Special needs students will miss Mouat's resource room

Michael Henriksen and Caroline McNichols are upset that they will no longer be able to attend school at W.J. Mouat’s resource room, which will be closed after this school year. - Neil Corbett photo
Michael Henriksen and Caroline McNichols are upset that they will no longer be able to attend school at W.J. Mouat’s resource room, which will be closed after this school year.
— image credit: Neil Corbett photo

Carol and Doug Henriksen know their son Michael has it in him to drive a teacher around the bend if he is put into a regular classroom setting. And they know transferring him to a different school’s resource room will be upsetting to the boy, who has Down syndrome and autism, and set him back by perhaps half a school year.

However, those are their options after the Abbotsford school district decided to close the resource room at W.J. Mouat Secondary starting in September.

Chipo McNichols is equally worried about her 18-year-old daughter Caroline, explaining the teen has a rare disorder that inhibits her ability to metabolize protein. She is intellectually at about a Grade 1 level, but Caroline knows she is going to deeply miss her friends and teaching assistants at Mouat’s resource room.

“She is quite upset. This is all she has known,” said Chipo. “She loves it.”

When her family moved to Abbotsford from Hope, the resource room at Mouat started to make a difference in her daughter.

“For Caroline, it has been a lifesaver. She has grown so much as a person,” she said.

Caroline is still speech delayed, but that is improving, and she still needs socialization.

“She’s 18, but she’s very vulnerable.”

Both parents say the resource room is both their children’s classroom and their entire social circle.

They were informed by letter this month that the room will be closing due to declining enrolment, as of the end of June. Their children can attend at a school that has a resource room, remain at Mouat in integrated classrooms with appropriate support, or attend their neighbourhood school in regular classrooms, with appropriate support.

Carol says 15-year-old Michael can’t be integrated into Mouat’s academic classes. He is integrated with an aide for metalwork and drama classes, but just won’t sit still in a “regular” class.

“It would be disruptive to the teacher and the students,” she said.

She explained Michael is also a flight risk. Once, in elementary school, he locked himself in a janitor’s closet, and his unexplained absence caused tremendous anxiety for school staff.

“He’ll just bolt on you,” said Carol. “He thinks it’s funny.”

“It has taken Michael a year and a half to adjust to moving from Chief Dan George,” Carol said.

Chipo explained Caroline was supposed to be doing Grade 13 at the resource room, which is a program tailored to help her transition into adulthood and be socialized as a young adult. Disrupting that could be devastating, she said.

“We didn’t have a voice. We had no input, no notice,” said Chipo.

Carol doesn’t buy the argument that Mouat’s resource room has too few students to be viable.

She has contacted the resource programs at Hansen, Abbotsford Collegiate and Bateman, and said each will have six or seven students next year – just as Mouat would.

Abbotsford board of education communications manager Dave Stephen said special needs students don’t need a resource room to be supported in their education.

There are 1,600 identified special needs students in the district, and many do not attend classes at a resource room.

Many schools don’t even have one, and some school districts don’t use them, favouring full integration into classrooms.

“Integration has been a long-established arc in education,” he said, adding the goal of educators is to integrate students as much as possible.

Stephen said the decision to close the resource room came after a review revealed the number of students using the facility at Mouat had been in steady decline.

The decision was made to realign services to where there is greatest demand.

“Whatever those students’ needs are, we will continue to support them,” he said.

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