OCDSB asks province to rethink autism changes

Ottawa's largest school board voted Monday night to ask the province to reconsider changes to autism funding, joining a growing list of organizations concerned about the effects on classrooms.

Parents who will lose funding applaud board's decision

OCDSB chair Lynn Scott, left, will now take the board's concerns about the impact of changes to autism funding to two cabinet ministers involved in the issue. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Ottawa's largest school board voted Monday night to ask the province to reconsider changes to autism funding, joining a growing list of organizations concerned about the effects on classrooms. 

"We're happy to collaborate [with the province]," said Lynn Scott, chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

"But we need to understand what is going to happen and we need to be assured it will be adequately supported and funded."

The unanimous vote tasks the chair to communicate concerns with both Education Minister Lisa Thompson and in person with Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, the MPP for Nepean. 

Last month MacLeod announced changes to the Ontario Autism Program to offer what she described as more immediate assistance to all families, as well as eliminate a waitlist of 23,000 children.

Some say the changes are a starting point, but there is widespread criticism of the caps on funding that will severely cut resources to parents receiving intensive autism therapy.

The Ontario Principals' Council also sent a letter to the education minister Tuesday asking them to delay these changes if the province isn't ready to give schools the resources to handle them.

Schools worry it could mean an influx of those children beginning next month, before the board has even assessed the resources it will need nor secured the funding to pay for it. 

During the meeting, board staff told trustees they still did not know how many children may seek help from the schools, challenging the ability to figure out the resources they need.

Peter Symmonds, superintendent of learning support services ⁦with the OCDSB⁩, says he doesn't know how many kids may be forced into schools after losing autism therapy funding. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Parents support trustees

Some parents affected by the change attended Tuesday night's vote to support the board.

Kate Logue told trustees her five-year-old son is still non-verbal, not completely toilet trained, and has high needs.

He attends a local school one day a week, with intensive therapy four days a week at a cost of about $80,000 a year. 

In anticipation of losing that funding, Logue said she has been asking the school staff whether they have the resources to take him full time.

"They can't really tell me that, they have not been told they're getting any additional support," she said. 

Jenny Sturgeon told trustees her son had been attending school full-time before recently getting off the waiting list for intensive autism therapy worth $45,000 a year. 

With the prospect of having to go back into the school system, she told trustees her son's school experience suggested it lacked trained staff and resources to even make sure the boy ate his lunch.

"So he didn't," she told trustees through tears — the family later discovered he hadn't eaten his lunch for several months.


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