"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tuition Support Program Gets Fourth Year

Good news - Nova Scotia's tuition support program has been granted one more year's reprieve.

Or, in the words of our esteemed government:
"Providing a fourth year of coverage will allow students to remain in their current programs while we complete our review," Education Minister Karen Casey said.

Ms. Casey announced earlier this year that the tuition support program will have an internal review. The report is expected next June.

Students with special needs receive special programs in their local schools. The tuition support program, however, provides eligible students with assistance while they attend a designated private special education school.

This year, each eligible student will receive $6,600 to help pay for tuition at the three approved schools, Landmark East in Wolfville and Churchill Academy and Bridgeway Academy in Dartmouth. Some families with lower incomes receive additional support. Students and families go through an application and approval process each year.

In the 2007-08 school year, about 125 students were enrolled in the program. There were about 30 students who received third-year funding and may be eligible for a fourth year.

The estimated cost of extending the program is $220,000. The total cost will be $1.2 million.

Students with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder or learning disabilities may be eligible for tuition support.
Sort of brings to mind the words "It's the least they could do." Oh wait, so it is.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Keeping Your Child in a Mainstream Classroom" - A Guest Post

There has been a push lately in educational circles to simply separate students with special needs from those without special needs. While there are certainly cases where some students need much more one-to-one support than a classroom teacher can offer, there needs to be more solid evaluating performed before any decisions are reached. This is a two-way street and demands that parents take partial ownership of the situation and listen to the school’s faculty before making demands in one direction or another.

There will be times when the parent wants to keep their child in a regular-styled classroom but this isn’t always what’s best for the student. Remember we’re dealing with a child’s education. Regardless of anyone’s demands for special attention, we need to always remember that we’re doing what’s best for the educational demands of a student not their social status. Some parents feel there will be a stigma attached to their children if they’re removed from the general population. They need to be educated to the point that if their son or daughter needs this kind of attention then this should be the only concern.

Depending on your child’s needs they may be the ones demanding to stay in a conventional classroom setting. They need a caring and proper explanation of the reasons behind the decision whether to keep them in this setting or to take them out for more one-to-one attention. Depending on the age group of your child this will vary in difficulty from your end. There is also the issue of making sure the other students don’t complicate a very sensitive matter. This is something the conventional classroom teacher will have to deal with.

If your child is kept in a mainstream classroom there will still be times when they will require more support than the other students. Whether it is the regular teacher or an aide that helps in this regard the student with special needs will need to try to welcome this special attention. It will be awkward, especially if this is the first time they’ve received this level of support. This is where the training of the teachers and aides is extremely important as their number one job is to make sure educational materials are being delivered to the student but they also need to be mindful of how difficult a situation this may be for the student involved. Sensitivity should be the biggest concern of all involved.

By-line:

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of
best online degree. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

Second Request for a Guest Post

A second request for a guest post this week.

And since both can be, in their own ways, somewhat controversial for the disability community, I have decided to post the second and come back later with some commentary on each.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Individual Equality, Mental Disability and the Right of Self Representation in the Courts" - A Guest Post

I am happy to post this piece penned by Mr. Blair Mitchell, a Halifax lawyer, with whom I am well-acquainted. Mr. Mitchell has practiced civil and administrative litigation for over 20 years and has done a fair bit of work in the area disability.

Read it. We'll chat later.
A deep respect for human dignity lies at the heart of the idea of individual equality operating in western legal systems.

In our country, any of us may or may not agree with how Canadian Courts have applied equality rights or not in any particular case. But it is difficult to avoid the overall conclusion that the operation of the Canadian Charter of Rights has put our country amongst the most advanced of any in protecting and fostering individuality and the value of human dignity.

That doesn’t mean that the advancement doesn’t come without a price. Conflicts between the ideal of using the law to foster the exercise of individual independence and other principles saying the law and the courts should seek to protect individuals with disabilities from their own decisions by overriding those individuals’ own choices, are bound to occur.

I have just found a tough example of this clash (but perhaps with an obvious answer) in a report of the just released decision of the US Supreme Court in Indiana v. Edwards (June 19, 2008) on an American blog. [Slate, July 29, 2008, “The Supreme Court on the dignity of the mentally ill”]

The question in that case was, where a person has a mental disability that obviously interferes with his ability to coherently present his case, should a judge prevent him from representing himself in a trial. In other words, the Court really had to decide how far should a judge go to respect the personal entitlement to conduct his own case of a person litigating before it and when, and on what basis, should the court intervene to prohibit it?

Edwards underlines the difference between two very sharply contrasting points of view.

On the one side, is the sense that the State, through the court, has an obligation to protect people with a certain extent of mental disability from harming themselves, by trying to act as their own lawyer in their own case, particularly when charged with a serious offence. On the other side, is the idea that a right of the individual to make decisions concerning his own interests in litigation (or anything else) trumps any other public interest in the case.

It demonstrates how rickety the balance can be in a tough case.

The facts were these: Ahmad Edwards had been trying to steal a pair of shoes in a shoe store, nothing more. In the course of doing so he shot and wounded a security guard. For a pair of shoes. Edwards was arrested and charged with attempted murder. The stakes were clearly high and they remained high through more than the next decade.

It appeared soon after his arrest that Edwards was suffering from untreated schizophrenia to such an extent that he was not capable of standing trial. Fair enough. He was confined to an institution.

But more than half a decade later, after six years of compulsory government medical treatment, Edwards had recovered enough to be able to be tried. And the wheels of justice moved toward trial.

Although the Court provided him with a lawyer, Edwards soon maintained that he wanted to represent himself.

