Mother of boy with autism fights school board for transportation service

TORONTO — The mother of a grade one student is considering filing a human rights complaint against her son’s school board, after the board refused to provide transportation for the boy to get to his after-school therapy.

Six-year-old Anthony Konstantopoulos has autism and his mother said he only recently started verbalizing, but he still doesn’t sleep through the night and has challenges with things other children take for granted.

“Everything has to be taught. He still doesn’t eat with a fork, he eats with his hands,” said Anthony’s mother, Robin Konstantopoulos.

But she has seen dramatic improvement in Anthony since since he started in an Intensive Behavioural Intervention therapy program for autism.

Anthony goes to the program in the afternoons near his school in Newmarket, but the family lives in Keswick.

Konstantopoulos said the York Region District School Board transports Anthony to school in the morning, but refused to drop him off at therapy after school. Instead, she said they will only take him home.

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That means it’s up to the Konstanopoulos family to pick him up at school, deliver him to his program, and then return later to pick him up.

“It’s a considerable struggle for us to go back and forth. My daughter has a lot of issue at school too, she’s autistic. She goes to a different school, so I’m back and forth with that school,” said Konstanopoulos.

She added that accommodating her son would actually save the school board money.

According to Google Maps, it’s about 30 kilometres from the boy’s school to the family home. It’s less than five kilometres from the school to the program.

Konstanopoulos  said the fact that the board drops him off at home instead of at his therapy session defies logic.

But to the school board, a policy is a policy, with no exceptions.

The board’s principal of student services explained they transport students from home to school, and from school to home, but nowhere else.

“We have to make sure we are following that policy at all times consistently and equitably across the system,” said Kate Diakiw.

Granting one exception meant they would have to look at granting them all, according to the school district.

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However, a prominent human rights lawyer said there is a general duty to accommodate people with disabilities.

“Treating everyone the same isn’t giving everyone equal access, said Grace Vaccarelli, a lawyer with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, who was speaking to the issue in general terms.

“It is not an answer to say if I accommodate one person, I have to accommodate everybody.”

Some other school boards do accommodate.

The Toronto District School Board, for example, has a provision for transporting children with special needs to certain programs.

Konstanopoulos said she is considering filing a human rights complaint against the York Region District School Board, if that is what it takes to get her son what he needs.

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