the group was to have made to the board included a recommendation that parents and district administration work together to come up with a solution to the issue.
It also suggests that the board develop a policy which would help parents "map" an education path for children with identified learning disabilities. Such a policy would help administration forecast program requirements, and would help parents plan a safe and productive route through school for their children.
For now, Mussolum says, all the parents want is a chance to keep their kids close to home.
Officials from the school board and district administration could not be reached for comment.