Auditor called to investigate systemic failures amid disturbing allegations of abuse within Ontario schools for the deaf and blind
Screengrab/Queen's Park Media Studio

Auditor called to investigate systemic failures amid disturbing allegations of abuse within Ontario schools for the deaf and blind

With nowhere left to turn, teachers, union officials and, most desperately, parents of deaf and blind children are calling on Ontario’s auditor general for help.

Systemic issues, including gut-wrenching cases of abuse against students inside the province’s schools for the deaf and blind have plagued the board for years, with disturbing allegations handled in out-of-court settlements, keeping them away from the public. 

Now, those working tirelessly to protect vulnerable children and youth from further harm hope an investigation by the provincial watchdog would finally force accountability by a PC government that has ignored parents and refused to take any action, despite a pair of class action lawsuits that have cost taxpayers over $20 million. 

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Ontario NDP Education Critic Chandra Pasma called for the province’s auditor general to launch a value for money audit into Provincial Demonstrations School Branch (PDSB), a school board she says is currently failing students at every level.

Previous coverage from The Pointer has exposed the litany of issues within an education system responsible for educating some of Ontario’s most vulnerable learners, whose future trajectory can be dramatically impacted, positively… or negatively by their treatment in the classroom. 

The Board has a total seven schools across the province educating children who are deaf, blind and those with severe learning disabilities. The NDP requests the AG focus the value for money audit on the board’s four English language schools in Ontario. 

As previously reported by The Pointer, the PDSB has been underfunded, understaffed and confronted with allegations of mental, physical and emotional abuse of students and staff for years.

Two class action lawsuits against the PDSB and Ontario government over the last decade have included harrowing evidence of the disturbing level of harm young students have routinely suffered. A 2016 lawsuit detailed how teachers approached students with “contempt, prejudice, indifference and abuse” and alleged ongoing sexual, physical and emotional abuse by their peers, teachers and counsellors. 

The Government of Ontario has paid out $23 million in taxpayer funds to settle these lawsuits and avoid any admission of wrongdoing or a public trial which would have exposed the systemic neglect and abuse. No substantial review of the numerous allegations has been completed and no improved accountability mechanisms have been put in place by the Province following these lawsuits. Despite repeated attempts by The Pointer, Education Minister Stephen Lecce refuses to explain why he has failed to launch any meaningful review. A request for comment sent to Lecce’s office was not returned ahead of publication. 

“The rot starts at the core here,” Pasma told The Pointer. “This is a government that just does not care about these children. The schools that are under their direct control, they can’t even be bothered to investigate or look into or make any changes when these allegations are raised, on top of the underfunding, they really do not care about these children at the end of the day.”


NDP Education Critic Chandra Pasma is leading the call for Ontario’s auditor general to investigate evidence of systemic abuse within the province’s schools for the deaf and blind.



Pasma was joined by Tamara Witcher, president of the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) District 30, the union representing teachers within the PDSB. She said teachers and parents have effectively been given the “run around” by Minister Lecce and deputy education minister Kate Manson-Smith, who have refused to meet with them. 

“There is no governance, and no accountability,” she said. “The people who make decisions have been allowed to continue neglecting us.”

Unlike other school boards in Ontario, the PDSB is not governed by an elected board of trustees, leaving a significant gap, advocates and union officials say, in holding senior management accountable. 

The PCs have “starved” the board of funding, resources and staff, Witcher said. 

Students, many of whom commute to schools from far distances, are sometimes corralled into school libraries for the day because there are no teachers available to teach them. 

Families with preschool aged children are left to fend for themselves, trying to educate their deaf, blind or deaf and blind children, despite government funded PDSB programs meant to assist them. There is currently a waitlist of 160 families waiting for assistance with preparing their child for entry into the school environment. 

“Children who are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind need to bond with their families, have communication and be ready to learn when they enter the education system,” she says.

Witcher says the list is getting longer by the week. 

“Those families who are not receiving those supports will be impacted for life.” 

For those old enough to attend school, she says many are turned away from PDSB schools because the “long-standing staffing crisis” has left schools without enough resources to support them. This leaves parents with no option but to send their children to regular public school, where they are often isolated from their peers and not provided the specialized education the PDSB is supposed to deliver in a safe learning environment. 

”It’s clear that Premier Ford and Minister Lecce are failing these students,” Karen Littlewood, OSSTF president, said. 


Education Minister Stephen Lecce refuses to explain why he has repeatedly failed to review serious issues within the Provincial Demonstrations School Branch.

(Government of Ontario) 


The lack of teachers has also led to overcrowding in classes meant to be limited to only a few students with complex needs in order to ensure proper care and education. 

