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Preschool case off to human rights tribunal

Jesse Weiser, 3, plays with blocks as his mom Tanja looks on.  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Jesse Weiser, 3, plays with blocks as his mom Tanja looks on.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

The mother of a diabetic toddler who was turned away from a Maple Ridge preschool because of his emergency pack of peanut butter will continue her fight at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

In a ruling Thursday, the tribunal rejected Montessori Corner Preschool’s request to dismiss Tanja Weiser’s complaint, allowing it to proceed to a hearing.

Weiser filed a complaint on behalf of her three-year-old son, Jesse, after Montessori Corner refused to admit him “to prevent the introduction of hazardous nut allergens into an environment attended by allergic children.”

However, Weiser believes the school denied her son enrolment on the basis of his physical and mental disabilities.

Jesse has mild autism and Type 1 or juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.

When told about Montessori Corner’s “nut-free” policy, Weiser advised the school that the peanut butter could be replaced with another protein – pudding, yoghurt or pepperoni stick.

But when the Weisers called the preschool back to confirm Jesse’s placement, they were told the class was full, but he could be placed on a waiting list.

“His life does not depend on peanut butter,” said Weiser. “But they weren’t willing to work with us or discuss alternatives. I would have had no problem adhering to their no-nut policy.”

Weiser claims when her mother called Montessori Corner the next day to inquire about a space, there was an opening.

That’s the reason why Weiser believes the preschool rejected her son because of his special needs.

“It had everything to do with their fears,” said Weiser, “not to do with the peanut butter.”

Three other preschools in Maple Ridge had similar excuses when she enquired about a placement, although Jesse has a government-funded support worker who would attend pre-school with him.

“Nobody seems to want him,” said Weiser, who is determined to take her complaint to the next stage to draw awareness to the issue.

“It happens too often to families with children who have special needs. This is not a unique situation.”

In his ruling, Bernd Walter, chair of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, encouraged Weiser and the preschool to use the tribunal’s settlement services to resolve the complaint without a hearing.

Weiser would rather not settle.

“If we do that, it will be private,” said Weiser. “I want to create awareness. This has to stop. I’m just trying to send a message to other preschools.”

The Weisers hope their story will push B.C. to establish clear enrolment guidelines as private preschools are not regulated by the province or health authorities.

Montessori Corner Preschool and Daycare would still like to have an “open discussion” with the Weisers about its decision.

“We feel confident that if the case is eventually heard by the tribunal, it will be established that the school had a reasonable justification for our decision and that we did not contravene the code,” said Debora Vieira, directress of Montessori Corner Preschool and Daycare.

Vieira explained that the twice-a-week afternoon class that Jesse wanted to be a part of has a student with a severe nut allergy.

“We felt that, however slight the possibility, introducing a health hazard to one of the children under our care was not a risk that we were comfortable taking,” said Vieira.

She added that the Weisers did indicate they would remove the peanut butter from Jesse’s emergency kit, but that his mom, who lives five minutes away, would drive to the school and administer the protein in her car, should he need it.

“This offer didn’t exactly solve the issue as … traces of the peanut allergen could potentially be carried immediately back into the classroom from the car,” said Vieira.

Vieira explained the school’s decision to Weiser and advised the family that Jesse could be put on a waiting list, but never heard back from them until the human right’s complaint was filed.

“We go the extra mile to make our environment a safe, happy and enjoyable environment to all our loved little ones,” said Vieira.

 

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