Archive for category Budget

Head Injury to Blame For Racial Behavior At York Region District School Board

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(York Trustee Nancy Elgie Blames Racial Slurs on Head Injury as Public Calls for Her Resignation Grow Louder)

The scandal ridden York Region District School Board met with emotional parents Tuesday night.  Many parents in York Region are concerned about the level of accountability the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) currently has in place, and presented the YRDSB with a petition asking for the resignation of one of its Trustees over racism allegations.  The YRDSB in recent months has been hit with several human rights complaints of systemic racism and bullying by staff members and students that are seemingly shrugged off by the upper ranks of the board and their trustees. Now the racism that was observed in one York Trustee is a result of banging her head on a foreign object according to official public records read in during Tuesday’s meeting.

At issue; York Trustee Nancy Elgie was overheard by several throwing out a racial slur towards parent Charline Grant who was confronting the board in a meeting in November last year (get this) regarding racism.

On Tuesday night, parents and media packed the school board meeting looking to confront Elgie and the Board regarding systemic racism and bullying the board is currently observing.  Elgie was supposed to be in attendance but wasn’t there for “medical reasons”.  A very bizarre apology letter from Elgie was read aloud by the board in which Elgie blames her actions and words on a head injury, prompting quite a few amusing twitter responses:

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During the meeting Tuesday night York’s Director of Education J. Philip Parappally walked up to the Grant family, and apologized.  This family has been at several of these meetings since November, and I find it extremely interesting that it wasn’t until the cameras were present that the director actually engaged.  Prompting this tweet from Newstalk 1010 host Desmond Cole who was at the meeting:

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Considering that Parappally is on the public pay roll for the next decade with a handsome salary no one seems to have vetted publicly, you would think he would meet with Cole to discuss the issue of racism, bullying and student safety.

Trustee Elgie is also my trustee.  I’m a resident of Georgina, and I have been following the lack of school board accountability regarding racism since the 2009 Keswick High indecent. I have been in contact with  Elgie several times over the years on several concerns I’ve had with the York Region District School Board’s implementation of the “Safe Schools Act”.  The safe schools act is legislation that was put into place to help curb bullying and racism in Ontario schools by the province.  Currently the Ministry of Education does not audit boards for compliance with this legislation nor tracks each boards programs to ensure the money is actually being spent on successful projects.

I have found Ms. Elgie to be rather combative and dismissive of several concerns I have brought up to her over the years regarding the conduct of the board and following through with proper legislation and law regarding safe schools legislation.  I have heard from several parents locally here over the years, even wrote about one instance around this time last year where Elgie refused to respond to complaints within the system, often leaving parents and students to fend for themselves.

In the complaint I wrote about last year, Elgie in an interview for this blog and on the record blamed the parent for lying with no evidence to back that allegation up. She refused to fully look into the situation and provide any sort of advocacy on this family’s behalf towards the school board and work towards any type of solution when questioned. Elgie stated eventually stated she would meet with the parent at a scheduled protest, but never showed up.  This is something that over the years seems to be a common theme with Trustee Elgie.

In one instance while I was questioning Elgie on the Keswick High situation in 2009,  Elgie claimed on the record I was bullying her when requesting a full break down of the boards budget around the Safe Schools programs supposed to be implemented by the board under legislation to fight acts of racism and bullying.  As a result she would refuse any further requests for that information and completely cut off any communication with me on the subject. The board quoted close to $900 for that information through freedom of information, which is why I had approached Elgie on trying to obtain this information since it should be publicly available on the boards website.  To this day a full and complete break down of the money allocated to safe schools and tracking of those programs is still not posted on the boards website.

A trustee’s job is the public overseer of the school board.  They are there to hold the board accountable on our behalf.  Too often than not I hear from parents across the province where trustees turn into lap dogs for the school board. That can be clearly observed at the YRDSB, when just last year trustees voted to approve an unprecedented 10 year contract and a 40% wage increase to their current director Parappally, after only being on the job for a year and a half. Not one board across the province as granted a decade long contract, let alone a contract of any length to a director that has been on the job at that length of time.

Last year it was also revealed that Trustees at the York Board took advantage of traveling overseas at the expense of the board with little to no value added for those trips.  The Ministry of Education put a moratorium on York Trustees travel expenses and just a few months after that was lifted, Elgie took her 3rd trip to Finland and was unable to come up with any benefit the trip had towards the board when questioned by media.  The systemic racism that parents have been reporting to their trustees, as well as trustee expenses are now currently under investigation by the Ministry of Education.

