Parents plead for special needs transportation

All eight-year-old Casey Gould wants to do is ride on the school bus with his friends.
But Casey has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy—a disorder where muscles and strength degenerate over time—and soon will need to use an electric wheelchair to get around.
When that happens, he’ll have no way to get to school because the Northwest Catholic District School Board has no transportation system in place for wheelchair-bound children living in rural areas.
Casey’s parents made a presentation on the issue at the board’s regular monthly meeting, which was held Saturday up in Dryden.
“We basically said, ‘Let’s get going on this, we don’t have time to waste,’” Roger Gould said from his home outside Dryden on Monday.
The Goulds, along with two other sets of parents with special needs children, asked the board to look into either acquiring a bus with a wheelchair lift or finding a private company willing to offer the service.
Currently, Casey Gould travels to and from St. Joseph’s School in a taxi, which he must be lifted into and out of each way.
“This is a serious issue. He’s getting bigger and my wife’s back isn’t getting any better,” Gould said, adding he was equally concerned for teacher assistants who must lift his son out of the cab once he gets to school.
He added it’s difficult to have his son’s education rely on the ability of his parents to get him to school.
“What happens if your vehicle breaks down, or I lose my licence because of illness or something? My son won’t be able to get to school,” he stressed.
Education Director John Madigan said the board is aware of the issue.
“The board has been trying very hard this school year to explore different avenues and find a partner,” he said Monday. “We can’t find a partner in Dryden.
“We’ve checked with the Ministry of Transportation to see if there are any grants possibly available that we haven’t followed up on,” he added.
“It’s urgent in our mind, too,” Madigan continued. “We recognize the situation is very difficult for the family and it’s difficult to find a solution to it.”
Board chair Wade Petranik said one of the main problems is that handi-van services don’t extend outside Dryden city limits to where Casey lives.
“We’re trying to come up with solutions to transport this child but it’s a difficult problem,” Petranik admitted.
He added the board had approached Dryden handi-services about transporting Casey, as well as a couple of other children to school, but said there were scheduling concerns as well as taking away service from others who depend on it.
“Part of it is that there aren’t too many of these kids and they’re scattered all over the place. It’s difficult to get an economy of scale,” Petranik noted.
Gould said his presentation was received well, and was looking forward to the board’s next meeting in April when administration will return with a report—and possible solution—on this issue.
“I was pleased. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait and hope,” he said.
At Saturday’s meeting, the board also discussed a class size report which noted the average class size of primary students at 22.77 and the average size of all elementary classes at 23.54 students, both of which meet provincial requirements.
The largest class sizes in the board were in Fort Frances, where St. Michael’s School had an average of 25.28 students in each class while St. Francis School had 24.75.
“Classroom space is a problem. We’re packed at St. Michael’s School,” Petranik said.
With latest census data from Statistics Canada showing a decrease in population here, the board projects classroom sizes will drop in the future.
Also Saturday, the board approved:
•the appointment of Melissa McNabb as a full-time long-term occasional unqualified teacher at St. Joseph’s School, and the resignation of Lisa Bailey as a part-time educational assistant at Sacred Heart School;
•the financial variance report, which outlined how much of the school board’s budget has been spent so far this year; and
•a performance appraisal policy for the director of education, which will be conducted annually.