A Penal mother is claiming discrimination after her daughter, who has spina bifida and uses a walker, was rejected by three primary schools.
The matter is already getting the attention of Education Minister Anthony Garcia who has said no child should be denied access to education on the basis of a disability or any other challenge. He has promised to find a place for five-year-old Khaleesi Webb.
The girl’s mother, Kerisha Crawford Webb, said she cannot afford to pay for her daughter to attend a private school as it is already expensive to provide her with a walker and specially-fitted shoes.
The mother of two, of Charleau Village, Penal, said she registered Khaleesi at three primary schools—Dayanand Vedic, Tulsa Trace Hindu in Penal, and St Brigid’s RC, Siparia.
She said in the place on the registration forms where she was asked about any health challenges she indicated that her daughter has spina bifida and uses a walker.
Crawford Webb said she became worried when she got responses from two of the schools that her daughter had not been accepted.
No reasons were given. When she called the third school she was told they had already accepted their intake.
“My child was not given a fair chance. She was not called to be tested like the other applicants, some of whom were accepted, others rejected.
“My daughter is very brilliant. What she lacks physically, God has made up for it with her brains.
“I can think of no other reason why she was not afforded the opportunity to be tested, except for her disability.”
Crawford Webb said she spoke to the principal of two of the schools and they promised to review her application.
“But it is almost the end of the term and my child does not have a school to attend when the new term starts,” she said.
She said she has been calling and visiting different education offices in the St Patrick and Victoria Divisions, but is being given the run around.
“I even reported it to the Equal Opportunities Commission and they told me they would investigate and if there is no good reason why Khaleesi was denied entry, then they would proceed,” Crawford Webb said.
Garcia said it is the policy of the Ministry of Education to ensure that every child of school age has access to education, regardless of any challenges or disability, must have access to education. He said this is in keeping with their policy of inclusion.
“You cannot deny a child from entering a school because the child has a disability or some kind of challenge.
“The Education Act mandates patents to ensure that they send their children to school. If they are in breach of this Act, parents can be hauled before the courts,” he said.
“This provision places on the Ministry of Education a responsibility to ensure all children have access to education.
“You cannot, on the one hand, force parents to send their children to school and on the other hand, deny them access.”
Garcia said he would do all he can to ensure that every child between the ages of five to 16 has access to education.
“I am asking the parents to write to me and I will make sure that child is admitted to a school in the St Patrick district, in September,” the minister said.
WHAT IS SPINA BIFIDA?
Spina bifida is caused when a baby’s spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine. It is a type of neural tube defect.
The neural tube is the structure that eventually develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord and it starts to form in early pregnancy and closes about four weeks after conception.
In spina bifida, part of the neural tube doesn’t develop or close properly, leading to defects in the spinal cord and bones of the spine (vertebrae). It’s not known what causes it but a lack of folic acid before and in the early stages of pregnancy is a significant risk factor.
SOURCE: www.guardian.co.tt (Yvonne Webb)