Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
Vital Supports for Vulnerable Students with Disabilities Imperiled at Peel District School Board, But Parents Fight Back
February 12, 2024
Here is a shocking illustration of how, even in 2024, vital services and supports for students with disabilities in publicly funded schools are far too vulnerable. It shows why parents of those students must always be ready to swing into action on a moment’s notice when senior school board officials quietly make bad decisions that threaten those services. We learned yet again that we cannot count on Ontario’s Ministry or Minister of Education to take swift action and show much-needed leadership when alerted to these threats. Once again, they were asleep at the switch.
Last week, we learned these painful and unfair lessons as a result of highly disturbing events at the Peel District School Board (PDSB). However, because the Ford Government has still not enacted the promised Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act for which we have been waiting for years, these events could happen at any time at any of Ontario’s 72 publicly funded school boards. Read on!
Here’s What Happened
Less than two weeks ago, the PDSB sent letters to almost three hundred teachers and school board staff who are responsible for providing vital services for students with special education needs. PDSB declared “excess” or redundant all of PDSB’s teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), among others. TVIs are the highly specialised teachers who teach blind and low-vision students vital skills such as how to read Braille. Within hours, the Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (OPVIC) heard about this. For over six years, OPVIC has been trying without success to get the Ontario Government to tackle the large and growing shortage of teachers of the visually impaired in Ontario and the substandard training requirements for these specialists.
In the face of these cuts, on February 5, 2024, David Lepofsky, in his role as a member of OPVIC’s board of directors, wrote Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Lepofsky’s letter, set out below, alerted the Minister to these events and asked the Ford Government to intervene with the PDSB to get these cuts reversed.
OPVIC also quickly took this issue to CBC. CBC contacted the Ministry of Education and the PDSB for their responses. Within hours, PDSB backtracked. It rescinded its letters that had declared PDSB TVIs to be excess or surplus for next fall. We gather it is also in the process of backtracking on its cuts to other special education positions. Below you can read the thorough news report that CBC posted online on Friday, February 9, 2024.
The Bigger Picture
PDSB argued that even with its intended cuts, no teachers were losing their jobs. That calculated evasion is beside the point. Yes, PDSB TVIs would not have lost their jobs as teachers at PDSB. However, they could and likely would have ended up being re-assigned to other jobs, such as teaching sighted children in a gym or kindergarten class. The important point is that with the intended PDSB cuts, those teachers would no longer be teaching blind and low vision students. Blind and low vision students would have lost the specialized supports that are essential to their ability to get an effective education.
PDSB argued that it initially declared those special education positions as “excess” or redundant because it did not yet know how many students it would have in the fall who would need their expert support. PDSB also does not know how many students in total it will have next fall. Yet it did not declare every PDSB teacher’s job as “excess” or redundant simply because it did not know how many teachers it would need across the board next fall.
PDSB argued that when it initially declared those TVIs and many other special education positions “excess” or redundant, it could always decide to recall those positions before the fall, so that blind, low vision, and other students with special education needs are not left out in the cold. Yet, there is a serious shortage of TVIs in Ontario. PDSB’s TVIs would likely be hired in a snap by other school boards. That would indeed leave PDSB blind and low vision students with no specialists to teach them Braille and other vital skills.
While OPVIC won this battle for the 2024-2025 school year, parents of students with special education needs at PDSB are still very vulnerable. On January 30, 2024, PDSB senior officials told the PDSB Special Education Advisory Committee that it plans to do this kind of review every year. It is unfair that parents of students with disabilities must thereby be ready to fight this battle again next year and potentially every year.
This incident reveals a serious systemic failure by Ontario’s Ministry of Education. The Ministry sets no minimum requirements for school boards when serving blind and low vision students. At its January 30, 2024, Special Education Advisory Committee meeting, PDSB officials said that their planned cut of positions was consistent with Ministry requirements.
