Mother of B.C. teen with disabilities says they feel harassed, intimidated by P.E.I. school board

Teresa Wright, The Guardian
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CHARLOTTETOWN - The mother of a B.C. teenager with autism and epilepsy who was disallowed from taking part in an exchange trip to P.E.I says her daughter feels harassed and discriminated against and no longer wants to come to Prince Edward Island.

Melanie Bowen says she has a letter from P.E.I.’s English Language School Board stating her 15-year-old daughter Brooklyn Mavis could only participate in the trip to P.E.I. if she issued a letter of apology and a full retraction of public statements she has made alleging her daughter had been discriminated against.

“There were several plans put in place, and we had agreed to most of them, but it was when a plan was brought to us that required me to apologize to a teacher from Bluefield High School for hurting his feelings and they required me to recant any allegations of discrimination, that’s when the plans came to a full halt,” Bowen said.

Fifteen-year-old Mavis was accepted into the exchange trip to P.E.I. through SEVEC (Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada) months ago, but everything changed after she suffered complex partial seizure during an outing while the P.E.I. students were in B.C. last month.

Mavis’ school principal received a letter from Bluefield on April 1, saying the P.E.I. school would no longer be able to host Mavis due to her “inability to cope with the physical stress of an exchange.”

No one from Bluefield High School would respond to repeated requests for comment, directing all inquiries to school board.

The Guardian was asked to leave the premises Monday while attempting to ask students for comment in a parking lot adjacent to the school.

Board superintendent Cynthia Fleet said Monday she is ‘very surprised and very disappointed’ by allegations of discrimination by the B.C. teen.

Fleet says negotiations with the family continued after April 1 letter, as school officials tried to work out a way to allow Mavis to participate in the trip.

“There was a meeting whereby we were certainly able to get full information around the situation and what would be required to provide appropriate supports for the student when she came to P.E.I.,” Fleet said.

“That was, as I understood it at the time, resolved and all parties were in agreement to the support plan that was put in place and the students would all be here in May.”

When pressed for details on the support plan offered to Mavis and her mother, Fleet would only say it “would reduce risk and ensure the student’s safety and inclusion in the trip.”

But Bowen says Fleet failed to mention this plan came with a condition that Bowen apologize and recant allegations that her daughter was being discriminated against due to her disabilities.

Her teenage daughter now feels further victimized by having to take her story to the media.

“It was humiliating for Brooklyn to go public with this, because at her last school she was bullied because of her disability and the last thing she wanted to do is tell everybody about her issues,” Bowen said.

“To her, that’s one of the worst things that has come out of this.”

Jodi Tucker of Kids Matter Inc. is the family’s advocate. She says the offer of accommodation by the school contingent on an apology and retraction is not accommodation at all.

Also, the final plan offered to Mavis to participate in the trip would have seen her staying in a hotel alone with a teacher next door, rather than with a host family like the rest of her classmates.

“This counter offer is more about being compliant to some ridiculous set of rules somewhere rather than what’s going to be meaningful engagement for Brooklyn,” Tucker said.

“The offer that they made is discriminatory based on the fact that they’ve made proposals that further exclude Brooklyn rather than include (her).”

Tucker says she and the family no longer see this as an isolated incident, but as a case of ‘systemic discrimination’ by the P.E.I. school board and SEVEC.

They are not sure what their next steps will be, but Mavis, who fundraised for months to come to P.E.I., no longer wants to participate in the exchange trip.

“She feels like it’s a hostile environment because of the way she was treated by the teacher and the students,” her mother said.

“I feel that there was some harassment and intimidation. Bullying is probably a good word for it as well. I know that there was some Facebook banter back and forth with it as well – some of the teachers in P.E.I. and some of the students, and that was definitely bullying against my daughter.”

A statement issued by SEVEC says a series of steps were taken to try to accommodate Mavis and work will continue with both schools in B.C. and P.E.I. to try to come to a resolution.

Organizations: P.E.I. school board, Bluefield High School, English Language School Board Kids Matter

Geographic location: P.E.I., B.C., Brooklyn Canada Bluefield

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