Par­ents of autis­tic boys want safety im­prove­ments at play­ground for Western Bay school

Claim old wooden fenc­ing in­suf­fi­cient to pro­tect those at risk of run­ning off

The Compass - - Editorial - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

WESTERN BAY, NL — The par­ents of two chil­dren with autism feel New­found­land and Labrador English School District is not do­ing enough to ad­dress safety con­cerns about the play­ground at Cabot Academy.

Ja­nine Hyde of Gull Is­land has a son cur­rently at­tend­ing Kinder­garten at the K-6 school in Western Bay and Re­bekah Whit­ten’s son is en­rolled in the tran­si­tional Kin­derS­tart pro­gram. Both say their chil­dren are li­able to wan­der off.

“Our main con­cern is the safety of our kids,” said Whit­ten, who lives in Ochre Pit Cove.

The play­ground area in front of Cabot Academy is cur­rently fenced in (ex­clud­ing the side clos­est to the school) by a wooden fence.

“The fence is up to our knees pretty much,” said Hyde, a res­i­dent of Gull Is­land. “The kids can jump over it, go un­der it, and it’s on a very busy stretch of road.”

She’s re­fer­ring to the Con­cep­tion Bay North High­way. Hyde said driv­ers rou­tinely ex­ceed the speed limit on the road.

“Pretty much ev­ery morn­ing when I’m bring­ing (my son) to school, there’s peo­ple pass­ing me in the school zone. So when the kids are out play­ing, if a child de­cides to run off or a ball goes (out­side the play­ground), where do you think the child is go­ing? Smack dab, right out on the road.”

Ac­cord­ing to Whit­ten, chil­dren with autism do not sense dan­ger like other kids, plac­ing them at greater risk of harm.

Hyde and Whit­ten have shared their con­cerns with the of­fice of lo­cal MHA Steve Crocker, lo­cal board of trustee Hay­ward Blake and NLESD staff. Whit­ten also set up a pe­ti­tion at change.org. It had 103 sig­na­tures at­tached to it as of Thurs­day, March 22.

“Ev­ery other school from here to St. John’s has a chain link fence,” Hyde said. “Why are we stuck back in the day? Why doesn’t Cabot Academy have a chain link fence? Is there no money? If there’s no money, we can fundraise. I’m sure peo­ple in the com­mu­nity wouldn’t mind giv­ing money.”

NLESD’s re­sponse

Whit­ten re­ceived an email from Jim Sinnott, di­rec­tor of fa­cil­i­ties and cus­to­dial man­age­ment for NLESD in the Avalon re­gion. In it, Sinnott in­di­cated NLESD would do some work in the spring to ad­dress her con­cerns, in­clud­ing the in­stal­la­tion of lat­tice on the ex­ist­ing fence to pre­vent chil­dren from climb­ing it.

“On a good day, we might get 80 kilo­me­tre winds down here,” Whit­ten said. “That lat­tice won’t stand up.”

Hyde also ques­tions the con­di­tion of the ex­ist­ing fence, claim­ing some boards are al­ready rot­ting off.

Whit­ten said NLESD’s plans still fail to ad­dress the lack of a gate for the school’s play­ground.

In an emailed state­ment to The Com­pass, NLESD con­firmed it re­cently reeval­u­ated the play­ground area at the school in light of con­cerns brought to their at­ten­tion.

Fence pal­ings will be added to de­crease the space be­tween them and a solid frame back­filled with lat­tice will also be added to in­crease height, which NLESD re­ferred to as a “com­mon and durable de­sign fea­ture.” Trees in the area will also be trimmed to en­hance sight lines.

“The District be­lieves the cur­rent area is fully fenced with ap­pro­pri­ate con­struc­tion and with the ad­di­tional mea­sures out­lined above will con­tinue to pro­vide a safe play area for all stu­dents,” the state­ment re­leased to The Com­pass said.

NLESD went on to note that a pro­gram­ming plan­ning team is es­tab­lished for each stu­dent with autism. That team in­cludes the par­ents or guardians, class­room teacher, in­struc­tional re­source teacher, guid­ance coun­sel­lor and stu­dent as­sis­tant, with district level staff also given the op­por­tu­nity to get in­volved if nec­es­sary. That team is tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing a stu­dent’s strengths and spe­cific needs.

“We en­cour­age any par­ent or guardian that has con­cerns with re­spect to their child on the Autism Spec­trum to meet with the stu­dent’s teacher and Pro­gram Plan­ning Team re­gard­ing those is­sues,” NLESD said. “Gen­er­ally, in con­sul­ta­tion with the teacher and school, is­sues can be ad­dressed and the needs of the stu­dent met.”

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

Ja­nine Hyde, left, and Re­bekah Whit­ten feel safety at Cabot Academy’s play­ground would im­prove if New­found­land and Labrador English School District agreed to in­stall chain link fenc­ing.

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