As the February 9, 2024, CBC news report makes it clear, the Ministry takes the position that it forks over the money to school boards and leaves it to school boards to decide what to do for students with special education needs. That lies at the heart of the problem. That is why Ontario must enact the promised and long-overdue Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. The Ford Government has no excuse for failing to do so. It has had the final report of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee for over two years. That report provides a comprehensive roadmap of what the promised Education Accessibility Standard needs to include to serve the basic rights and needs of all students with disabilities in Ontario-funded schools.
This fight was led last week by OPVIC, which focuses on the plight of blind and low vision students. However, it similarly concerns all students with any disability whose services were endangered by the PDSB cuts. It is not unusual for parents of children with one disability to spearhead a battle for their children that are emblematic of broader systemic barriers.
The fact that PDSB backtracked so swiftly when CBC came knocking at their door shows us several things. It shows how indefensible these planned cuts were. Having been decided or approved at a high level within PDSB, it shows how out of touch senior school board officials are with the needs of vulnerable students with disabilities. It shows that the intervention of the media, like CBC in this case, can make all the difference in protecting our kids. We need more media attention on the plight of students with disabilities in our schools.
This incident shows that when the Ministry of Education and Minister Lecce talk about going back to basics, like reading, writing and arithmetic, they are systemically discriminating against students with disabilities. For example, how can Blind students succeed in reading, writing and arithmetic if they cannot learn Braille and the other core skills that only TVIs can impart?
This incident also shows how a school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee can play an important role in pressing senior board officials for answers. For tips on how members of a school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee or a city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee can advocate effectively, check out the AODA Alliance’s captioned video on this topic.
Finally, this incident shows that senior Ministry of Education officials and senior school board officials across Ontario would be well-advised to think twice before trying to make such cuts to services for students with special education needs and then try to hide their decision behind a smokescreen of bureaucratic technobabble. Parents of students with disabilities and their advocates will be watching like hawks and ready to swing into action, as happened last week.
We call on the Ministry of Education to investigate these events and make public its findings. Why did PDSB make such a harmful initial decision, victimizing its most vulnerable students? Who signed off on this? What will PDSB put in place to ensure this never happens again?
How Can You Help?
Write Premier Ford. Tell him we need him to enact the promised Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act now! Write him at email@example.com
For more background, check out:
- AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s captioned video describing the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee final report.
- The saga of the unsuccessful efforts by the Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children since 2018 to address shortfalls in Ontario supports for students with vision loss in Ontario-funded schools, set out on the OPVIC website’s teachers of the visually impaired page.
- David Lepofsky’s captioned video presentation providing tips for parents of students with disabilities on how to advocate for their child’s needs at school.
- The AODA Alliance website’s education page.
CBC News February 9, 2024
eel school board backtracks on reassigning special ed teachers after outcry from parents |
Moving forward, each department will decide annually how many staff members it needs for year ahead: board
Amy Kedrosky’s five-year-old daughter is blind and attends a school within the Peel District School Board. She says the supports her daughter receives at school are invaluable. (Mike Smee/CBC)
Teachers of children with disabilities at the Peel District School Board who had been warned they could be moved to other departments in the coming school year are getting a reprieve — at least for this year.
Last week, the teachers were warned that they could be shifted into different departments to do different work. But within the last couple of days, the board began sending out letters rescinding the plan.
The board’s change of heart is welcome news to David Lepofsky, chair of the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, who has a child who is visually impaired.
“It’s a relief, but it’s also a warning about how vulnerable our visually impaired kids and other students with special needs are within the school boards,” he told CBC Toronto. “They need to be protected.”
David Lepofsky of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance says the supports that school boards provide to students with disabilities are a right, not a privilege. (Mike Smee/CBC)
The PDSB employs hundreds of teachers who don’t work full-time in traditional classroom settings. Instead, they work from the board’s head office for one of 16 departments, like math, the equity and Indigenous department, or the special education department. As specialists, they help develop strategy at the board’s headquarters, as well as work in classrooms for varying periods of time.
