Students do not consent – how cuts to education are detrimental

On the eve of April 4th, hundreds of students across Ontario made posters and rallied support for when they collectively walked out of their classrooms to protest cuts being made to their education. A few weeks ago, Education Minister Lisa Thompson and Premier Doug Ford announced over $1 billion in cuts to our public education.

These cuts will mean 1000 fewer teachers in our classrooms just here in Toronto, class sizes of up to 40 students, inadequate support for children in Special Education programs including those with autism, and 4 compulsory online classes for high school students. Students all over our province will feel the pressure and inadequacy of our public schools as their classroom sizes continue to inflate and their education is used as a means to “balance” the budget.  

Minister Thompson justified these cuts by insisting that the lack of resources and help from teachers will make children “more resilien[t].” This argument is neither based in fact nor logic. Students attend school to learn – if teachers do not have the capacity to teach, they will fall through the cracks.

The reality is that parents and private services, like tutoring, will have to fill in these gaps in support. However, this asks: who will have access to help?

Low-income families and parents who do not have the resources nor time to help their children with homework and who cannot afford tutoring services will experience the most inequitable aspects of our education system. Children who recently immigrated and students whose parents are not familiar with the education system or have English as a Second Language will be at a further disadvantage.

Modern Canadian society often identifies education, or access to a good education, as the great equalizer. It is touted as a way for those from marginalized groups to have access to the “middle class.” This dream, or ideal, is getting further and further out of reach.

Over the last couple of decades, subsequent governments have grossly underfunded our education system. Cuts to education under the Conservative Harris Government and the funding freezes of the subsequent 15 years of Liberal government have created the conditions for a perfect storm here in Ontario.

Classroom sizes were already inflated, and funding freezes have led Ontario schools to have over $15 billion in repair backlog. Minister Thompson and Premier Ford are taking a bad situation and making it worse. Instead of investing more into our education, they want to cut over $1 billion from our schools.

What is most disheartening is that some of the same Conservative Caucus members supporting these cuts are the ones who send their children to private schools where the teacher-student ratio is 6:1 – allowing their children to get the help and assistance they need to succeed.

Access to good education should not be reserved for those who can afford $25,000 private school tuition.If we truly believe in a just and equitable society, we need to ensure our public education system is funded so teachers and support staff are well-equipped to help any child succeed.

Make no mistake – cuts to public education hurt all who attend public school. These cuts will further deepen the divide in our city and province across lines of income and race. We must stand up and speak out against the Ontario Government’s cuts.

If you are interested in taking action, please sign Progress Toronto’s petition and send an email to your local MPP, the Minister of Education, and Premier Ford! Check it out here: www.progresstoronto.ca

“I want my son to be able to access the world around him” – what the new changes mean for children on the autism spectrum and their families

Angela is a proud mom to a 13-year-old boy named Misha – he loves ice-skating, summer camp, recently was the recipient of his school’s Perseverance Award and lives with severe autism. Because of ABA therapy, Misha developed the skills he needed to live an ordinary life.

“There’s this quote that really resonates me: parents of kids without special needs want their kids to live extraordinary lives, and parents of kids with special needs want their kids to be able to live ordinary lives,” Angela shares.

But it is going to get harder for kids like Misha to be able to live ordinary lives – last month Ontario Conservative Minister Lisa Macleod revealed plans to change the province’s autism program. These changes have been largely criticized by not only the autism community but by experts and professionals in the field.

Angela explains that her son has been on-and-off the waitlist for years since he was diagnosed at 18-months. Misha first came off the waitlist when he was 3 went back on when he was 6. He received intensive and life-changing ABA therapy – therapy that would have cost around $80k out of pocket per year. The new Conservative plan does not fully cover any child’s therapy but instead offers what many families consider to be insufficient relief.

Once Misha was back on the waitlist, Angela and her husband worked full-time to be able to afford his treatment. 100% of her paycheck and a significant portion of her husband’s helped pay for this speech and ABA therapy as well as homecare. Angela not only worked full-time job but also designed the programs, managed the staff, and stayed up every night until 2am to learn more about the best treatments.

Unfortunately, this lifestyle was unsustainable – Angela reached her breaking point. She left her job and took measures to address her own health. Her family cut corners and implemented an even-more stringent budget to make-ends-meet. Life was manageably unmanageable – a reality too common for families coping with autism who do not have access to the resources they need.

Luckily, in April 2018, Misha came off the waitlist. He was able to get the therapy he needs – lifting a huge weight off Angela’s shoulders.

“I want my son to be able to access the world around him,” Angela shares – and with the help of years of fully-funded therapy, he can. Recently, Misha attended an overnight school trip – a trip he could only take because of the accommodations made and also because of the ABA therapy he has had. Despite his severe autism, Misha can put on his own clothes, can communicate effectively and has developed coping mechanisms when he feels overwhelmed.

Many consider the waitlist to be less than ideal but also reference it as a source of hope – without the possibility of fully-funded therapy, life with autism is extraordinarily bleak. This is why Angela and a group of parents have organized – they attended rallies, contacted their MPPs and organized their community demanding the government to not go through with these changes.

Angela recently spoke with her MPP Roman Baber when she shared Misha’s story with him and urged him to stand up for her family and families like hers. To her disappointment, Angela was met with hollow words of sympathy and an MPP who was steadfast in supporting his government.

Angela notes that Misha is not in the worst position. Children who are younger than him and their families will have little support. The new program no longer fully covers the ABA therapy Misha received as a child.

The repercussions and the fallout of this cut will affect thousands. Children living with autism will be integrated into a school system that is not ready for them. Many will not be able to afford the ABA therapy that has changed Misha’s life and these families will have to cope with financial and personal strain. The reverberations will be felt by many – affecting everything from classrooms to the mental health of families who cannot access the supports they need.

“It’s infuriating when the Ford Government says they’re for the people – if you’re for the people, then is my child not a person?” Angela expressed.

 

*Edits have been: other versions of this article misspelled MPP Roman Baber’s name.