A proposal by Ottawa's largest school board that could see funding cut to a summer program for children with disabilities has parents reeling and ready to fight.
The summer learning program at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) provides 17 additional instructional days in the summer months, with a focus on fostering kids' individual learning plans and life skills.
But according to the budget that staff recommend for the 2023-24 school year, the funding for the summer program could be reallocated to the regular school year instead.
No final decision has been made, but the OCDSB is experiencing a budget shortfall of $19 million, according to spokesperson Darcy Knoll.
The proposed cut isn't fair to kids who need the help most, said Joanne Small-Greenall, who has two teenage children who attend the Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education.
Both are deaf, blind and non-verbal, Smith-Greenall says. They also have autism and epilepsy and are developmentally delayed.
"They don't discriminate, they accept everyone in the world," she said. "My question is to the board ... why are you discriminating against them?"
'Complex and challenging' decision
According to the 2023-24 budget report, the "specialized education program delivered during the regular school year continues to grow with increasing needs for additional support."
That's why the board is looking at reallocating the $600,000 in summer program funding, although it's a "complex and challenging decision," Knoll said in a statement Sunday to CBC.
The board would also hire nine more educational assistants and a co-ordinator.
"We recognize that needs are always greater than available resources. In addition to advocating for more funding, we must also review and assess how available funds are allocated," Knoll said.
The funding for the summer learning program hasn't been reviewed since 2016, he added.
Small-Greenall said the 17 days of summer learning may not seem like a lot, but they can make a big difference. For example, one of her children learned to use a spoon independently through the program last summer, she said.
Targets the 'most vulnerable'
Françoise Slaunwhite is of the same opinion. Her 14-year-old daughter attends Clifford Bowie Public School, where she needs help with all of her daily care.
She worries that the summer program students will now be out of school for a full two months, instead of just one.
"They learn through repetition, so you know, it's less time where they might relapse or lose some of those skills that they've built up through the school year," she said.
"It just feels like they're really targeting, for whatever reason, the most vulnerable students in the board that have no other options that are unable to speak for themselves. It's just really disheartening."
The issue is set to be discussed further at the OCDSB committee of the whole budget meeting on June 6, where delegates are invited to speak or write in.
Knoll said the budget committee will consider the matter over the next three weeks and that work is underway to ensure the program does operate this summer.