Parent Tania Vrionis stands with her son Noah outside the daycare he attends at R.C. Garnett Elementary where he is in Grade 4. Vrionis has no idea how her son, who is legally blind and has cerebral palsy, is going to adjust to being moved to three different schools before he graduates.

Parent Tania Vrionis stands with her son Noah outside the daycare he attends at R.C. Garnett Elementary where he is in Grade 4. Vrionis has no idea how her son, who is legally blind and has cerebral palsy, is going to adjust to being moved to three different schools before he graduates.

‘Not just a number’

Special needs students ignored in the school district’s plan for Willoughby, says mother

Tania Vrionis has to seriously consider moving now that her son Noah’s school, R.C. Garnett Elementary, is changing from a K -7 to a K-5 school next year.

Nine-year-old Noah has a smile that could melt even the coldest heart. Living with cerebral palsy, legally blind and challenged with significant learning and behaviour disabilities, Noah has spent the past three years going to the on-site daycare before and after school and attending classes at R.C. Garnett.

Like any other Grade 4 boy his age, he has plenty of energy and zest for life. Being at R.C. Garnett has been working for the Vrionis’, and most importantly, for Noah.

“Having a child with special needs is a challenge, but it’s such a joy, too,” said Vrionis.

He has a team who work with him at the daycare and a team who work with him in the school.

“They know him and care about him,” said Vrionis.

“They have one-on-one support for him.”

“To think he would have to adjust to a brand new team every three years? I can’t even imagine.”

Vrionis moved to the Willoughby slope area so she could walk Noah to a school she thought he would attend until Grade 7.

She thought he would then transition to high school.

On Feb. 24, the school district announced that R.C. Garnett would become a K-5 and Grade 6s and 7s will be bused to the new Lynn Fripps Elementary, now being built at 21020 83 Avenue.

Noah will then go to the new middle school which will also be built in Yorkson, before moving to Mountain Secondary for his high school years.

“It seems there was so little thought put into the ripple effect of this decision. They have painted all kids with the same brush, saying they are resilient,” she said.

“It’s like they forget that the district is made up of children, not numbers.”

She worries how all the special needs students will transition.

The decision to make R.C. Garnett a K-5 school is to free up space for the influx of Kindergarten students expected to come to the over-populated school. Built eight years ago, R.C. Garnett was expected to handle 350 students. There are now 622.

Plans to expand R.C. Garnett have been scrapped by the district in favour of building a new school in Yorkson, which will gain a lot of people in the next 10 years.

“I absolutely respect he is just one child, but he’s my child and if you can’t take care of your most vulnerable students then you shouldn’t be doing it at all,” she said.

The changes would be more than Noah can handle — having to trust a new team of people in two years, then to do that all over again in three years, is too much.

She has a year to figure out what to do, but it likely means moving to an area that supports a K-7 school and Grades 8-12 high school.

She attended the meeting the district put on for parents about the reconfiguration. She has emailed school district staff and the principal in charge of special needs students and hasn’t heard from any staff what the transition plan will look like for students like her son.

She’s hopeful with time, she’ll hear from them.

The district hasn’t offered a transition plan yet but in a letter sent to parents in early February, it said children can be bused to and from R.C. Garnett, at the district’s cost, so they can still attend after school programs with siblings.

Many R.C. Garnett parents were led to believe that a middle school would be built within walking distance, to deal with overcrowding issues.

But after a controversial land swap with the Township, the district has decided to build at 208 Street and 84 Avenue.

This means everyone in south Willoughby will have to be bused to school.

R.C. Garnett parents, along with some Langley Meadows and Willoughby parents are distressed about everything being built in Yorkson, while the population in their area is exploding.

“We feel like the forgotten children and everything is about Yorkson,” said R.C. Garnett PAC president Lorraine Baldwin.

According to information one parent has collected, there were 1,923 more K to 12 students living south of 74B Avenue in Willoughby, then to the north of that street, as of 2009.

The population in Yorkson is very small in comparison to that in the southern part of Willoughby, but there is a lot of new construction.