The Case for Residential Education
A student cannot have meaningful access to an education without attendance at school. No longer can we take an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude to the absence of students from school. The loss of time from school can never be replaced for a young person. Being behind in work, anxious about completing school work and tests and the judgments of other students, feelings of shame and despair at being a “head case”, being bullied because of being different– all of this is a toxic mix of catastrophic thinking that create a great chasm to returning to school.
The importance of educating children as a value in our legal system is symbolized by the fact that the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, in Article 28, recognizes the right of the child to education..
Young people with mental health disabilities need many healthcare and education supports and services to manage school and life. A residential education provides the kinds of structured school and living supports that can enable young people to learn, grow, and thrive. The reality of this lack of support in Canada is clear.
“My boarding school was the most life changing experience. When I started, I felt hopeless, lost and just completely worthless. I couldn’t find a reason to get out of bed anymore or if there was any hope for me. Looking back if my boarding school wasn’t there, I honestly don’t know where I would be.”
Even the intrepid among us might sink without someone to hold them”
Playwright, poet and mental health advocate
Mental health problems can seriously impair young people’s ability to be successful at school and in their relationships with peers. Without the support that children and youth require as they struggle with mental health issues, their future is severely impacted. Dealing with mental health issues is a matter of life and death. It is important to give children and youth a reason to feel hopeful, supported, understood and respected.
In the United States, residential schooling is regularly considered as an accommodation for students with certain types of disabilities, including anxiety and related school refusal/phobia. 280. Under the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), a student is entitled to a “free appropriate public education.” The courts in the United States have recognized that in some cases, an “appropriate” education for a student with a disability may be in a boarding school environment. In a case very similar to other cases in Canada, the U.S. District Court of Maine granted tuition funding to a student with mental health disabilities and corresponding school refusal (Lamoine School Committee v. Ms. Z on behalf of N.S., 353 F. Supp. 2d 18; 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151, TAB 6). In this case, the student (“N.S”) had diagnoses of major depression, adjustment disorder with anxiety, and a learning disability. He regularly refused to attend school and he was absent from his public school for long periods of time. His mother sought supports to get her son to school in the morning, which were not provided by her son’s school. As a result, she enrolled her son in a private residential school, where he began to improve academically and attend school regularly because of the structure, consistency and resources found there.
The impact of residential schooling on students’ overall mental health and corresponding ability to attend school is remarkable. Breaking the pattern of school refusal/school phobia, depression and other mental health challenges by being in a residential facility is possible because of the many benefits of a structured, supportive and compassionate response to living and studying that uses motivators instead of fear to manage the educational experience.
The court in the United States noted that a young person’s disability and ability to receive an education were “so intertwined they could not be separated” The courts have held that a residential schooling environment is necessary for students with mental health disabilities so that they can receive an education. The consequences under U.S. law is that the tuition of these schools is covered in order to provide the students with an appropriate education, at no extra cost to the family.
We need a change in how we think about young people and their mental health, a willingness to step outside the bounds of what we know and a consideration of more creative and innovative ways to address the educational accommodations and supports required by students with exceptional and special needs.
LINK to bakerlaw website