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Calgary mom concerned for back to school with special needs son

Mother helping sons with homeschooling at home during COVID-19 pandemic. Nikon D850

CALGARY — Heading back to school with uncertainties about who and what will be there.

One Calgary mom says that come September, her special needs son will still not have the support he needs in the classroom.

Ashley Bristowe has two sons, Alexander is her youngest son, and in the fall he should be entering grade six.

But the ongoing pandemic and cuts to education have other plans for him.

“Although online learning was technically available, it wasn’t going to change anything about how Alexander’s and our lives were going because Alexander has severe learning needs and we would’ve needed to be there with him every single second,” said Bristowe.


Alexander has a rare chromosomal syndrome called Kleefstra syndrome.

From kindergarten to grade four he was able to participate in class in a collaborative way as he had educational assistants helping him succeed.

Ashley believes if things don’t change, this September will be the start of a second school year where his needs won’t be met.

“Because the government has let go of so many people in the support services in education in Alberta, our son received occupational therapy, physiotherapy, had some psychological supports on a periodic basis at school and all of those people were laid off on mass right after the pandemic began.”

In March 2020, the Alberta government announced they would temporarily take away $128 million from education funding, and put it towards COVID-19 protective equipment. With that, came over 20,000 layoffs, with most of them being support staff for students with special needs.

“A lot were laid off and not everyone was hired back and that was a problem as well that we’ve seen pre-pandemic, that we saw during the pandemic and I’m worried that we’re going to see post-pandemic,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling.

The government still hasn’t released their plan for the 2021-22 school year, but they did send CityNews a statement that reads:

“Decisions regarding staffing, including support staff for students with specialized needs ultimately rest with school authorities, not the province. Locally elected trustees are in the best position to evaluate and respond to the priorities of the schools and communities they serve. Budget 2021 provided an additional $40 million to support specialized learning needs for students who may require additional supports from school authorities.”