An eight-year-old boy, a grade three student, has been excluded from his classes at Silver Birches elementary school in North Bay. His mother, Haley Coates, wanted to share the story, in part to shed light on some of the difficulties she sees for high-needs students in the education system, and also in part to receive some help in a process that has led to much frustration in trying to secure an education for her boy.
Being excluded from school is not the same as expulsion or suspension, however, the results are similar, in that the child is not allowed to attend regular classes. “I feel like my son is not being provided an education,” Coates told BayToday, adding, “I kind of feel like he is being discriminated against for a mental health disorder.”
In the last school year, he “was just over 90 days of lost school,” she explained, “so we’re very much past the point of being able to make up for lost time.” She appealed to the Near North District School Board to rescind its decision to exclude her son, and on December 2nd, she learned the board upheld its decision.
BayToday reached out to the board for comment, and Deb Bartlett, the board’s communication officer, explained the board “is unable to comment on this case for reasons of confidentiality,” and mentioned, “information about the board’s exclusion policy and home instruction is available on the board’s website.”
Coates stated, "The board felt my child’s mental health is too severe to attend school,” which left her to find alternatives to continue her child’s education. Hands, the Family Help Network in North Bay offers programs for youth in similar situations, but it turned out this program “was not going to be a proper fit for him,” Coates said, adding that he was much younger than the other students at the time.
After this, she came across the Elmwood School of Success, an education program put on by the Children’s Aid Society of the District of Nipissing and Parry Sound. Her boy attends for an hour a day—“he’s picked up, the transportation is provided, and he’s there for one hour then they drive him home.”
However, these days of class time occur “two days a week,” she said.
The lack of school time is affecting his social development, Coates mentioned, as he hardly interacts with kids his age, outside of his neighbourhood and extracurricular activities. Overall, she’s concerned that not enough funding is provided to support kids in similar situations to her son’s.
“As it stands, he’s not going to get what he needs,” she said, noting other children are in the same boat. When the teachers were striking last fall asking for more aid for education assistants, she was all for that, as extra classroom support would go a long way to helping youth continue on a straight-line path to education. She knows her child would benefit from more one-on-one support, and those resources are not available.
“They need to speak up for what they need,” she said, speaking of teachers and education assistants, because “the support is not adequate.”
Perhaps most concerning for Coates are the next steps, the plan to integrate her boy back into regular classes. She’s unsure of what will come next, or how to effectively navigate the system. Her appeal for her son to return to school was denied. She’s reached out to Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli’s office but found no real conclusions to her questions, and currently, she’s in touch with the Ontario Ombudsman’s office for guidance.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pushback from them,” she said of the school board. “I understand their safety concerns, however, they have a responsibility to educate my child. It’s a right to have access to education,” she emphasized, “and it’s a right to have that access without discrimination based on a mental health disability.”
“It’s been a big fight for an eight-year-old kid to go to school.”
Coates mentioned she has pushed to create a plan that would help her son return to school, but no timeline has been provided, no possible dates were given, and no criteria outlined a way for the boy to get back into school. Will he attend a regular classroom during his elementary years? “I honestly don’t know.”
“There are so many question marks about the process," she said. Although her son’s educational path is mired in mystery, she’s certain that “this story has to get to the right person, someone with the motivation to help children. I just don’t know who that is, or where to find that help.”
“But I know at this point I need some help.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.