© Screen shot from Global TV
By Jodi Tucker (guest opinion)
May 13 should have been a day to remember for its wonderful new experiences for Brooklyn Mavis. Instead it is the pinnacle of tragedy for this 15-year-old B.C. girl with autism and epilepsy who was left behind while her class went to P.E.I. for the second half of their arranged exchange program.
April 24 Brooklyn called SEVEC and the English Language School Board on their practices of inclusion that led to her being dumped out of the trip of a lifetime. All of the official documentation confirms that Brooklyn’s needs were clearly outlined for the SEVEC exchange co-ordinators. Despite a medical release from Brooklyn’s neurologist on April 14, a Bluefield High School spokesperson stated in a conference call on April 15 that the SEVEC board of directors supports their local co-ordinator’s decision to exclude Brooklyn.
We wish we could tell you that there was more information. That truly these people who are paid to have the responsibility for caring for our children had a good reason to worry about Brooklyn — but there is no new information. There is nothing to base such a decision on. No less than seven individuals across three provinces and two levels of government scrambled to point fingers at one another.
Hearsay about Brooklyn’s health was actively circulated by SEVEC’s official spokesperson for this issue which was declared in an email to Brooklyn’s family, begins to entice other parents to direct their questions about the intimate details of Brooklyn’s diagnosis to Brooklyn’s mother.
On April 8, the local co-ordinator posts into a SEVEC-hosted Facebook chat with all the students that should they continue to talk about issues of discrimination they are “risking their own exchanges” and would be doing so “against (his) will.”
We have heard from students in Mission, B.C. and from Bluefield High School who have been afraid to share their support of Brooklyn and are disillusioned about why discrimination isn’t being addressed.
On April 29, the B.C. co-ordinator slammed a classroom door in Brooklyn’s face and then circulated an email to all the B.C. parents apologizing for “inconveniencing” them and the “negative shadow” that has overshadowed the trip. When did cyber-bulling, intimidation, harassment and loss of human dignity become the practices of our educators? When did our federal government start endorsing the erosion of individual diversity that binds our experiences as Canadians in favor of casting blame and avoiding responsibility?
Surely there is a procedure or a policy that governs how not-for-profit organizations and educators engage such issues? Indeed there is. It’s called the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. This is the law. It’s not a suggestion to be applied at our convenience. It is based on our agreement with the United Nations about how human being should be treated.
What happened to Brooklyn is a violation of her human rights. It is a violation of the laws that govern teachers and teacher conduct. It is based on the requirement that organizations be held accountable for how they make decisions. So far there has been no demonstration of accountability from anyone — except Brooklyn and her mother who shared honestly about Brooklyn’s needs and who upheld the Canadian Charter of Human Rights in the face of great opposition.
While the teachers that violated her continue unimpeded on the remainder their exchange — Brooklyn stayed home. She is asking us why those people who did so many wrong things to her are allowed to go and she can’t. She’s right. She did nothing wrong and yet she is still paying the price. While SEVEC continues to post and refine public statements of “health and safety” and antiquated “commendations” of Brooklyn and her mother, parents from across Canada are thanking Brooklyn for speaking up because her story is their story too.
Autism alone is 1 in 88 children. These parents have been to the circus and they have seen the strings. They have heard this “health and safety” argument before and they aren’t buying it. Bullying of children by adults is unconscionable no matter how you attempt to dress it up. Meanwhile the minister of education in P.E.I. states a resolution is forthcoming and the school board superintendent claims no knowledge whatsoever.
Brooklyn has been a true leader here. She has given power back to many when her own power has been stripped from her. While the smoke and mirrors to avoid accountability continue from SEVEC and the English Language School Board, Brooklyn quietly donated her “refunded” fundraising money to other children. Now that she knows many of her fellow students attempted to speak up in support of her and were threatened — she is determined to support them too. That is leadership — all from the child who was told she did “not meet the social mandate” to complete her P.E.I. exchange.
Jodi Tucker is the founder of Kids Matter Inc. in Abbotsford, B.C., a clinician working with kids with autism and developmental disabilities, and a child advocate.