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OPSEU to Sandals: come clean on schools for special-needs kids

Toronto – Education Minister Liz Sandals must disclose whether she is about to close five provincially run schools for deaf, blind, deaf-blind and severely learning-disabled students, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

“Everything the minister is doing says these schools are shutting down,” says Daryl O’Grady, a residence counsellor and president of OPSEU Local 456. “Now she’s put a gag order on all ministry and school staff. She needs to come clean with us.”

The schools in question are the Robarts School for the Deaf and the Centre Jules Léger in Ottawa; Amethyst Demonstration School in London; Trillium Demonstration School in Milton; and Sagonaska Demonstration School in Belleville. Some 164 pupils and 151 staff would be affected by the closures.

O’Grady says a number of ministry actions point to closure this summer, including:

  • All new admissions have been put on hold.
  • Teachers on secondment from school boards are returning to their home schools.
  • The ministry is playing up declining enrolment at the provincial schools and saying Ontario is the only province to offer a residence program for students with severe disabilities.

The Ministry of Education has posted a survey for students, parents, staff, and education and community stakeholders. O’Grady believes the $1.8-million consultation is a sham to justify shuttering the five schools – something recommended by ex‑banker Don Drummond in his 2012 report.

“It’s a stunt and a stalling tactic,” says O’Grady. “They’re trying to pull the wool over the heads of our kids, their parents and the public. In June, when the legislature is empty and people are on vacation, the government will quietly announce it’s closing the schools. That’s my prediction.”

The ministry says pupils could be integrated into local schools in their home communities. O’Grady doesn’t buy it.

“The underfunding that threatens these schools has also undermined the special-education budgets of boards across the province. Local schools are telling parents they just don’t have the supports to properly look after their children.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas was equally skeptical. “These Liberals only listen to bankers. Make no mistake: this isn’t about vulnerable children’s welfare. This is about cutting costs. I say to Liz Sandals: for the sake of the kids – and their families – don’t close these schools.”

For more information: Daryl O’Grady, 613-329-6365