CALGARY — Staff and parents at a Calgary school for children with autism are worried the cancellation of an important fundraiser due to coronavirus concerns could have a major impact on their future.

Janus Academy was founded in Calgary in 1997 by six families seeking a specialized school for their children.

It operates as an accredited independent, non-profit school to meet the unique educational needs of school-aged children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

It’s Mission over the last 23 years has been to empower and support persons with autism and their families, maximizing their quality of life by providing the model learning environment that meets their academic, social and emotional needs.

Some 60 students are enrolled at the school from Grades 1 to 12 said Janus Academy executive director Carlene Chrumka.  A total of $45,000 is needed for each student per year.  The province pays $24,000, and parents pay tuition of $14,000.

“We’re an independent school that gets funding from Alberta Education as well as parents have to pay tuition,” said Chrumka.  “But we also need to fundraiser approximately $7,000 per year, per child, in order to offer the specialized services we do.”

To raise those additional funds the academy hosts a gala with a silent auction and this year’s was to take place Saturday.

But COVID19 changed that.

Typically, upward of 600 people attend the event, but the virus has restricted social gatherings to less than 250 people.

Chrumka said that’s forced them to cancel the event.

“It’s devastating, not only from a financial point of view but also from a celebration and a great gathering point of view as well for all of us,” she said.

Mary Westcott’s 12 year old son Jack is in Grade 7 at Janus Academy.  He’s been there a since Grade 1 and Westcott says it’s had a big impact on him and his learning.

“Jack is pretty severely compromised by his autism and was really cut off from us,” she said.  “But they really helped us connect with him so I think their curriculum is really world class.”

Westcott says the program is expensive though and the cost of tuition has constantly risen over the past few years.  She’s worried about what the impact of cancelling the gala will be on parents.

“So I know my first thought was ‘OK, relief that we’re not taking any unnecessary risk but immediately I do have concerns about the cost of this to the school and staffing and the wonderful services they’re able to provide,” said Westcott.

The school has scrambled and is now planning to host its silent auction on the Janus Academy website.

“We also had wonderful support from the people who were going to be coming to the event and saying, ‘please don’t reimburse our ticket sales, just take it as a donation,'” said Chrumka.