TORONTO — Marcy White has spent the last five months fighting for her 10-year-old son Jacob Trossman to attend Elkhorn Public School more than one half-day a week, but on Aug. 27 she was informed that the Toronto District School Board wouldn’t allow it.
Jacob has Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease and is unable to walk or talk. White feels the school meets his needs in ways that other schools can’t.
“There’s no way I’m letting this go,” she told The CJN after learning of the decision. She said she was not given a reason that Jacob would not be allowed to spend more than half a day a week at the school.
In response to a request to talk to Donna Quan, the board’s deputy director of academics, who made the decision, TDSB communications officer Ryan Bird said that, “due to privacy and confidentiality concerns, we cannot comment on specific cases. However, I can say that whenever decisions are made with specific accommodations, the dignity and safety of students is paramount.”
TDSB trustee Howard Goodman has been an advocate for Jacob and – as he put it – a navigator/translator for White and TDSB staff since she contacted him for help earlier this year.
In March, The CJN published White’s first-person account about Jacob’s experience at Elkhorn, where he was integrated for a half-day a week last year. She wrote that it was an “outstanding” arrangement, and that everyone benefited from it.
White said that within a week of her article appearing, she received a phone call from then school principal Paul Farrell to inform her that the TDSB wanted the arrangement to end by Easter, but he arranged for Jacob to stay until the end of the school year, she said.
White would like her son to be at Elkhorn three days a week, or even five.
“All I want is for my son to have the academic and social education he deserves,” White said. “He’s been there for over a year. We should know that it works.”
She said that at his other school, Sunny View Public School, there are no children his age at his cognitive level, and the school doesn’t follow the standard curriculum, although the staff is “caring [and] loving.” He takes part in a communications program there.
White said that Jacob is at his age level cognitively, but that people are quick to assume he doesn’t understand, because he doesn’t speak and has trouble moving.
“He can understand things, and can respond and learn,” she said. At Elkhorn, there were also social benefits: for the first time, he had play dates with his schoolmates.
White noted that there were benefits for other students as well. In a letter she provided, Cheryl Libman – Jacob’s teacher at Elkhorn last year – said Jacob’s impact was “so significant that his peers ‘argue’ over who will sit beside Jake, walk beside him down the hall, hold his hand or help him during art or French.”
She also wrote that Elkhorn has been “an incredibly accepting and safe” environment for Jacob.
White said there have also been letters of support from parents at the school.
She said she was told that there needs to be a ramp at Elkhorn for Jacob to attend the school. But, she said, “there is a ramp. There’s even a handicapped parking spot in the lot.”