Saskatoon family faces hefty bill for homeschooled children’s supports during COVID-19 pandemic
SASKATOON -- A Saskatoon family who opted to homeschool their children during the pandemic says they are being denied the support typically provided to parents who homeschool, and it's proving costly.
Alison Peters says she was turned away after seeking psychological and special education assessments through Prairie Spirit School Division and says she had to spend more than $2,200 out of pocket as a result.
Peters launched an online petition calling on the Ministry of Education and the local public school divisions to offer equal opportunities for home-based learners after she was forced to turn to the private sector to access an educational psychologist and speech-language assessment.
These services through the private sector cost $1,500 for an educational psychologist and more than $700 for a speech-language pathologist.
Services for educational psychologists and speech-language pathologists are covered under the provincial health plan until the child reaches schoolage. Once they are school-aged, the services are provided through a referral process in the public and Catholic school divisions.
Parents who homeschool must go through a school division to obtain a referral.
Peters said her six-year-old has speech and hearing impairments and her nine-year-old was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.
“I made some calls ahead of time to make sure we would be covered in that aspect and that was pulled out from under us,” Peters said about access to resources through the public school divisions.
Originally from Dalmeny, Peters’ children are enrolled as homeschool students in the Prairie Spirit School Division (PSSD).
In emails provided to CTV News by Peters, a home-based educational facilitator responded to Peters’ request for a psychological assessment in September.
In her response to Peters the facilitator wrote that due to COVID-19, PSSD is unable to accommodate her request for an educational psychologist in September 2020.
“All of the services that we provide to our home-based education families in which the students or parents would have to enter a school in our office have been suspended because of COVID. Only students attending the schools are allowed into the schools at this time,” the facilitator wrote in the email.
Peters said nothing has changed since September.
“From our tiny little bubble I know people who are facing very similar struggles within the school division and as home-based learners, there’s not a lot out there right now and in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t feel like there’s ever a good time to cut resources but especially now it’s more important than ever,” Peters said.
In a statement, PSSD said the pandemic has significantly impacted the access to Prairie Spirit Schools, and only Prairie Spirit staff and students are allowed to enter Prairie Spirit schools. Access is restricted in order to follow COVID protocols regarding student cohorts.
“Throughout the 2020/21 school year, the division has relied on alternate ways to work with home-based students, including virtual meetings, phone calls and written correspondence. Consultations with specialized professionals for a student assessment (speech language pathology and occupational therapy) are available to students who have been identified through the division’s referral process,” Erickson said.
But Peters claims that she’s been unable to access these assessment services because PSSD told her it wasn’t accepting any new referrals for these support services. She adds she was never given the option to access an educational psychologist or speech pathologist through a virtual meeting or a phone call.
Knowing the difficulty of accessing these programs now, Peters said she would have considered sending her daughters to school instead of homeschooling.
“I maybe would have considered the fact that we wouldn’t have any access to resources when we chose to homeschool,” she said.
Peters’ online petition has collected more than 700 signatures and she hopes the school division and the education ministry take notice.
“COVID has put a fork in the road for everybody but we’re in 2021 and everything is either virtual or you make it work, and they have not done that and my only assumption is that it’s not a priority to them.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated the age of Peters' youngest child.