They force our most vulnerable children to wait, oftentimes, until it is too late

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Make Learning a Liability: Change the Toronto District School Board’s Special Ed Plan

We hereby appeal to the provincial Ministry of Education to immediately and without delay call a task force to address the systemic problems in Toronto District School Board practices – to recognize that the constitutional rights of innumerable children are not being met; that the needs of so many children have already been passed over, to their detriment; that on their watch, countless children have not been afforded their right to realize the potential that the TDSB says they are entitled to realize by the Board’s own error, omission, and delay. And, to acknowledge that all children deserve more than this.

It is regrettably too late for many; and just the right time for many more.

Toronto:

A beautifully diverse city of more than 6 million residents; boasting renowned restaurants, burgeoning theatre, music and arts scenes, housing 3 large universities and 4 colleges, world-class hospitals and research centers,  and where the price of the average detached home hovers at $1.052M.

A city equipped with a public transit system, a diverse waterfront and domestic and international airports. A place worthy of welcoming more than 13 million tourists in 2014, and hosting the Pan American Games in 2015.

In short – Toronto is a place where we are proud to live, work, study and raise our children.

But it is also home to the largest public school board in the country – the Toronto District School Board.

In January 2015, the TDSB came under scrutiny following Margaret Wilson’s scathing report on its practices and protocols – urging trustees to make immediate and drastic changes to the way things are.

Quite simply, neuro-atypical children, including those with learning disabilities, diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of other exceptionalities are afforded rights to equality and equity in their access to the Toronto District School Board’s curriculum via various acts of legislation, but, by virtue of its systemic problems and fractured infrastructure, it fails to meet its obligations to countless children time and again.

The processes enforced by the TDSB are unintuitive and redundant. They cause the province to incur tremendous cost unnecessarily, and, more importantly, they force our most vulnerable children to wait, oftentimes, until it is too late.

There is a reason that there is a phrase – lost in the system– dedicated to these students.

The TDSB’s own Special Education Plan provides for the rights and entitlements of children requiring support. It goes on to confirm that early intervention is key to managing cases. But it simply fails to deliver.

The TDSB does not have its own ombudsperson; no branch with whom a complaint can be lodged. Not by parents, educators, or its elected Trustees.

How then, we ask, do the countless concerns of educators and parents alike who support children with special needs get what their children need, in a system that is designed to force parents to look the other way – to become so overwhelmed by logistics, obtuse and ambiguous policy and processes, and the sheer fact that only those parents with a degree of privilege will be even remotely capable of advocating for their special needs child if necessary?

Despite its clear “commitment” to equality and equity, to equipping students with that which they require to learn, it seems much is left to chance in the TDSB. School to school, administrator to administrator, circumstances shift. A parent can only hope that their child gets a « good » teacher, a « receptive » principal and a supportive environment. We should not feel as though we are pulling a lever on a slot machine when we enroll our children to learn within the TDSB.

That is not our inclusive, world-class City of Toronto and as parents, tax payers and advocates, we simply demand more.

For each hour, day, and week that the TDSB fails to acknowledge the fundamental problems in its current practices, it tacitly accepts that it is o.k. to disobey the laws governing this province. That it is o.k. to hold a hand up to the face of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to the Ontario Human Rights Code and say « Not now. We’re too busy. »

We appeal to the province and the Toronto District School Board to stop the rampant marginalization of children and students with special needs. They do not deserve « more », they simply deserve what their average counterparts already receive, and what is rightfully theirs to earn – an education free from any and all barriers to success.

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