Mom ‘shocked’ after son with special needs allegedly slapped by staff member at Oakville school

December 9, 2021
Mom 'shocked' after son with special needs allegedly slapped by staff member at Oakville school

The Halton District School Board is investigating after a boy with special needs was allegedly slapped in the face by an educational assistant at an Oakville elementary school — prompting the boy’s mother to demand cameras in the classroom.

The 12-year-old, who’s been attending Falgarwood Public School for three years, is in Grade 7 and is in a special needs class. He has cerebral palsy and autism and is non-verbal.

The incident happened at the school on Nov. 24. The parents say they were informed by the principal on Nov. 25 and reported the incident to Halton police on Nov. 30.

The boy’s mother, Abeer Dandal, said when she first heard about the incident, her immediate thought was that her son is not safe.

“I cried a lot. I was so scared,” she said. “It shocked me because it’s 2021 in Canada.”

Dandal said the educational assistant’s “reaction was unacceptable.”

Asked to confirm the incident, Marnie Denton, spokesperson for the Halton District School Board, said, “The Halton District School Board is aware of these concerns and we are investigating.”

Denton added she could not comment further because it is a personnel matter, and declined to say whether the educational assistant has been removed from the classroom.

Halton police have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Teachers aware of son’s behaviour: mother

Dandal said another educational assistant witnessed the incident and reported it to the principal. She said she has been told the educational assistant in question will be out of the classroom until the investigation is complete. 

She said it is not uncommon for her son to scratch or bite those around him, and said his teachers are aware of his behaviour. Educational assistants are trained to be with children with special needs and understand their reactions, she added.

The incident happened when the educational assistant was dancing with her son, who uses a wheelchair, she said.

“He grabbed her hands in a tough way. Maybe he’s upset from something. Maybe he’s sometimes happy,” Dandal said. “So her reaction was like that.”

Dandal holds her son’s hand. Her son, 12, has celebral palsy and autism and is non-verbal. (CBC)

Dandal said she has a message to the educational assistant: “If you cannot work with special needs [children], find another job.”

Dandal is lobbying for cameras in the classroom, but the school board is not in favour of that idea.

“Installing cameras in classrooms is not being considered because of issues of privacy for all students in the classroom,” Denton said.

Surveillance in classrooms poses legal risks, lawyer says

Molly Reynolds, a privacy lawyer at Torys LLP in Toronto, said constant surveillance of staff and students could pose legal risks. She said the privacy considerations of everyone in the room have to be considered and the board would have to get consent from everyone.

“The school boards are regulated by public sector privacy legislation, which has very strict requirements around the basis on which school boards and then in turn schools can collect personal information,” she said.

“Are there other ways where there could be more human oversight, more individuals dropping into or present in a classroom, instead of thinking about constant surveillance?” 

The incident happened at Falgarwood Public School on Nov. 24. (CBC)

Incident raises many questions, support group says

Clovis Grant, a co-founder of the Sawubona Africentric Circle of Support, a support group for Black families of children with special needs, agreed cameras are very intrusive. He noted, however, that such an incident is not a common occurrence.

“I don’t think cameras necessarily are going to create safety,” he said.

He recommended examining the root of the matter. “Is there frustration that’s happening because of the system, or because that person doesn’t have the competency to do this work?” 

Sherron Grant, another co-founder of the Sawubona Africentric Circle of Support, said the situation is “disheartening and concerning” and that the incident raises a lot of questions.

“What supports need to be put in place to support that teacher, to support that classroom, to support that child, or that class? How has the communication been between home and school? How transparent has the relationship been? How invited has the family felt to be partners in their child’s education?” Grant said.

“This situation is the tip of the iceberg of … a lot of issues and concerns that really should have been dealt with — and that now need to be dealt with.”

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