It’s almost a full circle. Parents for many years have had to sit and watch as this board protects its image rather than the children within it.  As parents have sat helpless in bringing in accountability and change to a board that puts its public image above everything else, the YRDSB now looks at Elgie and the damage she has caused to the reputation of the YRDSB. The longer Elgie stays on as a trustee, the more and more damage is done to the Boards reputation, and there is nothing meaningful enough the Board can do to force that accountability on Elgie to save its own reputation from this women. It’s Elgie’s lone choice to resign or not.  How fitting for a board who is obsessed with its own image over that of the safety of its students, to not be in the position to control the public perception of it.

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Ontario’s New Autism Policy Not Going Over Well With Parents

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(Ontario’s new autism policy lipstick on a pig, rather than implementing needed changes)

With the Ontario Government announcing major funding initiatives over the past few months, it looks like autism services are not high on its priority list.  Back in March, the Ontario government announced that it was going to do away with much needed intensive therapy for autistic kids over the age of 5.  That was later “back tracked” in June after parents of autistic kids held massive protests against the new policy claiming that #autistimdoesntendat5 and after experts came out strongly against Ontario’s move to eliminate intensive therapy for autistic kids over 5.  It appears the Ontario government didn’t back track at all, and is refusing to put the needed money into funding intensive therapy for kids.

One of the main points for parents with autistic kids back in March was the elimination of Intensive Behavior Intervention therapy (IBI).  The lack of intensity in autism therapy in the new program announced in March was a trigger point for the parent protests.  From a policy perspective, intensive therapy is expensive. The government announced $333 million in March towards the new program topped up with another $200 million (only for those who are currently on wait lists, not those actively seeking to get on wait lists) to purchase therapy while this new program has been phased in.  All of this sounds like a lot of money, but it isn’t even close in order to fund the intensity of the therapy needed which can run close to $60,000 per child per year.

Nothing has been “restored” as a result of parent’s protests.  Instead what Wynne has done was re-package the old plan announced in March, and re-branded it to try and quell parental and public decent.

 

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A month after the news that autism funding was going to be “restored” parents are starting to realize that they’ve been deceived. IBI therapy has still largely been cut from the new program meaning that intensity of therapy needed for many children will not be reached, and parents are starting to speak out:

“They are still delaying what our children need. Still cutting back the hours for the children who are already getting the services need.”

After the announcement last month which was lauded by all leaders of Ontario’s political parties as being a big win for democracy, I checked out the Ministry of Children and Youth Services only to find an exact carbon copy of the Government’s talking points on the program changes back in March. It very much seems that the government is not willing to put the needed investment into some of our most vulnerable, nor is making them a priority.  This is not representative of the people of Ontario, and all our politicians need to take note rather than cheering for democracy, when the devil is in the details, and the lack of response this government has had on special needs constituents.

 

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Ontario To Axe CCAC In $50 Billion Health Care Overhaul

(Nothing to see here: Federal Health Minister mum on Ontario Closure of Community Care Access Centres)

The horror stories continue for the people of Ontario, with the federal government still very much on the sidelines.   Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced today that the government will be closing all Community Care Access Centres (CCAC) in favor of cost cutting measures, and moving the home care services to Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN).  These measures come on the heels of Ontario doctors filing a charter challenge on the cuts to the funding to their services, and reports that Ontario’s hospitals are now running over capacity.  Ontario hasn’t seen such regressive policies since the Uncommon Sense Revolution of former Primer Mike Harris in the mid-90’s which saw many Ontario patients die unnecessarily while waiting for care as a result of cuts to essential health care services.

In recent months, money has been cut from educational services, autism therapies, special needs kids, and now a critical part of home care for the province will be lost.  Money saved from these essential services is going to pay for green energy, free tuition, and keeping teachers unions at bay.  With an aging population, shouldn’t more money be spent on health care?  With a growing number of kids being diagnosed as special needs, shouldn’t more money be allocated to ensure they get their therapy?  Where are the priorities of this Ontario Government?  Free tuition, and filling union pocket books, seems to be a heavy price to pay with the cuts to essential services to help fund those priorities.