Those 288 teachers received notices earlier this month that the departments for which they work may not be able to afford them in the 2024-2025 school year. Because all are qualified teachers, they were told they would be redeployed to classrooms or other departments with deeper pockets.
The plan was a cost-saving measure, according to the PDSB’s Tiffany Gooch, executive lead of public engagement and communications.
“No one is losing their job,” she said in a statement to CBC Toronto.
The PDSB’s Tiffany Gooch says the board puts a priority on the needs of its students with “exceptionalities” which is why the status quo will be maintained this year.
The PDSB’s executive lead of public engagement and communications, Tiffany Gooch, says the board puts a priority on the needs of its students with ‘exceptionalities,’ which is why the status quo will be maintained this year. (Mike Smee/CBC)
“We realize this is an anxiety-ridden moment for parents of students with exceptionalities, and that any conversation about staffing changes would make them worried about what that means for their child” she told CBC Toronto in an interview. “That’s why there is no change for next year for the staffing for the visually impaired, for the hard of hearing, for itinerant teachers who support (those) students.”
No guarantees for future school years
Parents had worried that their disabled children could be deprived of vital services in the year ahead. But although they have a reprieve for the 2024-25 school year, there’s no guarantee that they won’t lose them in the following years.
Gooch says moving forward, each department will decide annually how many staff members it will need in the school year ahead.
Each board is funded according to the number of pupils it has, and when enrolment declines, so do the school board’s budgets, she said.
She says the board feels a deep responsibility to the children with disabilities in its care. “But we still have a fiscal responsibility to make those decisions on an annual basis, based on what funding we receive from the province,” she said.
The lack of certainty about whether special needs teachers will be available in the years ahead worries Lepofsky.
“We need that assurance,” he said. “We need that peace of mind and our children need those services. And they deserve those services.”
‘An extra fight that we really don’t need’
Amy Kedrosky’s five-year-old daughter, who is blind, attends a PDSB school. She says the school services her daughter currently enjoys — instruction in braille, for instance, or how to move around safely using a cane — are invaluable.
“She’s a very happy kid at school,” Kedrosky said. “It’s meaningful for her.”
The prospect of losing those special services in the years ahead “makes me feel very concerned…. If she’s not learning braille she’s not going to be able to access the school curriculum, or the broader world.
“This is an extra fight that we really don’t need,” she said.
Lepofsky sent a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce earlier this week asking the province to step in and force the Peel board to backtrack on its redeployment plan.
A spokesperson for Lecce, Isha Chaudhuri, said in an email: “We have … invested a historic $3.4 billion in our Special Education Grant funding across the province, of which the Peel District School Board has received $227.4 million in funding this year. The Ministry expects school boards to determine the best staffing arrangements to support learning in classrooms, so students can go back to basics on what matters most: reading, writing and math.”
CBC Toronto contacted the Peel Elementary Teachers Local multiple times for its views on the board’s plans. The union has yet to respond.
Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (OPVIC)
February 5, 2024
To: the Hon Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education for Ontario
Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility, Raymond.firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Manson-Smith, Deputy Minister of Education, email@example.com
John Rafferty, President, CNIB, firstname.lastname@example.org
Suzanne Decary-van den-Broek, CNIB Vice-President, Central Canada Suzanne.Decary@cnib.ca
David Green, Chair, PDSB, email@example.com
Rashmi Swarup PDSB Director of Education, firstname.lastname@example.org
Claudine Scuccato PDSB Superintendent of Special Education, Claudine.email@example.com
Re: Serious Problems Facing Blind and Low Vision Students in Ontario-Funded Schools
I write on behalf of OPVIC, the Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children. We write to ask you and your Government to immediately take action to protect blind and low vision students in Ontario-funded schools. Ontario’s school system has systemically underserved them for years. Troubling recent events at the Peel District School Board (PDSB), which we describe below, show how this situation is getting worse and how it necessitates a concerted intervention by the Ontario Government.
