The parent of a special needs student in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District is suing the school board, the Ministry of Education and individual trustees, both past and present, claiming their decisions caused severe harm to her daughter’s development.
Brandi Lee White launched civil action in B.C. Supreme Court last week on behalf of her daughter Jenica Henton, who is currently 17 and a student at Salmon Arm Secondary.
Henton has tetralogy of Fallot and DiGeorge syndrome, and has required two open heart surgeries, eye surgery and a throat surgery, in addition to suffering frequent illnesses. As a result of her condition, Henton’s required individual education plan outlines special educational needs including speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, as well as the recognition that she requires special supports and supervision. The lawsuit notes a lack of school supervision and support, which allegedly led to Henton being mocked and bullied at school, including an incident where her mouth was taped shut by other students.
White’s suit alleges required services were denied or provided at a lower level of service, “causing an ongoing delay in her development and progress.” It alleges that requests for necessary programs and assistance, “have been continually denied by the board, trustees and employees of the board on the basis of a lack of funding available…”
The lawsuit also states the school board and trustees, “diverted operating funds in excess of $10 million to a surplus account when they knew or ought to have known that this would lead to a reduction in education and support services.”
In addition to the allegations regarding the board and trustees, the suit also alleges negligence on the part of the province. The suit targets the Ministry of Education for failing to provide an adequate level of funding to ensure the educational goals of the system are accomplished and failing to ensure funds were properly allocated for the purpose of educating students.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and the defendants have three weeks to file a statement of defence.
In response to questions about the lawsuit, School District No. 83 released the following statement:
“As this is now before the courts, we will not be providing a comment at this time,” said superintendent Glenn Borthistle.
In an interview with the News, White says it was a difficult decision to initiate the lawsuit, but she was horrified when she heard about the diverted funds and recognized the impact this may have had on her daughter’s development.
“I went to meeting after meeting and asked for supports but I was always told there wasn’t the money for this, there wasn’t the money for that, that they were doing the best they could. But that wasn’t really the case,” she said. “Jenica is now doing well in a work experience program at SAS, but what really bothers me is imagining how much better she could be doing if these supports had been fully funded. That’s what we’ll never know and that’s what really bothers me. That opportunity was taken from her.”
White wants to make sure a similar situation never happens again to another child.
She also alleges negligence on the part of the province in not providing oversight or compliance from the school board.
“The citizens of B.C. should all be upset about this because everyone’s tax dollars were mishandled.”
It is not known how long the case could take to proceed through the court system, but White says her lawyer has told her to prepare for up to two years. She says she was deterred from initiating a class action due to the additional time it would take to proceed.