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HSD policy review leaves dancer in the dark

Masha Scheele

The Hinton School of Dance (HSD) is working to change some of its policies addressing students with disabilities, and one local family is fighting to put a stop to it.

Seven-year-old Alexis Rosseel has danced at the school for the past four years, despite her spinal disability.

According to her family, she isn’t able to resume her regular dance classes this fall due to the draft policy shared with them. The Rosseel family, who re-registered their two daughters in dance at HSD after the summer, was asked to review the rough draft of the policy.

Sharing policies still in review with families isn’t standard practice for the school.

“The draft was not shared with all HSD families and will not be distributed by HSD until additional revisions have been completed and reviewed by the appropriate personnel and authorities,” stated Melissa Pattison, HSD executive director, in an email.

The draft policy was provided to them with the sole purpose of requesting their feedback, she added. After providing feedback to the school on the policy, Rosseel claimed HSD went ahead and unregistered Alexis from her classes.

At that time, Alexis’ mom, Megan, was still a board member of HSD, but has since resigned from this position.

HSD could not comment on any issues involving individuals at the school, but stated, “No dancer has been unregistered from the dance school due to this draft policy.”

Rosseel claimed that Alexis was first moved to another class before being completely unregistered.

Alexis has not been back to her regular dance classes since classes began two weeks ago, he said.

Pattison clarified that any changes done relative to enrollment processes has nothing to do with any individual registrant. 

“Part of our due diligence review involved insurance considerations. We work with our insurer to determine whether we are compliant with our coverage requirements and, when specific situations arise, we take appropriate measures to maintain our insurance,” she stated.

The family said Alexis did not have any safety issues prior to this when taking hip hop and ballet lessons at the school.

Her father believes the change might have something to do with an acro class being a requirement when taking ballet and hip hop, which could require more assistance.

“I don’t think it’s a personal thing and I don’t think any of the teachers have anything against Alexis, I don’t think the staff does. But I think they’ve just taken to covering their butts a little bit too far,” said Rosseel.

Pattison explained that as some classes become more advanced and require complex movements, teachers may not be qualified to assess whether a child with a disability can safely participate.

“In the Foundations stream of dance, as students progress to preparing for exams, modifications to movements are not permissible under the examining authorities syllabus,” she added.

The way Rosseel looks at it is that his daughter runs the same risk as any other child of getting hurt during dance classes.

“We do have letters from her pediatrician and physiotherapy all clearing her to be totally fine to dance. Medically she’s been cleared, there’s really no cause for concern,” he added.

Alexis was born with caudal regression syndrome, which means she does not have the lower part of her spine causing mobility issues in her ankles and knees.

She can still move around and walk, but uses a wheelchair and walker for longer distances.

“To be clear, our dance instructors are qualified to teach dance, however they are not specifically trained in modifying dance movements for dancers with limited mobility and/or range of motion,” stated Pattison.

In the past, Alexis has also been part of a gymnastics group where they were required to fill out paperwork detailing her mobility.

“They wanted to know how far she can bend her knees and her motion. We gave [HSD] a copy of them,” said Rosseel. 

When she participated in gymnastics, she was able to stay with the class but had an extra instructor who would focus on arm work with her while the rest of the class focused on leg work.

Rosseel feels like the training of instructors at HSD is just fine and he feels completely confident of her safety in their hands.

“She’s very hopeful she can go back to dance class, and if she can’t she’ll be crushed. She watches her big sister dance every day of the week, almost. She wants to be like her and go to dance as well,” said Rosseel.

The Rosseels started a petition to allow Alexis to dance, called Let Alexis Dance, which has garnered over 2,000 signatures. 

They hope Alexis will be able to dance among her friends and not be segregated into her own lesson.