OPVIC is Ontario’s recognized organization of parents and guardians of children and youth with vision loss. We have representatives on the Special Education Advisory Committees of several Ontario school boards. We have been trying without success for over six years to get Ontario’s Ministry of Education to get school boards to meet the chronically underserved education needs of students with vision loss. In this letter, we first address the immediate looming crisis at PDSB. We then address the broader picture across Ontario.
These concerns focus especially on the education specialists in Ontario schools called teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs). In each school, the indispensable school board employee who is vital for blind and low vision students to acquire literacy and other key learning skills is the expert TVI. At school boards, they are itinerant teachers. The TVI goes from school to school, providing the hands-on, direct training to individual students with vision loss, one at a time, in specialized areas like braille reading and writing. They teach blind, low vision and deafblind children how to use rapidly evolving adaptive technology, such as screen-reading and print-enlarging programs. These apps enable such students to use a computer, tablet or smart phone, which are essential to their learning.
The itinerant TVI is also the indispensable expert who educates and supports a student’s classroom teacher, special needs and educational assistants, and other teaching staff on how to effectively teach the student with vision loss. Most of the time that students with vision loss spend in school is with general education or special education teaching staff who have no training in how to teach students with vision loss. Where a TVI is involved, the TVI typically spends only a proportion of the student’s in-school time with a specific student who has vision loss. Thus, the TVI’s training of classroom staff is crucial.
1. The Looming Crisis at PDSB
We have heard from families of students with vision loss at PDSB that teachers of the visually impaired at that school board have all been given written notice that their job positions are being eliminated at the end of this school year, as part of similar letters sent to some 300 PDSB special education teachers that declare their job positions redundant. This information is confirmed in a February 2, 2024, report in the Insauga publication, the text of which is set out below. PDSB appears to have also declared redundant the position of the co-ordinator who directly oversees the board’s teachers of the visually impaired.
As we understand it, PDSB may later decide not to eliminate some or all of these positions or may reinstitute some or all of them. However, as things now stand, any teacher of the visually impaired at that school board is on notice that they best find a job somewhere else in Ontario if they want to continue to work as a teacher of the visually impaired.
Senior PDSB officials in significant part confirmed or did not dispute several of these key facts at the January 30, 2024, meeting of PDSB’s Special Education Advisory Committee (on which OPVIC is represented). You can watch that meeting archived on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_tUS4W9lVI. See especially the exchanges at time points 24:00 to 29:30 and 1:55 to 2:07.
PDSB senior officials’ responses to questions from SEAC members about the letters sent to a significant number of PDSB special education teachers, including teachers of the visually impaired, were, at best, vague and replete with uninformative platitudes about their commitment to meet the needs of all students.
If PDSB has given such notices to their teachers of the visually impaired, this means that their students with vision loss will have no assurance that there will be enough, or even any, teachers of the visually impaired working at that school board next year. As we have been telling your Ministry for years, there is a serious and growing shortage of teachers of the visually impaired in Ontario. Other school boards will be highly motivated to snap up PDSB‘s teachers of the visually impaired as soon as they can. Wishing to keep working with students with vision loss, PDSB ‘s teachers of the visually impaired will be highly motivated to grab jobs at other boards rather than waiting around to see if PDSB will later see the harm in what they have now done.
Making things worse, the exchanges at that meeting referred to above demonstrate that PDSB now has no orientation and mobility instructors actually serving their students with vision loss. Orientation and mobility instructors provide students with vision loss with the vital skill of white cane use or other methods to navigate safely in their environment. PDSB told its SEAC that they have one such instructor under contract, but that person is away on a parental leave. They said they are looking for a replacement. That can only mean that PDSB students with vision loss needing this vital service are left out in the cold, with no support.
