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  • mmantha-co

May 10, 2024

The Ford government is denying thousands of Ontario children access  to the education they need



Admittedly, it has been a few years since I last attended school. But you know, sometimes we have seemingly minor links to our past that can be triggered easily. One of mine is triggered by the date May 1st. For me, it signals one of those ‘beginning-of-the-end’ things that conjures up wonderful memories of my boyhood days in Gogama. I say the beginning-of-the-end because, as a kid, the countdown to the end of school began once May arrived. And, as kids will tell you, June comes and goes in a heartbeat at school because of all the special or fun things that take place then. December to the end of April seemed like the movie “Groundhog Day,” endlessly repetitious and long.

It’s difficult for kids to understand the importance of school and how lucky they are to have access to high-quality public education. As adults, we know that education is the foundation of every nation’s strength, stability and progressiveness. An article published by Inclusive Education Canada entitled “Right to Education” states, “The school experience is pivotal in shaping our opportunities for employment, our relationships, our contributions to our community and our vision for the future. Lifelong patterns of inclusion are established in early childhood education programs, preschools, in the classroom and on the playgrounds of neighbourhood schools.” In fact, the right to education is so sacrosanct that it is part of every provincial and territorial education act.

Every parent of a toddler looks forward with great hope for their child, anticipating the incredible windows of opportunity that will open for their son or daughter that come with education. They can envision them, on that first day of school, climbing aboard a school bus or walking down the street holding hands with a little friend. Every parent’s dream is for their child to succeed in their pursuits. Most of us just want our children to live a life of happiness and feel fulfilled in their pursuits, whether they choose to be doctors, plumbers, police officers, retailers, or mechanics.

With these visions and dreams in mind, consider the anarchy that would envelop the province if this possibility was suddenly snatched away from Ontario students and children. Imagine the reaction if parents were suddenly told that there just is not enough money to provide the education their child would need to succeed in this world.

That is precisely what is happening to the families of the 135,000 children here in Ontario who have been identified as falling within the autistic spectrum and who need specialized programming to succeed.

Families languish on waiting lists for over 5 years, waiting for their children to access the essential educational programs they need. Since the Ford government took office in 2018, this has been a major concern that required immediate remedy. In 2019, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa McLeod announced that the ministry’s plan to overhaul the entire system would clear the diagnostic and support waitlists of 2,400 children within 18 months. Instead, after one year, the list grew to 3,282. According to Village Media news websites, the list sits at more than 6,000 children waiting for assessments. All the while, Doug Ford is playing shell games with Greenbelt lands, playing hide and seek with developers on massage tables in Las Vegas and is busy building superhighways where they are not needed or wanted. He has all but shelved the needs of families of children with autism.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) at Queen’s Park. They impressed upon me what Ford’s shelving of the needs of children with autism is doing to the kids, as well as the incredible stress this puts upon entire families.

For parents of children with autism, part of the process requires that families participate in a meeting called the Annual Determination of Needs (DON). These families describe this as nothing short of an annual trip to Hell. The parents are required each year to review their child’s needs. The OAC report describes these annual reviews as difficult, emotionally draining, hours-long conversations with a stranger. The report quotes one OAC member parent:

“Speaking badly of your children for upwards of 4 hours is not what any parent wants to do…knowing that the decision is up to someone who truly has no idea what daily life is like after it is all said and done is another story. I have 2 DONs annually and have several sleepless nights wondering if my kids will be “granted” the help they need, all dependant on how I respond.”

The OAC also raised issues that are of particular concern for Northern Ontarians. The coalition points out that Northern families face waitlists that are even longer than elsewhere in the province because of the lack of autism services in the region. There are just not enough providers in the system up here. The extended waitlists Northern Ontario families experience mean that children are not diagnosed within the necessary timeframe and, therefore, miss out on some of the most essential support that must be delivered in the child’s early years.  

As a politician, I know well how long and ardous a task it is to bring about change. The wheels of government roll so slowly. But honestly, while no one can realistically expect wide-sweeping change to happen overnight, Premier Ford has been at the helm on the issue of Autism programming for 6 years! His government has had more than enough time to make things right.

I urge you to consider the message of the “Right to Education” article above. The very future of our province and nation is heavily reliant on the success and growth of our education system. Education is not just for people who are wealthy, well-connected, academically oriented, highly intelligent or have particular interests in certain professions or vocations. Education is a right for all people, no matter who they are, where they live or how they think. Education must be tailored to meet the needs of anyone and everyone. All of those children and their parents have a right to see their hopes and dreams of living a happy, fulfilling life met as much as any child and family in Ontario.

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.


Michael Mantha, MPP

Algoma-Manitoulin 

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