‘We were hoping for something better’: Trym Aunevik returns to Longyearbyen, but not to school due to Down’s Syndrome; parents still trying to work out an alternative plan

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Like his peers, Trym Aunevik spent Monday greeting friends after a long summer holiday and learning new things on the first day of the new school year. Only he wasn’t at school – instead he was working in his mother’s cafe because he’s no longer allowed to attend because he has Down’s Syndrome and his parents are still struggling to come up with an alternative education plan.

Trym, 16, was ruled ineligible to attend Longyearbyen School for his final two years since there is no special education program there, leaving his family facing the possibility of moving to the mainland after living here the past 20 years. His father, Terje, said that disruption has been avoided – at least for a year – but discussions with education officials on the mainland about what essentially would be some kind of work study program remain uncertain.

“The situation is not 100 percent clear. but it seems like something can be worked out,” he said. “We are still looking for some kind of education, learning, training, things like that.”

Trym, who’s well-known to locals as a champion swimmer who will represent Norway in next year’s Special Olympic World Games, was typically upbeat and energetic at the cafe early this week while getting reacquainted with tasks he performed last year, learning new aspects of the job, and exchanging greets and hugs with residents glad to see he avoided departure.

But his parents want more than just allowing him to remain among familiar faces in the town he’s lived his entire life.

“We were hoping for something better,” Terje said. “We were really hoping for some kind of training at school when it comes to reading and writing, and understanding what he reads. We’ll find a way, but we’ll have to find it ourselves.”

The possibility Trym might have to move to the mainland has been a possibility since 2012 when Norway’s Ministry of Education decided students in Svalbard are not entitled to special education. But arrangements have been made with Longyearbyen city officials until the end of the last school year.

Trym’s parents tried this spring to convince city officials to let him repeat the grade he completed last year, but were refused. His parents then approached school officials in the Troms district, where the family’s mainland hometown is, about allowing Trym’s job at the cafe to be part of a work study program, but Terje said they want to ensure he’s engaged in more conventional education activities to prepare him for adult life.

Enrolling Trym in a special education program on the mainland would have meant uprooting a family with community ties well beyond the youth’s swimming achievements. Terje is the chairman of the Svalbard Chamber of Commerce and Managing Director of Pole Position Logistics, while Trym’s mother, Tove Beate Eide, has owned and operated the Fruene cafe since 2003.

“We got the offer for a school (on the mainland), but he could not move alone,” Terje said. “He is too young.”

It appears any future studies Trym does in Longyearbyen won’t be formally connected with a school, Terje said. But at least the teenager will be doing them here with his family.

 “At least we have one year to see how this works out,” Terje said.

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