We ask you and your Ministry to immediately take these actions at PDSB:
- Please get PDSB to immediately rescind the letters it sent to their TVIs that eliminate or surplus or otherwise put in jeopardy their current jobs at the PDSB. While we limit our focus to TVIs, we are not in any way endorsing PDSB’s actions regarding any other special education teachers. No doubt, that action merits Ministry investigation as well.
- Please intervene with PDSB to require it to ensure that its students with vision loss receive vitally important orientation and mobility instruction.
2. The Bigger Picture
The current problems for students with vision loss at PDSB is emblematic of the precarious plight of students with vision loss across Ontario. We have raised this issue with senior officials at your Ministry time and again for over 5 years to no avail. The many letters and briefs we have written on this can be found on our website at www.opvic.ca/tvi
We once again described these issues to you in writing over a year ago, in our January 29, 2023, letter to you. It is set out again at the end of this letter. In summary:
- Ontario has a serious and growing shortage of TVIs and orientation and mobility instructors with no plan to address this.
- There are wild variations from one school board to the next in the amount of TVI support that a student with vision loss receives per week, with no oversight by the Ontario Government.
- The standards for training to qualify to work as a TVI in Ontario are seriously inadequate. They are substantially lower than in at least five other provinces, most of the US, and several other countries. Moreover, no Ontario university Faculty of Education offers a graduate degree specifically for TVI, unlike BC and Nova Scotia.
At long last, last summer, we and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind together had productive meetings with your Minister’s office staff about these festering long-term problems. We left those meetings with a strong sense of optimism that for the first time someone was listening who might do something to address the plight facing blind and low vision students in Ontario. However, over the more than 6 months since then, your Ministry has announced nothing new. Your Minister’s office has not agreed to our requests for further meetings. Instead, things for our children are getting worse, as the current mess at PDSB shows.
We therefore ask for an urgent meeting with you to get action on the major problems we discussed with your Minister’s office staff last summer. We are eager to do whatever we can to help.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Member, Board of Directors of the Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children
Insauga February 2, 2024
About 300 school board positions cut in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon
By Karen Longwell
teaching positions cut
About 300 specialized teaching positions were made redundant with the Peel District School Board.
The teaching positions will be “phased out” in June this year but no one will lose their job, a spokesperson for the Peel District School Board tells insauga.com.
The teaching positions support special education in classrooms and other education departments such as the curriculum-based equity departments, said Jessica Cooper, president of the Peel Elementary Teachers’ Local.
The teachers work out of the central office or a field office and some are itinerant (travelling) teachers providing specialized support for students with special needs such as autism, hearing or vision loss.
The entire Special Education Department, with more than 100 teachers was cut, Cooper tells insauga.com.
“Some work directly with students (with special needs) and others work to provide support for teachers,” Cooper said.
The positions are with both the elementary and secondary schools. Official letters were sent out this week to approximately 300 teachers letting them know the positions would be made redundant, Cooper said.
The school board said these teachers will be offered school-based positions in Peel for the September 2024-2025 school year.
“…this means that beginning in September 2024, any teachers impacted will work in one of our 259 schools across Caledon, Brampton, and Mississauga — no one is losing their job,” a statement sent to insauga.com reads.
However, Cooper said while the teachers whose positions are being cut may not lose their jobs, those with lower seniority may end up without a job in the fall.
Cooper said she can only speak for the elementary school teachers, which is about 200 positions.
“When you take just a little bit more than 200 teachers from the central office positions, and you place them into school positions, then you’re bumping out 200 of the lowest senior members in the system,” she said.
It is difficult to say now how many teachers may be impacted because the board doesn’t have the enrolment projections yet, she added.
The Peel Elementary Teachers’ Local is very concerned about the restructuring for several reasons.
The itinerant teachers working with students with special needs have very specialized qualifications.
