Family fights for fairness in school transportation. 

Accessibility issues on buses and in schools remain

Most days, six-year-old Morgan Protter watches her older brother and sister pack their school bags and run to catch the big yellow school bus that carries all her classmates to school.

An hour later Morgan and her wheelchair are loaded in the family van for the trip to Myrtle Philip Elementary School, just a few minutes drive from their home.

"The bus is not accessible for people with disabilities," said dad Adam Protter, who has been battling for his daughter’s right to get to bus to school all year.

He has written to the Howe Sound School Board, to his provincial MLA Ted Nebbeling, and he has even taken his cause before Whistler Mayor and council.

"No one is addressing it," said Protter.

"No one will ever put in writing that they are not taking Morgan on the bus."

Currently Protter and his wife Mary act as school bus drivers for their daughter who is "globally developmentally delayed."

They do receive a transportation allowance from the school board.

According to Ministry of Education spokeswoman Christianne Dubnyk, "the School Act permits, but does not require, school boards to provide student transportation services.

"The school board has the autonomy to decide what their local priorities are and ensure that their dollars are allocated to student needs."

The provincial government does provide $85.7 million annually across the province to assist districts that provide transportation for their students.

Amy Shoup, the chair of the school board, said the board is aware of the situation.

"It is something we are aware of and we are looking into it," she said.

Protter is also concerned that if the situation continues Morgan will miss more and more school field trips as she can’t go on the bus with all the other kids.

"These are difficult times with cutbacks," said Claudia Semaniuk, past president of the B.C. Association for Community Living.

"But this is a situation that doesn’t give fair access to education for all and inclusive education for all.

"That is the most important element of the whole thing. Inclusive education means that everyone has access to the neighbourhood school and in order to have access to it you need to get to it."

The Protters are not alone.

Margaret Birrell, executive director of the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, has spoken to several families in the past who have tackled the same issue.

" There is no overall governing instructions on this," she said.

"It is district by district and what others have done is gone to service clubs, like the Variety Club or the Lions Club, and those organizations have bought an accessible van and paid for the driver.

"But this is discriminatory."

Birrell also questions what sort of message this sends in light of Whistler’s bid to host the Parlaympic Winter Games in 2010.

The International Olympic Committee will decide July 2 in Prague if Vancouver’s and Whistler will host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

"Here we are off to Prague to promote the Paralympics as a package deal with the Winter Games and in Whistler we can’t get our children with disabilities to school," said Birrell.

"That is a huge contradiction."

There is no taxi in Whistler that is able to carry people who use wheelchairs, unless the wheelchair user can lift themselves in and out of the cab. But discussions started this week between Whistler Taxi and the school board which may remedy this situation.

"Clearly something needs to be done," said Protter.

In his address to council Protter told of his ongoing frustration with people’s lack of respect for people with disabilities and the challenges they face.

He showed councillors pictures of cars parked in handicapped spots and even a shot of a wheelchair parking area with a load of topsoil dumped on it.

He believes the answer lies in getting the community together and seeking funding for a solution from a variety of sources.

Afterall, said Protter, the same challenges Morgan faces are also faced by the elderly and the infirm and they also live in Whistler.

"Morgan is not going to be the only kid like this," he said.

"By helping my daughter I am also helping whoever comes behind her. It would be easy to just roll over and be thankful for what we’ve got and we do get a lot and we are grateful.

"And I am acutely aware of how this appears – that I am not satisfied and want more and more.

"But maybe I am correct in saying thank-you but I need more and that is a really hard thing to deal with and it weighs on me all the time.

"I don’t know who to call or write to anymore.

"I am just trying to do my best for Morgan."

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