The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - Administration and Teachers’ Union at Catholic School Boards need a serious rethink about social and religious values that underpin and justify their existence.
Like everyone else, they are judged by how they treat the weakest and most vulnerable they serve: children, students, with special needs. The Provincial government establishes guidelines and allocates additional funds to ease any adjustments to the curriculum in order to meet reasonable standards of integration and education.
Teachers and Administrators, who in Education Law act in loco parentis, will argue that it is never enough. Parents, who are parents forever and taxpayers to boot, say “try and work with what you have – cancelling service to our children is not an alternative”.
Parents of children with special needs do not have the same choices available to others, but they do not love their children any less. Director of Education at the Toronto District Catholic School Board (TDCSB) and his Senior Staff (Superintendents) would appear to have lost sight of that simple fact, says Gianni Cotognini. He is the father of a young autistic boy, Adamo, registered at St. Basil-the-Great College, in Weston.
Adamo and several other students are dependent on Educational Assistants (EA) to function “productively” and/or in a “fulfilling manner” in a school environment. Seven such EAs at St Basil’s have been scheduled to be “surplused” for the coming year.
It’s a numbers – dollars and cents – game as well as a “last in first out” collective bargaining issue. This is the time of year when Staff lump controversial issues into one package for Trustee approval before Summer Break and the subsequent election campaign.
Corriere Canadese is tracking several issues, including Executive compensation and Educational Development Charges – expenditure and revenue issues. When we came upon a curriculum/social and moral issue as in this case we asked Trustee Sal Piccininni two questions: why would anyone support these cuts; and if he didn’t support them what would he do about them?
It’s a numbers – dollars and cents – game and a collective bargaining matter was the unacceptable answer from Staff that he received when he found out. Parents might have to scurry in search of other facilities for their children or make their own plans. Some students and parents are better able to make the required adjustments than others.
Piccininni protested, demanded changes to the planned cuts and proceeded to inform the parents himself. Gianni Cotognini could barely contain himself when Trustee Piccininni advised him of the impending changes.
His son Adamo relies on the assistance of a National Service Dog (named Hitch) and a specially trained and certified NSD handler (an EA, Leo Giacalone). A list of some of the very basic services Hitch, handled by Mr. Giancalone, provides an illustration of level Adamo’s dependence on the two. These include but are not limited to: daily on and off assistance to and from transportation; classroom assistance; bi-daily washroom breaks, to and from integrated classrooms; school trips and other off-site school events.
The Cotignini family are not new to this constant need protest delivery of service and to protect the right of their child, Adamo to access educational services available to every child in Ontario.
“Hitch is in many respects an instrument in the learning process. Without him – and, therefore, his certified handler – Adamo will be deprived of a chance to learn and to integrate”, says Gianni Cotognini. “How can McGuckin and Staff in good Catholic conscience be so insensitive?” he adds in a moment of exasperation.
Trustee Picinnini’s insistence, meanwhile, caused staff to relent, somewhat. Staff re-instated two of the seven EAs. Mr. Giacalone, Hitch’s handler was not one of them. “Last in first out”, even if he is the only one certified to “handle” Hitch.
Cotognini and other parents are telling him very firmly to continued to advocate in the strongest of terms to bring some sense to prevail.
As at going to print, Mr. McGuckin had not responded to email requests for input on the issue. Executive compensation matters which could result in pay increases to Staff (himself included) that exceed the salaries of any of the EAs in question are clearly a higher priority.