© Photo special to The Guardian by Global News
Melanie Bowen, right, looks on as her daughter, Brooklyn Mavis, sheds tears during an interview with Global News in British Columbia. Brooklyn was told she was not allowed to attend a students exchange in Prince Edward Island because of her autism and epilepsy.
Opposition MLA James Aylward wants to know why Education Minister Alan McIsaac has done nothing to resolve a case alleged of discrimination by the P.E.I. school board against a B.C. teenager with autism and epilepsy.
Aylward grilled McIsaac in the legislature Tuesday, calling the issue a national embarrassment for Prince Edward Island.
But McIsaac continually responded by saying the issue is being dealt with by the English Language School Board.
“As usual the minister is hiding and continues to hide behind his unelected school board,” Aylward said.
“He needs to take the responsibility, he needs to show leadership on this file… why don’t you do your job and make sure this embarrassing situation does not happen again?”
Fifteen-year-old Brooklyn Mavis was scheduled to take part in a class exchange trip to P.E.I. in May, but her trip was cancelled after she suffered a complex seizure during an outing last month.
School officials in P.E.I. sent her a letter, saying they felt she was “not currently able to meet the mandate of the exchange with regards to social interaction” with her P.E.I. peers, according to a letter from Bluefield High School.
School officials also cited Mavis’ “inability to cope with the physical stress of an exchange” as a factor in their decision.
Negotiations for the trip continued after this letter, but the final plan for the teen to come to P.E.I. would have seen her staying in a hotel alone with a teacher next door.
The girl’s mother Melanie Bowen also says she has a letter from the P.E.I. school board putting a caveat on her daughter’s participation in the exchange - that she had to apologize and issue a full retraction of public statements she made on social media alleging discrimination against her daughter.
McIsaac said Tuesday he has not seen the letters sent to the family, but assured that school officials were just trying to be prepared for Mavis when she arrived – that they had protocols and procedures to follow.
“We had to make sure that the place is secure, safe and a healthy environment for every student that comes here,” he said.
“We found out a little more when the students were (in B.C.) what the situation actually was, that’s why we have to make different preparations for it,” McIsaac said, referencing Mavis’ seizure.
School board superintendent Cynthia Fleet told The Guardian Tuesday the board has continued to try to work with the family, but Mavis and Bowen have made it clear are no longer interested in coming to P.E.I.
During question period, Aylward said it appeared as though the school board was bullying the girl and her mother by demanding an apology and retraction.
“Why was getting an apology from the mother of this child more important than inclusiveness?” Aylward asked.
“This mother has no reason to apologize. The only thing she is guilty of is sticking up for her 15-year-old daughter who was bullied by this minister’s department.”
He called on McIsaac to issue an apology.
McIsaac instead defended the school board’s handling of the situation.
“In no way is there bullying going on here at the present time,” McIsaac said.
Fleet said she is extremely disappointed they were not able to come to a resolution that would have seen Mavis come to P.E.I.
“I’m disappointed for the student, this was a student who was looking forward to a trip with her friends… there had to be a lot of positive anticipation, and how that’s obviously a great disappointment to her,” Fleet said.
She agreed with Aylward that it has caused embarrassment to P.E.I. and the school board, but stressed this is not typical of the board’s handling of students with disabilities.
“Because of the level that this has gone to, it’s going to be borne for a long time by everyone involved, and it is not a reflection of how we run as a school district.”