CUPE Blasts Help For Autistic Kids And Puts Its Members First

(CUPE Says Money Should Go To Its Members Rather Than Autistic Kids)

CUPE who is the union representing educational assistants (EA) in the province of Ontario released a press release this week in which it has lambasted the provincial government for piloting a project which will allow autistic kids to receive privately purchased therapy to be administered in public schools. CUPE says by doing this would open the door to privately funded education, and that its current members are not qualified to handle special needs students despite millions that have been negotiated in front line workers with the province over recent years.

As part of its revamp of Autism services in Ontario the provincial government is expected in the next few months to allow families a choice to purchase Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism privately or go through publicly funded Centre’s. This move by the province to offer a private option paid for by the province is expected to reduce wait times for this needed therapy.

The move by the province to pilot a project to allow privately purchased workers to administer this therapy in school would be a necessity to the success of students receiving that therapy at the choice of the families, and lighten the load on parents who often have had to drive autistic kids to and from these appointments, often in separate cities in which the these children are being educated in and miss days at work. CUPE on the other hand thinks that the province should shell out that money to retrain EA’s across the province, rather than give parents a choice or say in their child’s therapy:

“We represent 13,000 Educational Assistants who work hard, with other Board employees and parents, to develop and deliver individualized educational programs to assist students with multiple challenges, including those with autism,” said Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “They are deeply concerned by any initiative that opens the door to the privatization of those critical services in our schools.”

Parents of children with special needs, including children with autism, have every right to expect they can walk into their local school and receive the services their children need, fully funded and publicly provided,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They shouldn’t have to worry about securing outside funding, finding a private provider or paying out of their own pockets, to ensure their children succeed at school. That is the responsibility of the government and instead of just abdicating their role to private operators, they should be properly funding and providing all the necessary services students with special needs require.”

The ABA therapy these kids will be receiving will most likely be publicly funded as part of the new Ontario Autism Program. Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee essentially stated in this bizarre press release from CUPE that the union negotiated $52 million from the province for front line workers recently, who by admission of this press release are not qualified enough to be working with special needs kids in our public schools, and the government must pay for unqualified staff to get degrees in behavior analysis (which is a two year full time university course at Brock University):

“As education workers, we know students with special needs need more front-line staff support,” said Preston. “It’s why, in contract extension talks with the government, we negotiated $52 million over two years to increase front-line staff working with students with special needs. Even with those hard-won investments, more support is needed for students with a variety of complex needs and that’s why the government needs to finally conduct a long-overdue funding formula review.”

The press release gets a hell of a lot weirder as you read on. In its closing remarks after blasting the government for allowing parents a choice and complaining that its membership is under-qualified to support kids with special needs ended the press release with this statement:

“Many of us already have ABA training or incorporate ABA principles into our work with students,” said Laura Walton, an Educational Assistant who is also Vice-Chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “Educational Assistants are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, often at their own expense, so any funded training opportunities are always welcome. We have been asking the government to ensure Educational Assistants, and all board employees who work to address the complex needs of our students, have access to an array of professional development opportunities, including ABA training.”

Wouldn’t working with privately funded ABA therapists which I would think would be the goal of the government here, be more beneficial to both their own members and the students they serve? Wouldn’t that give EA’s workplace experience in ABA working alongside these therapists? Where’s the outrage from CUPE that university or college programs educating future EA’s are not required under law to ensure an extensive ABA training? After a $52 million investment from the province in front line EA workers to support special needs, why is the province agreeing with CUPE to hire unqualified staff in a $52 million negotiation in the first place? In our view it should not be the position of the province or tax payer to front the bill for unqualified staff. Simply hiring qualified staff would be a better more economical option, or better yet CUPE can pick up that tab.

The problem that exists right now in the education system is one where there is money in the system, but it’s not getting to the students that need it. There’s no accountability in the education system right now. From this press release, it sounds that CUPE wants to be showered again with government coffers, while the rights of special needs kids in the system are yet again pitted against the needs of education sector unions. For its part, in its press release CUPE blames successive Liberal and PC governments for the lack of supports in our school system, yet falls short on criticizing the NDP who have yet to come out with a platform recognizing the lack of accountability the public education system is currently facing right now – the lives that have already been lost across the province to due education sector unions ignoring student mental health issues  – the full time battles parents of kids of all levels have had to deal with as a result of these unions – yet we continue to shove money down the throats of this unaccountable system in hopes it gets better. $52 million CUPE negotiated went towards unqualified staff. When will the rights of all students in Ontario be put before union demands, and when will we have an accountable public education system?

