Dear Justin Trudeau, Diversity in School Should Also Look Like This

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

I just watched a video in which you spoke of the tremendous value of diversity in our public school system. I, too, value the ethnic diversity in my son’s public school in our neighborhood. Sadly, my daughter won’t get to experience it.

While we have worked tirelessly to include those of every race/ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, social class, and sexual orientation in our schools, kids with disabilities don’t always make the cut… at least not always in the school closest to home. Kids like my daughter are forced to attend schools that can be up to an hour away by bus.

My sweet little girl has a rare condition called Williams syndrome. You may recall my mentioning it when we met in the Distillery District in Toronto. Her constellation of challenges and strengths don’t fit with the typical curriculum, and our local school doesn’t have adequate support. This means that rather than attending our local school with the kids on our street and her brother, she’ll be bused to another school somewhere in the GTA. We don’t know where she’ll end up. The long process of her placement has just begun, and we could be waiting months to hear where she’ll land.

This also means her sibling will head to school each day, to a school that prides itself on diversity, and never see another child interact with a disabled sibling. He won’t see walkers, wheelchairs, sign language, or kids struggling with profound speech delay. He won’t get to celebrate his sister’s achievements with her Special Olympics teammates at school, and he won’t get to have her come and applaud a future science fair project of his. Maybe he’ll unlock a new way to help kids with learning disabilities tell time, or maybe not, since his teachers won’t understand why it matters to him, having never met his sister.

sister and brother smiling

The other children in his school will lose the opportunity to interact with exceptional kids like mine and discover how the commonalities they share are more important than any differences between them. I realize in our mosaic of a nation, we strive tirelessly to celebrate what makes us alike and what makes us different from each other. We are doing an excellent job of raising a generation to pride itself on inclusion. I fear that unless we include kids with disabilities in all schools, we will never truly achieve the diversity you speak of so proudly. In the video you said, “It’s not easy. You can’t do it overnight. A diverse and open and inclusive education system and open circle of friends is what we have to work towards in our communities.” I, and thousands of other parents, need your help now. Help to work on this diverse and open education system with an open circle of friends in my community… and every community — so my kids can go to the same school, have the same friends, belong to the same community. They too, should benefit from the power of diversity in education in Canada.

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