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Annoyed Ontario Liberals and Wynne’s Autism Echo Chamber:

This blog will be dedicated moving forward to following the conversations and policy discussions about Ontario’s new autism policy.  The discussions going on right now are a national ethical and moral issue and those across Canada should be kept up to date as much as possible.  On Tuesday there was a very emotional rally at our provincial legislature Ontario Queens Park by parents of autistic kids:

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Two really good shows Wednesday on CFRB 1010 in Toronto discussing the protest and policy.  The first commentary on the autism story gripping Ontario comes from the Beyond The Mic show hosted by Mike Bullard.  Comments start at 4:45:

The second one was is from CFRB’s Live Drive show.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was on the show for a one on one follow up interview and she is digging in her heals on the new Autism policy.  My comments were aired at 18:41 with an excellent discussion on them after by the hosts:

 

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Kathleen Wynne’s All Out Assault on Autistic Kids Continues With New Developments

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(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Decisions on Autism Services Politics Not Evidence Based Experts Say)

There has been very strong reaction to Kathleen Wynne’s decision to de-fund therapy for kids with Autism, from experts to advocates to politicians. Wynne looks to have picked a fight with the wrong crowd, and there are developments that the situation is getting even worse for the families affected.

In the 2014 budget, the first thing the Wynne government did after being re-elected was to increase funding for respite support for parents under a program called Special Services At Home (SSAH) to help give parents who have kids with a disability a break, or to hire private in home support when needed.  Service providers were sent a memo last year by the Ministry of Youth and Child Services letting them know that clients should be applying for this money, and those that are already receiving should apply for an increase if their situation has changed.

The new money for SSAH should have kicked in starting this month and instead I’ve heard from several parents who are new applicants and qualify for this support money still waiting for approval or being actively denied. So far all those who have applied for an increase have not received a dime more than they usually get with no reason as to why they were denied the increase.

It’s looking very much like Wynne did a bait and switch during the last election by promising to fix the issues with a system in crisis to get votes, than back track on those promises and put a system that’s already in crisis to the point of near collapse.

Three experts appeared on CFRB 1010’s Nightside Talk Show last night to denounce Wynne’s recent decision to cut funding for IBI therapy for kids over 5 calling the move not based on scientific expert opinion.  A clip of the show can be found here:

Autism cuts and Talk 1010 radio the Night Side

Political reaction at Queens Park is being led by the NDP:

This blog will be following developments as they occur.

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Kathleen Wynne’s Spouse Could Be Benefiting From Recent Changes to Autism Services In Ontario

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(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Spouse Jane Rounthwaite Worked as a Consultant in Autism Services While Parents Fought Government in Court in 2006)

As the world celebrates Autism Awareness Day, parents in Ontario got extremely devastating news this past week that needed autism therapy would be no longer available after the age of 5.  Back in 2006 parents in Ontario fought the government on a similar age cut off.

During the last time the province tried to cut this therapy off at an early age, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was the Education Minister and her spouse Jane Rounthwaite was a principle shareholder in The Osborne Group, which is a consulting firm widely used by the publicly funded Autism service provider in York/Durham called Kinark.  According to the Toronto Sun in 2013, Rounthwaite owned a  40% stake in The Osborne Group, and was directly employed by Kinark at the time parents were fighting the age restrictions:

How much she made during those seven years — while the McGuinty government fought a move in court to extend intensive therapy for autistic kids beyond age six — is unknown. Whether her contract was subject to a tender process is also unknown.

Both the premier’s office and Kinark could not provide that information prior to my deadline, despite repeated requests to do so.

A review of Kinark’s condensed statements of operations during that period yielded no information. Nor did finance ministry disclosure documents.

What is also unknown is whether the Ethics Commissioner back then did a full and complete investigation of Rounthwaite’s involvement with Kinark, and whether her involvement with Kinark extends to these latest developments regarding autism services.  The government has earmarked $333 million to “improve” autism services in Ontario.  It is unclear how much Kinark will be receiving as a result, and unclear what other autism public service providers Rounthwaite or The Osborne Group has been involved in since 2006.
What is clear however is the reaction from the parents of autistic kids who will no longer be receiving a critical part of therapy.  I posted this past week on comments left on Autism Ontario’s facebook page by angry parents.  On the Autism Ontario facebook page, the organization provided this statement to parents:

Hi everybody – we’ve been very grateful for all of your comments, thoughts, viewpoints, criticisms, and suggestions. We have taken all of your feedback and delivered it directly to the Ministry so they are aware of the impact their announcement and our response had with the autism community. We are glad this thread has been an opportunity to connect, share information and support one another.

Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Children and Youth Services stated in a recent interview regarding the backlash:

“I know that transitions and changes are hard and I know that first-hand as a mother of a child with special needs,” she added.

“Why we’re doing this is to make sure that children get the best possible treatments in the appropriate development window as we’ve been advised by experts and families.”

