When Heritage Park Secondary student Brooklyn Mavis was denied the opportunity to continue with an exchange program last month, she lost more than a trip to Prince Edward Island.
In her crusade to convince PEI organizers to reconsider, Mavis has lost friends who are treating her differently after learning about her medical issues.
Fifteen-year-old Mavis has Aspergers and epilepsy and had few friends growing up. In fact, she had hoped for a new start when she came to HPSS, and joined the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC) program.
In March, Mavis was part of a local group that hosted students from PEI, and she was supposed to travel to the east coast in May to complete the exchange. But on April 1, Mavis was told she could not participate.
A letter from PEI’s Bluefield High School officials to HPSS school principal Jim Pearce stated, “We feel that Brooklyn is not currently able to meet the mandate of the exchange with regards to social interaction with her ‘twin’ and PEI peers. Brooklyn’s inability to cope with the physical stress of an exchange was also a factor in our decision.”
The letter goes on to say the school “board cannot justify putting a student at risk by subjecting her to the unpredictable stresses” of an exchange.
Jodi Tucker, founder of Kids Matter, an advocate for children and appointed spokesperson for Mavis and her family, said Mavis’ medical conditions were disclosed from the start and her doctor also approved the trip.
In a letter to SEVEC’s executive director last week, Mavis wrote she believed she was excluded after she had a seizure at one of the outings with PEI students in March, and she pointed out the decision to eliminate her was “an uninformed and rash decision based on fear of my disability.” Nobody attempted to “seek information or education in order to find a solution where I could continue to participate while having my health and safety maintained,” she stated.
Mavis and her mother, Melanie Bowen, went to the media last week and called the move by the PEI school to exclude Mavis discriminatory.
School officials from both communities and SEVEC have been in discussions over the past few weeks to find a compromise to allow Mavis to participate.
But Mavis would rather sit out on the trip rather than comply with the list of conditions set out by PEI’s English Language School Board. In the Conditions of Participation Agreement item six required Bowen to distribute a retraction and clarification to anyone she has been in contact with “in which she suggested that Brooklyn was being discriminated against was motivated by anything other than Brooklyn’s safety.”
The new rules would have also seen Mavis living out of a hotel room on her own in PEI instead of with a billet. A chaperone would be in a separate hotel room.
“I have thought long and hard and … as much as I would love to participate in this exchange, I cannot bring myself to compromise my integrity by asking my mother to apologize for something that I know is untrue,” said Mavis.
In an email to The Record, SEVEC’s executive director Wendy Cummings said, “We sincerely regret that this has been very upsetting for Brooklyn and her family. I take the concerns of everyone associated with our youth exchanges very seriously.”
Cummings explained plans were in place initially to accommodate Mavis’ visit to PEI, but increased measures had to be developed after the medical incident during the first leg of the exchange.
“Thousands of youth enjoy SEVEC exchanges every year with local organizers taking the steps to accommodate participants of all abilities and to ensure the health and safety of all youth participants,” said Cummings.
“I find it incredibly ironic that despite the fact (Mavis) doesn’t meet the mandate for social interaction, she’s jumping into the arena for social justice,” said Tucker, who added Mavis is continuing to go to school and participate to the best of her ability. “The community has rallied behind her.”
A Facebook page called Fight Discrimination with Brooklyn was created to help Mavis with her cause.