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Funding announcement for students with autism leaves many unanswered questions: school board

Last Updated Mar 11, 2019 at 2:54 pm EDT

Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced an extended deadline for funding for students with autism.

The average $12,300 per student funding is normally available to boards based on head counts twice a year, for all students enrolled by March. The government said it will give boards that money for any student with autism that registers between April 1 and June.

Thompson said they are developing a new strategy for working with students with autism using four pillars: professional development, funding, after-school programs and collaboration.

“The four-point plan that I introduced today, as well as the additional funding for our school boards and the focus on supporting our educators, will culminate in a foundation of confidence that parents will be able to embrace when we talk about making sure students with autism are going to well cared for and will be successful in our classroom environments,” Thompson said.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board released a statement, saying that the announcement is a “small gesture” that is “simply not enough” and that there are “till too many unanswered questions.”

Starting this fall, the Ministry of Education will also subsidize the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) additional qualification course for teachers.

“We believe a key factor in a student success is the educator,” Thompson said. “My ministry will invest in every educator who wants to grow their school base.”

New teachers entering the system will also have increased training in support of students with ASD during their onboarding.

In addition to the training, the province is asking all school boards to set aside a Professional Activity Day dedicated to the best way forward for supporting students with ASD.

“By the 2020-2021 school, we will be able to say every teacher in this province will have training in supporting students with autism,” said Thompson.

The provincial government will once again provide $3 billion in special education funding to school boards that will allow boards to be “responsive to increased enrollment, hire more ABA professionals or purchase new sensory equipment.”

WATCH: Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s full announcement.

An after-school program extended pilot project for students with autism, originally introduced by the Ontario Liberals in 2017, will also be extended to all 72 school boards across the province.

Thompson adds they are also doubling our investment in the Geneva Centre for autism to $2 million, which will provide over 4,000 educators each year with the opportunity for more ASD-related training.

Principals for several Ontario school boards had recently called on Thompson to delay the changes to autism funding as their staff lack the necessary medical and professional training to deal with autistic children who could be spending more time in classrooms due to recent changes to government funding for therapy.

In a letter addressed to her, they said the changes announced last month will mean many students will be spending less time in therapy with trained professionals.

The Ministry said they will be hosting a series of virtual sessions to engage parents, educators, administrators and interested community members in a dialogue about these complex issues.

“We need fluid, good, two-way communications and these virtual sessions will help us extend that opportunity,” Thompson explained.

She added she continues to partner and stand beside Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod and said “we will work to support transitions through the programs her ministry has, like the Connections for Students transition teams.”

Liberal Mitzie Hunter called the plan “incomplete.”

“Teachers should not be asked to replace the work therapists should be doing,” she said. “Giving teachers a one day course will not replace the years of training that professional autism therapists undertake.”

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association called Thompson’s announcement a “step in the right direction,” but said many boards already outspend their special education budget.

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