Elementary teachers were back on the picket lines across the province and Durham Region Thursday, and so, too, were many parents of children with autism.
Both groups had a common goal: keeping special education supports in the classroom.
Thursday’s event also marks the anniversary of changes to the province’s autism program.
For Shona Dandar, having her children home from school is becoming more and more of a common sight. But rotating teacher strikes aren’t the only hurdle she and her family have had to contend with lately.
“We had waited for a couple of years already; we were extremely close to the top of the list,” said Dandar, who has two children affected by autism.
The provincial funding overhaul announcement one year ago, she said, changed their lives.
“They are looking at the most vulnerable population and that seems to be where they are making their deepest cuts,” said Dandar.
After 18 years of being an education assistant, Dandar says she’s had to give up that career to take care of her kids.
Ever since the announcement last February, she’s been fighting, and protesting is becoming part of their routine.
“My children are comfortable on a picket line and that is not anywhere that I wanted them to be,” she said.
They joined members of the autism community to protest the one-year anniversary of the provincial changes and to take a stand with teachers picketing outside Whitby MPP Lorne Coe’s office.
“We’ve had a year of uncertainty,” said Tara Stone, whose family is also affected by autism.
“Although we have a different minister, we’ve got the same story: a decimated Ontario Autism Program.”
The teachers are standing with them, too, not wanting to see the local autism community lose supports in the classroom.
“I personally … know the teachers here are deeply in support of everything they’re fighting for,” said Mary Fowler, ETFO president for Durham Region.
“They had the therapy that they could rely on, as well as the school, and now we’re cutting both places,” said Tammy Draband, a local teacher.
“Now these poor kids really are not able to expand and grow in our classrooms,” added Tammy Draband, DDSB teacher.
Todd Smith, the minister of children, community and social services, responded with the following statement.
“The Autism Program being implemented today looks a lot different than the changes which were proposed a year ago,” the statement reads. “Since then, we have listened and we have learned. We have doubled the budget to $600 million, consulted with the autism community and committed to a new-needs based program as recommended by a panel of experts, individuals with lived experience, and advocates.
“The new program will ensure children with autism are supported for years to come.”
Shona Dandar says that she and her family, like so many others, will continue to fight and advocate until the government stops pulling back on vital support and they start seeing progress in the autism file.