The neglect makes no sense to Pasma. 

”Even from an economic standpoint you would spend so much less just to adequately fund these schools and make sure that the supports and resources are in place,” she said, noting that the provincial government has instead chosen to pay out millions of taxpayer dollars to settle lawsuits. 

“It doesn’t make any sense.” 

Julien Abraham, the father of a 14-year-old student within the PDSB detailed the troubling impact this lack of funding and neglect from the PC government has had on his son and their family. They have been forced to watch as he has fallen further and further behind his peers without the proper resources to meet his complex needs.

“At one point our son was 6 years behind and there was no serious attempt to identify a cause. He was just allowed, year after year, to fall further behind and we fought tirelessly to get him the help he needed.” 

Abraham described the helpless situation this neglect leaves parents in. With nowhere else to send their children, they are forced to leave their students to suffer in a system that is failing them. 

“I’m tired of watching our son fall through the cracks,” he said. “It’s time for the system to step up and do better.”

The neglect and mismanagement of the board has also been shown to have impacts on the health of young students. 

In 2022, a student, identified only as Jane, and her family filed a damning lawsuit against the board and the Ontario government after she allegedly endured years of bullying and abuse at the hands of students and negligence by those in senior administrative positions responsible for keeping her safe. 

Jane’s disturbing treatment at E.C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton was detailed in an October investigation by The Pointer, which outlined the repeated assaults she experienced at the hands of other students, leading to a traumatic brain injury, and the alleged dismissal of ongoing complaints by her parents, as senior leaders at the school ignored her treatment. 

Jane’s lawsuit alleges the mismanagement and lack of care led to her not receiving the proper medical attention and assessments she desperately needed, which could have identified her learning disabilities and other challenges much sooner. Instead, they were compounded due to the neglect. If these assessments had been completed, Jane would have been spared years of torment, the statement of claim alleges, possibly preventing repeated suicide attempts, including an incident where Jane hallucinated in class, seeing people who were not there, screaming at her to kill herself. 

The Ontario government, in a statement of defence, denies the allegations. 

In an amended statement of claim filed in November, Jane and her parents have added yet another allegation to the list, that school administrators failed to take all the proper steps, or even notify her parents, when partially nude images of Jane, who was a minor at the time, were found on the device of another student. All PDSB schools are still without online reporting mechanisms for such incidents despite the legislated requirement for such a system by the Ontario government.

“There is just zero accountability,” Pasma says. “We’re creating a crisis that we could have headed off just by investing in the education that these kids deserve and we as a province have promised them.”

Union officials are not making exorbitant requests, Pasma says, pointing to the government’s multi-billion contingency fund that could be used to provide emergency support to the board to train and hire more teachers and repair long-standing infrastructure issues. Many of the requests relate to policy changes that would cost nothing to implement. 

The PDSB has already shown itself unable to effectively consult with staff when making significant policy changes.

The Ministry of Labour investigated a violent incident at E.C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton that left a classroom destroyed and found several violations at the school, including the failure to adequately update student safety plans for years, despite some students having been involved in a number of violent incidents. 

In response to this outburst, an interim policy was created that in the event of any possible future violent incidents a cowbell should be rung. The policy was created without any input from deaf staff members. When deaf staff expressed concerns about this new policy during a staff meeting, they were ignored by senior administrators.

This new emergency system came on the back of a previous one that staff members with visual or physical disabilities also found discriminatory. In the previous system, in the event of an emergency inside a classroom, a card was passed to the nearest staff member or responsible student outside the classroom, who could then use it to signal for help. However, after incidents when there were no available staff to assist, forcing teachers with physical disabilities to leave the room to summon help, the system was deemed ineffective by the teachers who were forced to use it. According to documents viewed by The Pointer, these concerns were shared with senior managers, and the system was even criticized by the Ministry of Labour for being ineffective. Managers, despite the obvious flaws and external criticism, still insisted it was effective. 

The PC government has no interest in investigating these systemic issues, Pasma says, despite the ongoing risk to student safety and well being, and that is why the auditor general needs to step in. The harm inflicted upon these students today ripples across their lives for years, even decades, adding to the urgency of an investigation that should be launched as soon as possible. 

“For these kids, that’s their future, that’s their lives that we’re shaping with this really callous decision,” Pasma says, referring to the PC government’s ongoing indifference, despite repeated calls to investigate. 

“We know that the students and families deserve so much more,” Witcher said.

The Office of the Auditor General of Ontario has confirmed it has received Pasma’s request for an investigation.

“The Office reviews the requests we receive and considers all the information available to us to determine whether we will investigate those matters as part of our audit selection process,” a spokesperson told The Pointer.



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