Parents of Disabled Grade 6 Student Hannah Gunderson and School District Have Found a Middle Ground

Posted By Michael Di Massa News Staff
October 12, 2009

Despite pleas earlier this year to allow Hannah Gunderson to continue riding a specially retrofitted standard bus with her friends to Ministik School, the disabled Grade 6 student is spending this year taking a more direct mini-bus.

Plans, however, are being made to allow Hannah to ride a full-sized, disabled-accessible bus for Grade 7 through 9 with Elk Island Public Schools, as well as her high school years, if she stays with EIPS.

Bonnie Riddell, EIPS board of trustees chairperson, said the switch next school year will be because of a new bus route Hannah, in her last year at Ministik, will take when she attends Fultonvale junior high.

Currently, Hannah is riding a smaller bus with a wheel chair accessible lift on it.

The Gundersons and EIPS were in the media spotlight last spring after the family tried to appeal the district’s decision to place Hannah on a special needs bus.

Since Grade 3, Hannah had been riding a retrofitted First Student Canada bus that was designed to meet her needs while allowing her to take the ride to school with her friends.

This year, however, she is riding a mini-bus while the retrofitted bus may end up serving students in Saskatchewan, Hannah’s father, Dave Gunderson, said.

Hannah stopped riding the larger bus after EIPS decided she would take a mini-bus with a more direct route to Ministik School, but Dave said the issue is about his daughter living a normal life, as she can no longer ride to school with her friends.

“As parents with a kid with a disability, Hannah is included in everything we do all the time,” he said.

“It’s just life and what we feel as parents is if parents have a clear vision for their kids, then hopefully the (school) division will listen to the parents and help them obtain that vision.”

Riddell has previously said EIPS is moving in the direction of using more mini-buses, not unlike to the one Hannah rides, to transport its students during field trips and sporting events.

However, for Dave, “It is still in our eyes a special needs bus.”

He said neither he nor wife Kathy can drive their daughter to school themselves because they both work. Besides, “To drive her, that would take away from her friends, too,” Dave noted.

Last spring the Gundersons found out indirectly that their daughter would go from riding the retrofitted bus to a smaller bus dedicated to students with disabilities.

In July they met with the superintendent and transportation director of EIPS, as well as the district’s board of trustees chairperson, hoping to find a better solution.

“They had set in their mind what they were going to do,” Dave said of that meeting, adding that he was reluctant to agree. “It wasn’t what we wanted in our hearts for our daughter.”

Prior to that July meeting, the family had tried to appeal the decision to put their daughter on a mini-bus by addressing the matter during an EIPS board of trustees meeting, but were denied their request to speak multiple times.

“Lo and behold, in the policy, transportation decisions cannot be appealed,” because it doesn’t fall under education, Dave explained.

Riddell confirmed that transportation issues cannot be appeal under the provincial School Act.

“I’m thinking, when a kid gets on the bus, is that not educational?” he asked. “Is the school not responsible for them at that point? How can you absolve (yourself)? Have no responsibility or accountability there?”

He said he is writing letters to the individual members of the EIPS board of trustees, appealing to them with his side of the story.

The battle is just not for his daughter, but other parents, too. “We want other parents to have the strength to ask the school division when decisions are made,” he said. “We want the best interested of our kid put first and are they actually doing that?”

“The bus ride is a part of that life and she needs to be on that bus. Some people think, ‘Well, let’s get her to school fast, that’s great she doesn’t have to be tortured.’ Well, it’s not torture. It’s life,” Dave said.

Article ID# 2108746

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