A Harrow mom is speaking out for what she says is the public school board’s failure to handle her seven-year-old son’s education and medical needs.
Jessica McCoy says Harrow Public School limited her son’s access to class time and hasn’t accommodated his health concerns in a timely manner.
McCoy’s issues with the school went back to February last year. At that time, she said her son, who was in senior kindergarten, was only allowed to attend school for one hour a day. She was told it was because Jack was misbehaving.
However, Ontario’s Education Act says that a school board can only reduce the length of a day specifically for a student in a special education program.
Because of this, McCody said she was unable to work as she had to be on call to pick up Jack and stay home with him.
McCoy says that Jack would get in trouble for hiding in a locker, jumping off a table or throwing things, which he understands are not acceptable. But she says the school should be able to handle it.
The school, according to McCoy, told her they don’t have the staff to deal with it.
“To me, I felt bullied by the principal at the time. Like it didn’t matter what I was [said]I was always in the wrong,” she said.
“I have to look out for my child’s best interest and my child deserves an education, he deserves to be in school, not treated like a monster. I feel like my child was a monster and I failed. When I look at it now, I don’t think I failed, I think the school system failed.”
McCoy says she even took Jack to Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Regional Children’s Center to get his behavior assessed, but was told that he didn’t have any issues. She said the center noted it was likely the school environment that caused him to act out.
The school slowly increased his class time and he returned to a full schedule by the end of May last year.
Epilepsy diagnosis not addressed
Earlier this year, Jack was diagnosed with epilepsy — a condition that causes seizures.
McCoy says the seizures could be causing him to be aggressive or irritable and he’s now just starting medication, which can also change his actions.
Since his diagnosis in April, his mother said he was unaware of any plans the school had made to accommodate his son. McCoy says she wants to know that staff are trained to handle his seizures.
These situations have left her feeling frustrated and worried about the school’s ability to not only educate her son, but also, to keep him safe.
WATCH: McCoy says he wants the school to be responsive
School board won’t comment
CBC News reached out to the Greater Essex County School District Board (GECDSB) for comment, but was told in an email the board wouldn’t comment as it would be a breach of the student’s privacy.
McCoy says she feels like she’s never had a productive conversation with the principal about Jack’s education, despite her attempts to have one.
She also said she had reached out several times to the board’s superintendent of education Todd Awender, but has not heard back.
It was only after CBC News reached out to the principal and the board that the school is now trying to schedule a meeting with McCoy.
“It’s just a hopeless system,” she said.
McCoy says that over the last year and a half, he’s experienced unprofessional behavior from the principal at the school.
Although Jack is now in Grade 1 full-time, McCoy says he still encounters problems.
For example, earlier this month, McCoy said the school told her she had to pick up Jack, because he didn’t get ready for the bus in time. When she arrived at the school, she said the principal told her that Jack wouldn’t be allowed to attend class the next day, without much of an explanation.
McCoy stresses that she has no issue with the teachers at the school.
When asked about allegations of unprofessional behavior, as well as a lack of response from the board, the GECDSB’s public relations officer Scott Scantlebury said in an email that that is “a personnel issue, which we would … not discuss publicly.”
He added that there are many “avenues” for parental concerns to be addressed and said “[I] assure you they are heard when served through the proper channels.”
Essex mayor says there are multiple concerns from parents
Essex Major Sherry Bondy, whose own children go to Harrow Public School, says she isn’t surprised by McCoy’s experiences.
Bondy says her own daughter requires accommodations and it’s been challenging to coordinate this with the school. She also posted to Facebook last year about the school and says she had about 17 families reach out to her with similar concerns about their children not having the support they need.
“They all had similar themes where the responsiveness wasn’t what they expected when they came to approach the school board administration, when they came to get forms filled out, [individual education plans] in place, meeting with parents,” she said.
“And so these children were just hanging in [limbo] for quite a while and not getting the proper supports they need, at the early age they need.”
Bondy says she has brought these concerns to the GECDSB’s director of education, Erin Kelly, and that she was told parents need to approach administration and the superintendent.
But, since this doesn’t appear to help, Bondy says parents have told him they are considering transferring their children from the public board to the Catholic board.
CBC News reached out to the Ministry of Education, but did not provide comment.