No accessible playground at Cowichan school is heartbreaking, mom says

Two families of physically challenged children are asking for changes to their school in Lake Cowichan.

The two boys, Oliver Finlayson, 11, and Devon Van Dyk, 9, have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare genetic condition that affects their mobility and prevents them from playing in the playground.

Their families have been asking for money for years to build a more accessible playground, but the wait continues and the boys stay outside.

Finlayson and Van Dyk say they would like to be with their friends during class breaks, but cannot access it for several reasons, including the fact that it sits on a bed of gravel.

“With Duchenne muscular dystrophy I can’t do much, I can’t run very fast and I need it to get around,” Van Dyk said, referring to his wheelchair. “I can still go on the swing, but the playground is just not accessible.”

“There’s gravel so I can’t get near it,” Finlayson said.

Both boys say the playground has put up a barrier that has impacted their friendships, which is hard to accept.

“Kind of like, sad and upset at the same time because I can’t really go where my friends are sometimes,” Finlayson said.

Nine-year-old Devon Van Dyk and 11-year-old Oliver Finlayson both have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which means they are often separated from friends who play on the school’s inaccessible playground Lake Cowichan during recess and lunch. November 4, 2022.

The boys’ parents have been calling for an accessible playground at Lake Cowichan School for years.

“It’s heartbreaking to have to send him to school and isolate him from his peers,” said Aime Mattice-Finlayson, Oliver’s mother.

“The majority of people I’ve spoken to about this through the school district, everyone brings it down to a price tag. That shouldn’t be the case.”

The Cowichan Valley School District says this playground has been the board’s top priority for several years.

“I know last year we submitted an application. Unfortunately, we were unable to get this playground renovated to make it an accessible playground,” said Cowichan Valley School District Communications Director Mike Russell. “We are applying again this year in the hope that the results will be different.”

In a news release, the British Columbia Ministry of Education says it has invested $30 million in 231 new playgrounds over the past five years, and ministry staff are currently reviewing capital plans to prioritize projects for the 2023 budget.

Families would like a solution before the fleeting time that children can enjoy playgrounds passes.

This past year, three schools on Vancouver Island received funding for accessible playgrounds. Lake Cowichan School was not one of them.

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Harold B. McConnell