“We’re extremely concerned because they’ve made a sweeping redundancy of all positions including these (itinerant teachers) but we know these are positions that must be filled and are needed. And they are teachers that are very hard to find province-wide,” Cooper said. And the teachers with lower seniority may be part of the more diverse workforce hired more recently as the board was addressing systemic racism issues.
peel district school board
The reason for the restructuring appears to be financial.
“Over the past few years, PDSB has undergone significant transformational institutional change. We are deeply grateful to all of the educators who have contributed to the infrastructure building which has been required to sustain this ongoing work,” the statement from the school board reads. “At the same time, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure our annual budget is carefully considered as staffing decisions are made.”
The board regularly reviews the organizational structures of all departments and teachers, including special education teachers, will continue to be hired in central office departments each year, the statement continues.
However, these postings will be made available on an annual basis based on the budget of that school year.
Cooper acknowledges the budget issues the board faces.
Declining enrolment means smaller budgets as schools are funded on a per-pupil basis but students who access specialized supports is increasing in some areas.
“So while our overall population is going down, our special needs services are actually increasing,” Cooper said.
Text of the January 29, 2023 Letter from OPVIC to the Ontario Minister of Education
Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (OPVIC)
January 29, 2023
To: the Hon Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education for Ontario
Re: A Chronic Inequity and Injustice Facing Blind, Low Vision and Deafblind Students in Ontario Schools
Minister, we urgently seek a meeting with you. Across Ontario, students with vision loss (blind, low vision or deafblind) in Ontario schools suffer from a chronic, protracted unfairness in our school system. We are Ontario’s officially recognized volunteer organization of parents of children who are blind, low vision or deafblind. We advocate for the needs of those children.
Students with vision loss are a vulnerable and substantially underserved minority. Your Ministry and Ontario’s school system has chronically underserved their most basic learning needs. It typifies how the Ministry of Education can marginalize students with low-incidence disabilities.
For half a decade, we have tried without success to get Ministry of Education officials to fix this. Our efforts are documented on the OPVIC website’s TVI page. After our repeated requests, the Ministry finally convened a roundtable to discuss this back on July 15, 2021. Over the year and a half since then, we have heard nothing further. Time and again, we get smiles, kind words, no action and then radio silence. This inaction carries on even though no one disputes the existence of the problem facing our children.
Only your intervention can correct this. Please protect the rights of students with vision loss to a full and proper education. This is a problem that is serious in scope, but eminently fixable, if only the Government would pick up the ball.
In Ontario-funded schools, the indispensable specialist who is essential to students with vision loss acquiring literacy and other key skills is the expert “Teacher of the Visually Impaired “ (TVI). At school boards, TVIs are itinerant teachers. The TVI goes from school to school, providing hands-on direct training to individual students with vision loss, one at a time, in specialized areas like Braille. They also teach students with vision loss to use rapidly evolving adaptive technology, such as a computer’s screen-reading and print-enlarging programs. These are vital for students with vision loss to learn using a computer, tablet or smart phone.
The majority of the time that students with vision loss spend in school is with classroom teachers who were never trained to teach students with vision loss. Where a TVI is involved, the TVI typically spends only a small part of the student’s in-school time with a specific student with vision loss. The itinerant TVI is the indispensable expert who educates and supports a student’s classroom teacher, special needs and educational assistant, and other teaching staff on how to effectively teach their student with vision loss when the TVI is not there.
The Government has announced no plans for remedying any of the following serious problems:
- Ontario has a serious and growing shortage of TVIs. Your Government has no plan to increase the supply of qualified TVIs. It does not even centrally track and monitor how many TVIs work in each school board. There is no established pool of supply TVIs to cover for vacancies due to illness or injury.
One example is the Toronto District School Board. TDSB is Canada’s largest school board and the board that has, by far, the largest number of students with vision loss in Canada (more than double those studying at the residential W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind) Last September, TDSB began the school year with at least one quarter of its complement of TVI positions unfilled.
