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.”
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.”