TOMORROW marks four weeks since the start of the new school term and wheelchair-bound teen Jevan Wright is still not in school.
The 13-year-old has been forced to stay at home while his mother, Olive Grant, and the Ministry of Education (MOE) try to find a suitable high school placement for him.
Jevan — who suffers from Dushenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerate muscle disease — was denied entry to Spanish Town High School in St Catherine, despite securing a place there based on his results in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). School authorities at the multi-storey institution said they lacked the infrastructure to accommodate his wheelchair.
The Sunday Observer published Jevan's story three weeks ago, and since then the MOE has offered the teenager a place at Eltham High School in the parish. But Grant has declined to take up that offer. She told the Jamaica Observer that with no direct transportation from their Central Village home, sending him there makes no sense, as she still cannot afford private transportation to take him to and from school each day.
"They called me and told me to come pick up the letter for him to attend Eltham High, but I have not gone for it because there still would not be any transportation for him to attend school," said Grant. "I have done my homework; I have asked many taxi men in the area. But nobody, when they see his condition, want to take him to school each day," she continued.
"I can't get a vehicle because nobody is willing to lift him. He can't go there even though it is near to me," said Grant, who still harbours hope that her son will be given a place at Mona High School in St Andrew.
If placed there, she reasoned, Jevan could utilise special transportation services for the disabled that are provided by the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC).
When contacted, June Hamilton, assistant chief education officer in the Special Education Unit at MOE, confirmed that Jevan had been registered at Eltham High, and that his mother had not collected the letter to take to the school.
The letter was sent from the permanent secretary and contained information regarding what the education ministry is willing to do for her child, said Hamilton.
When Grant's concerns regarding transporting her son to Eltham High was put to Hamilton, she replied flatly: "Sir, I am only speaking from the education aspect of the problem. She (Grant) said she wanted a place for her child and we have identified a place." She posited that travelling to Eltham High would be more suitable for Jevan than travelling to Mona High School.
Furthermore, Hamilton said, Jevan attended Fellowship Primary, which she said is located not far from Eltham High. For that reason, Hamilton said she cannot see the merit of Grant's complaints.
When contacted, Reginald Allen, communications officer at the JUTC, told the Sunday Observer that none of three bus routes designated for the disabled were useful to Jevan, who would be leaving from Central Village to Eltham High School.
"I wouldn't think so. Eltham High School is further out in Spanish Town... I don't think there is a route from Central Village to Eltham; from my last examination of the details, he said, explaining that no less than six buses operate on the routes.
Each of the routes, he said, included a stop at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre in St Andrew.
"I am confident that almost all those routes would involve Mona Rehab. Mona Rehab and Mona (High) are near to each other," he said. Jevan would have to fit into one of the routes, he said.
The Sunday Observer first met Grant last August as she pushed her son's wheelchair, seeking assistance with his back-to-school expenses at the popular LIME Back-to-School Fair in Portmore, St Catherine.
After Spanish Town High rejected Jevan in June, Grant sought placement for him at Mona High. She was told by Principal Antia Steer that while the school would take him, Jevan would be better served if he was made to board at the nearby Mona Rehabilitation Centre, rather than attempt to travel all the way from St Catherine and back each day. Grant had rejected that proposal also, claiming that the officials at the rehabilitation centre would grow tired of his constant need for assistance. Last week, a female social worker at the centre tried to allay her fears.
"There are boarding facilities for disabled children... in fact, we have children who have done very well and who have passed their CXC's and are now doing their CAPE examinations," she said. She noted, however, that the children accepted for boarding must be able to do simple tasks on their own such as feeding, bathing, and dressing themselves.
When advised of Jevan's physical condition, the worker said he would have to be checked by his physician before any arrangements could be made. She remained optimistic that Jevan may still be able to do more than his mother thinks if he is given a chance. According to her, it costs a thousand dollars weekly for children to board at the centre which provides its wards with three meals daily.
When contacted by the Sunday Observer last week, the Mona High principal said she was disappointed that Jevan had not yet been placed in a school, noting that his mother had made no further contact with her school. Steer, however, declined to say whether or not she was still prepared to accept him at Mona.
She declined to speak further on the issue, noting that a directive had been issued by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites that school authorities at Spanish Town High take the child.