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LETTER: Children and young people adviser ‘deeply concerned’ about government’s proposed changes

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“The changes are of particular concern in how they will affect the availability and quality of services and supports offered to students, potentially increasing inequalities between students”

Guelph/EloraFergusReceived the following letter to the editor today…..

Dear Editor:

For 26 years, I worked as a child and youth counselor with the Upper Grand District School Board. I am currently president of the PSSP union. This group includes speech-language pathologists, communication disorders assistants, board-certified behavior analysts, child and adolescent counselors, psychological associates, and social workers.

I am deeply concerned about the government’s proposed changes to the provision of specialized school-based health and rehabilitation services to students in our schools. The changes are of particular concern in how they will affect the availability and quality of services and supports offered to students, potentially increasing inequalities between students.

Policy Program Note 81 – Provision of School Health Support Services (PPM 81) outlines expectations and responsibilities for services such as speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis . Many students require these supports to meet their individual needs.

Thus, while the draft PPM 81 revision articulates the importance of these services to students, it does not fully recognize the essential roles that school board staff currently fulfill in the provision of these services.

As a mental health educator, I strongly believe that these types of school-based rehabilitation services for school-aged children should be provided by staff employed by the school board. In many parts of Ontario, especially in rural and remote areas, services such as Applied Behavior Analysis, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and Speech Language Pathology are often scarce and unavailable. The changes proposed by the government will increase barriers to school-based rehabilitation services. It is simply unacceptable.

Schools currently provide these services in our buildings during the school day in consultation with school staff. School-based employees understand the flow of a school, are already in schools, have relationships with students, parents and staff. Schools have little or no space to support the delivery of outside services and support waiting lists are sure to spiral out of control.

I urge Education Minister Stephen Lecce and the Ford government to consider the well-being and success of students in their decision-making. The consequences of the changes they propose will be far-reaching and harmful in the extreme. These changes amount to cuts that will cause hardship and loss of income for our students, and they will significantly diminish the quality of Ontario’s education system.

Tracey Mackie Vlietstra
PSSP UGDSB D18