The right of self-representation is a right typically legally extended to Americans anywhere within the United States (Its wisdom is something else). The legal principle is "...forcing a lawyer upon an unwilling defendant is contrary to his basic right to defend himself if he truly wants to do so."

In wanting to represent himself, Edwards complained that the court-appointed lawyer was not putting forward the defence that Edwards wanted him to. He also maintained that the lawyer was not sharing information with him on the law related to his defence.

In making his arguments Edwards filed what were described by the US Supreme Court as "a number" of "incoherent" court documents but a number of others that were also "intelligible." And still, throughout court proceedings, Edwards was described as "respectful and compliant" to the Court in the proceedings.

Edwards was denied the right to represent himself and was convicted. This year his case made it to the US’s highest court.

Notwithstanding that he had made some intelligible written submissions and his respectful and compliant demeanour, mindful of the disability suffered by the defendant, the majority of the court would not allow him to represent himself.

To come to that conclusion, they decided that it would deprive Edwards of the right to exercise his individual discretion because there was a risk that by allowing him to represent himself he could in fact undermine his own dignity. It salved its conscience with the proposition that by preventing this accused from exercising his right to represent himself it was on balance, protecting that dignity.

They said, "...given that defendant's uncertain mental state, the spectacle that could well result from his self-representation at trial is at least as likely to prove humiliating as ennobling."

The minority consisting of the two most conservative justices of the Court disagreed and found that the fundamental principle animating the decision in these circumstances was to be that course which would allow the individual best to exercise his own individual autonomy and that was what the principles of individual equality truly relied on. “We could surely choose worse than "fulfillment of human dignity." They said.

They reiterated that, “... respect for the individual which is the lifeblood of the law." “What the Constitution requires...is that a defendant be given the right to challenge the State's case against him using the arguments he sees fit.

So this is a case in which two basic principles collided. The majority felt that to preserved Edwards’ dignity, the courts should preclude him from having the right to self-representation, regardless of what his own autonomous interests might be. The minority, on the other hand found that the fundamental value was Edwards’ own independence, on his own hook to make his own decisions and take his own chances.

To me that’s a tough choice. But in this case it would be hard to shake me from the opinion that the two minority, conservative, judges were truly expressing the best and highest traditions of the principle.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Camp Triumph 2008

Not Legal Per Se But ...

It's never easy having a sibling with special needs. Just ask a child in that position. Be they older or younger and no matter how much they love their challenged sibling, family dynamics are irrevocably changed. The younger child is now the 'big sister'. The older child is big brother to a child who may never 'grow up'. Time and money are often diverted, by necessity, to the challenged sibling.

The same can be said for a child with a sibling with a chronic illness. And as we all know, chronic illness and disability often go hand in hand.

Perhaps not the solution, but certainly a much-welcomed respite for your other child, Camp Triumph is a FREE residential summer camp located in Prince Edward Island providing opportunities for these children to experience new activities and have fun with childrne who are experiencing similar experiences.

There are still many spaces available for this summer.

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Are You Missing The Boat Too?

I came across an interesting article in today's Chronicle Herald concerning how many parents in Nova Scotia don't make use of RESPs (Registered Education Savings Plans). Around 68.2 per cent, apparently.

That would be 68.2 per cent of Nova Scotia parents who not only lose out on a tax-free vehicle for saving money for their children's education but also potentially lose out on the Canada Education Savings Grant and Canada Learning Bond.

The savings grant could add as much as $9,200 from the federal government over the life of the plan.
"Effectively, you get $20 for every $100 you put into your savings program," Mr. Lewis said.

The federal government began offering the savings grant in 1998, "as an incentive to encourage more families to save," he said, while the Canada Learning Bond was introduced in 2005 as a supplement for families whose annual incomes fall below about $37,000.

"The government looked at the program and (decided) . . . that there’s value in engaging families in planning for a higher education, regardless of what your income is, from the time your kids are young," Mr. Lewis said.

The learning bond isn’t a matching grant, he said, but provides parents with $500 to start an RESP in the year their child is born, with $100 added each year until the bond tops out at $2,000. Children who are eligible for both grants could receive $9,200 from the federal government for their RESP.
Which got me to thinking about what percentage of Nova Scotia families with a disabled child might be losing out, too. Dollars to donuts (or perhaps books and meal plans, to say nothing of the cost of tuition), the disability community is highly over-represented in that 62.2 per cent. I fear too many of us are likely still caught in that "it's not for our child(ren)" mindset that intuitively tells us that a RESP would be a waste of money for a child with a disability.

But as we've discussed before, that's far from necessarily so. As it turns out, we purchased RESPs for both our children long before we were aware of their disabilities. But given the government grants (read free money added to the fund by the government), the guarantee that at least some, if not all, of our capital will be returned if our children do not go on to post-secondary education and the fact that most, if not all, of such funds are also transferable to another eligible child, I'm not too concerned.

And when I consider the advances that are being made in making post-secondary education more accessible to our children, be they challenged physically or mentally, I am actually quite hopeful that our daughters will be able to put those RESP funds to use to further their education.

So you might just want to take another look at those articles at Ken Pope's site concerning The Long Term Benefits of RESPs and Using Registered Education Savings Plans For a Child with Developmental Disabilities. After all, you wouldn't your child to be among those losing out, would you?

** A financial advisor, I will never be. So just as the advice on this blog can't be taken as 'legal advice', neither can it be taken as 'financial advice". It can, however, in good stead be taken as practical, common sense advice from one parent to another. That being said, however, do do your own research and meet with a financial advisor, if practical.