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  1. #1 by Mary Beth Rocheleau on October 27, 2017 - 9:00 AM

    Speaking as a mother to a young man with Autism, I feel CUPE has made some valid points. I want my son to attend school, he loves School, and I want him to have the proper supports in place. That means training for EA’s and teachers, and that requires money and a commitment. With that said I feel it is crucial that parents have a choice., and everyone needs to work together to make this successful


    • #2 by Jason Koblovsky on October 27, 2017 - 11:33 AM

      Speaking as a father of an autistic kid, and 10 years’ experience in the education policy trenches, I agree that everyone needs to work together in order to benefit kids of all levels. Unfortunately that is a rare case. Considering $2.7 billion was earmarked for ABA training in the school system last year alone by the province, another $22 million provided by the province unconditionally for staff professional development over the past 10 years, and another $52 million negotiated by CUPE for front line workers recently, why are there news reports of kids being sent home by “unqualified” staff on a weekly basis? Is that somehow the fault of the tax payer? Where’s all this money going? I’d like an answer to that first, because without that answer there’s no guarantee that any new investment will reach any of our kids, and the law doesn’t provide proper oversight of allocated funds to the education system. In fact there’s no oversight at all in our education system.

      Many parents have to fight tooth and nail with their respected boards to get these people to spend the money the province allocates for each child diagnosed as special needs, on properly accommodating special needs students! I’m not about to agree to hand out more money to these people who aren’t putting what’s already been allocated towards proper training, and accommodating special needs kids. I’d like to see the receipts of what’s already been spent and how. Until then, they can learn from the private ABA therapists the province is paying for to assist in gaining ABA experience due to what looks to be misappropriation of tax payers funds by not just the boards, but the educational sector unions as well. Why would anyone throw their support on more money, when money allocated is NOT getting to our kids in the first place is beyond me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. #3 by Kathryn Pittman on October 27, 2017 - 6:47 PM

    Speaking for 1500 EAs/CYWs in the WRDSB we are not represented by CUPE and we do not wish to be “lumped in” with this article. Parents need to be aware and check with their own school boards to see where each union stands on this issue.


    • #4 by Jason Koblovsky on October 27, 2017 - 10:45 PM

      With respect Ms. Pittman – A lot of these unions fought strongly against parents on student safety and mental health over the past decade with the support of the Liberals, and NDP.

      A lot of the law passed to address student safety and mental health supports was dumbed down, and left open for interpretation by these unions as a safety net in case one of their members was called on not following legislation, despite strong on the record objections from parents. Quite simply and unequivocally, you can’t have a safe environment for anyone when members of these unions feel comfortable with not abiding by legislation and know they are likely not going to be held to account for not following it.

      It was a hope of many including myself to ensure the Ombudsman was able to field complaints in from parents, in hopes that a systemic investigation would be done on the education system to uncover a lot of the problems within law and independently recommend changes.

      Unfortunately since the Ombudsman got these powers in 2015, they have been extremely reluctant to get involved in systemic investigations around accountability in the education sector despite numerous complaints sent into this office I have followed that quite strongly suggest that’s what’s needed. This office that is supposed to be an independent watchdog of the government, was effectively turned into a customer service agent for the boards by Wynne. In fact in his 2017 annual report, this office has publicly come out in favor of a non-independent integrity complaints procedure (page 45 of the 2016/2017 annual report) set up by a few boards, and is recommending that other boards follow suit. I will be following up with this office shortly on this, and the lack of systemic investigations despite accountability problems with several boards across the province.

      After Harris, in 2003 when the Liberals were first elected, McGuinty (who had past educational background), vowed to the unions that they would do little to upset them. As a result, the past 14 years these unions have gained massive political power, the system is in ruins, kids are under-supported, and not safe. Massive amounts of money are being thrown at the boards. Millions have been thrown to the unions with no strings attached. Several ministerial interventions have been needed across the province as a result of the boards not being accountable to public funds. Refusals by the province to open up the education act to ensure accountability mechanisms are in place for these boards and staff to warn off any other interventions, and now weekly reports of kids with mental health being abused and not properly supported by staff. The NDP and PCs seem to be very silent on this issue with respect to the education act and public sector accountability.

      The first step in creating a safe environment for staff and our kiddos is to ensure other staff members are following the law and their responsibilities within it. That should be a no brainer, especially to lawmakers.

      So if you don’t want to be “lumped in” with the rest of these unions, than I would quite strongly recommend that the rest of these unaccountable public sector employees start asking their unions to be held to account and the legislation changed to ensure that happens. Unfortunately from my understanding of all of the education sector unions, that is highly unlikely to happen and as a result you’re all complicate. Parents are well educated on the issues because they are numerous and widely documented, and the public no longer has confidence in anything the educational sector unions do or come up with. Something I quite strongly believe will be reflected in the outcome of the 2018 provincial election. Best wishes.


  3. #5 by Kathryn Pittman on October 30, 2017 - 11:04 AM

    Also with the utmost respect, we work very hard and are very active in protecting both staff and students in our Board.
    Many of the Members here are already trained in ABA and are going to be trained with in this school year as they work along side these people.
    I was referring to being “lumped in” to the first line of the article that implied, for those unaware, that all EAs and CYWs in this province are all represented by CUPE.
    My recommendation for checking with each Board was in reference to that statement, not to the body of the article.
    Everyone in schools should feel safe and protected both students and staff.


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