- The vast majority of TVIs in Ontario, though dedicated and hard-working, are inadequately trained. Ontario’s training requirements to qualify as a TVI are substantially and unjustifiably much lower than in several other provinces and countries. To start working as a TVI in Ontario, a teacher only needs to complete a grossly insufficient 125-hour course that is not taught by a qualified university Faculty of Education. In that course, they need not work with a blind student or see a blind student taught to read Braille.
In contrast, to become a TVI in at least five Canadian provinces, in much of the US as well as in the UK and New Zealand, a teacher must complete a far more extensive and appropriate one-year, university-taught graduate degree on teaching students with vision loss that includes a properly supervised practicum.
The requirements in Ontario to qualify as a Teacher of the Deaf are much higher than those required for a Teacher of the Blind. A teacher must complete a one-year graduate-level program to train as a Teacher of the Deaf at York University’s Faculty of Education. It commendably includes a practicum requirement.
- Ontario lacks a proper and sufficient graduate-level training program, delivered by the professors of a university’s Faculty of Education, to train TVIs. Unlike its abdication of its responsibility for training teachers essential to students with vision loss, the Ontario Government commendably fully funds the York University Faculty of Education “Teachers of the Deaf” program. A candidate pays no tuition to take that course.
- Around Ontario, the levels of TVI support delivered to similarly situated students with vision loss vary wildly from school board to school board. A totally blind student at TSDB who is working towards Braille literacy can receive as little as half of the TVI hours per week that the same student would receive at the neighbouring York Region District School Board.
The Ministry does not monitor the number of TVIs or TVI hours per student with vision loss at each school board. It sets no standards for the level of TVI staffing or hours of direct per-student TVI support that a school board should provide. Each of Ontario’s 72 school boards is left free to deliver as much or as little TVI support to their students with vision loss as they wish, with no real accountability. The Ministry provides no meaningful oversight.
- Similar problems persist regarding the other key educational staff for students with vision loss, the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor. These specialists provide one-on-one training to students with vision loss on how to get around safely, such as by using a white cane where needed, or other adaptive technology. Ontario similarly has an O&M shortage, no plans to rectify this, no meaningful Ministry oversight and no provincial benchmarks of how much O&M support students with vision loss should receive.
Beleaguered parents of students with vision loss, isolated and struggling around Ontario, should not have to continue to battle one school board at a time for the same basic and essential educational supports for their child. This is an important issue of equity in education. Its victims are a small, highly vulnerable and chronically underserved population in Ontario’s school system. We have heard estimates that there may be around 2,000 to 2,500 students with vision loss in Ontario-funded schools. The Ministry keeps no reliable data on this.
We wrote you about these issues on April 6, 2021. You did not answer. Over the past half decade, in our efforts to try to get solutions, we have spoken to a parade of revolving door assistant deputy ministers and directors in your Ministry and to officials at the Ontario College of Teachers. We have briefed them all. We have offered constructive solutions, and connected them, where they are willing, to experts in the field.
In the absence of proper Ministry oversight of school boards, we took it upon ourselves, acting as volunteers, to try to get school boards to provide us with their levels of TVI staffing and support for students with vision loss. The vast majority did not do so.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, things only got worse for students with vision loss. We alerted your Government to those concerns in our June 18, 2020 brief to your Ministry. Since then, your Government’s announced actions for students to “catch up” did not include any measures to address the urgent needs of students with vision loss.
Our concerns have been independently verified. One year ago, your Government received the final report of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. It provides a roadmap for removing the barriers impeding students with vision loss in Ontario-funded schools. That report corroborates the problems facing students with vision loss that we have been trying to raise with your Government without success.
Minister, can we please meet as soon as possible? Your Ministry officials will not take the needed action without clear and strong directions from you as Minister. In advance, can you direct your Deputy Minister and officials to prepare a plan of action to tackle these festering problems? We are here to help!
Sincerely, David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Member, OPVIC Board of Directors