Parents, who have long disagreed with the notion that autism therapy should be limited to early year development, have started a twitter hashtag #autismdoesntendat5. There are also questions on whether this new policy is discriminatory on human rights, and sources I’ve been in touch with are getting ready to launch a law suit against the province on these recent changes.

What the people of Ontario should be questioning at this time, is whether the experts consulted are tied to Wynne’s family, and why Rounthwaite’s involvement with Kinark hasn’t been fully and completely investigated?
Read more about the government’s decision on cutting needed therapy and parents reactions from across the province here.

UPDATE 4/14/2016: Sue-Ann Levy the investigating reporter was recently interviewed by Toronto radio station am640, in which she also alleges that Rounthwaite could have very well benefited financially from the recent changes to autism policy in Ontario.  That interview can be found here. Rounthwaite made a total of $1,000,000 over seven years with her involvement at Kinark, and worked closely with a member of the expert panel the government hired to put forth the new autism policy.

Also 2 weeks ago I put in a request for comment on this story from Autism Ontario.  They have not responded to repeated requests for comment.  Autism Ontario is currently helping the Wynne government sell this new policy to parents through “webinars”.

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Ontario Set To Terminate Needed Therapy for a Vast Swath of Autistic Kids

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(Parents Upset At Recent Changes To Autism Services In Ontario)

The Ontario government recently announced changes it is going to make to the services autistic kids receive in the province.  The Ontario government is looking at terminating intensive behavioral intervention therapy (IBI) for kids 5 and over, and pump more money into the controversial applied behavior analysis (ABA) program in its place.  Those currently on the wait list for IBI will receive a total of $8,000 to cover a few months of IBI therapy as compensation.

IBI therapy is one on one therapy with specialists for the kids, meanwhile ABA sets to train the parents to become their child’s specialist and the parent is then responsible for applied therapy.  The Ontario Government is committing $333 million to transition IBI to ABA.  This transition could end up having a profound impact on parents who are working full-time on top of many other stresses they have to deal with. This change in policy puts applied therapy directly on the parents’ backs, which could create another crisis as a result of the time off of work to commit to ABA in which most parents in the know feel hasn’t produced satisfactory results compared to IBI.

Autism Ontario in its press release seemed very supportive of the new changes. Marg Spoelstra, Executive Director, Autism Ontario stated:

Families today can give credit to the parents who have been continually advocating on behalf of the thousands of people with autism and their families for many years about the importance of investment into timely, early, evidence based intervention, even at a time when they and their children were or would not be eligible for the intervention services announced today.

One quick look at the comments section on the Autism Ontario facebook page suggests something completely different with respect to parents concerns on this policy.  One parent stated:

The transition period might feel devastating. How about every phone call. Every meltdown. Every injury to not only our children by themselves, but to other family members. Every therapy strategy implemented, while waiting. Every tear. Every day, from wake, to sleep … If we’re lucky, while waiting for the already promised hope of IBI. The faith that one day … It’s all been a devastating disappointment.

Other comments include criticizing Autism Ontario for their support of this policy:

Beyond disappointed in Autism Ontario in being part of a process that offers up to 2,000 sacrificial lambs in order to support this ‘new’ program. Why is it ok to abandon these kids before they were given a chance? Why wasn’t a plan made for these kids & why couldn’t the plan have given them the same chance that kids before them got & kids after them will get (at an earlier age) ABA services are NOT as effective & in fact are very hard to access for single parents or 2 working parents.

One comment that has stuck with me being a parent with an autistic son, and political blogger:

Two words. Human Rights. This a step backwards, now we have an age five cut off, once upon a time Ontario agreed and removed the age six cut off for IBI. Huge gains can be made by children over five, especially children who are non-speaking. Developmental gains are slower for children with a developmental disability, too bad they are being written off for a chance at appropriate early intervention. Being dumped into a waitlist for ABA services that are inadequate and do little to provide the extent of intervention that children need. All of this to be delivered by bloated transfer payment agencies, instead of direct funding to families to purchase services at a much lower cost.(it’s been proven in multiple reports) I hope that parents will find the strength to come forward to speak out about what is really going on here.

Upset parents have already stated a petition to get the Ontario government to reconsider this policy approach.  I’ve reached out to Autism Ontario to get them to clarify their support for this new policy the government has put forth.

More to come soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for more details as they become available.  You can subscribe by e-mail through the subscribe section on the upper right hand section of this blog.  You can also add me to twitter.  I’m @jkobopoli.

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