‘A slap in the face’: PCs dismiss documented cases of sexual abuse, discrimination against deaf, blind students as ‘opposition rhetoric’ 
Queen's Park/Screenshot

‘A slap in the face’: PCs dismiss documented cases of sexual abuse, discrimination against deaf, blind students as ‘opposition rhetoric’ 

For months the PC government has refused to answer mounting questions about the harm being done to students detailed in lawsuits that include disturbing evidence of ongoing mismanagement, understaffing and underfunding of the Provincial and Demonstration Schools Branch, Ontario’s school system for the deaf and blind. Issues of sexual abuse, physical assaults and shocking conditions inside the schools are well documented, even by the government’s own Ministry of Labour inspectors.

For months the PC government has ignored questions about why, after two class action cases involving thousands of students dating back to the 1970s, detailing disturbing allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the government has not taken any steps to protect the children or put in place new systems to avoid similar lawsuits in the future. The government has paid out $23 million of taxpayer money to settle these cases and avoid any admission of wrongdoing. The Pointer is told there are currently three pending lawsuits against the Ontario government from current or former students and parents at the school board. 

For months, the PCs have declined to respond to repeated queries about a lack of staffing leading to class sizes violating Collective Agreement stipulations for student safety, or about underfunding and neglect that has led to crumbling infrastructure, forcing students to learn in horrendous conditions. There is ample documentation, including photographs and Ministry reports detailing these conditions. 

On Wednesday evening, Chandra Pasma, the Ontario NDP critic for education, stood up at Queen’s Park and once again tried to get answers. 

“This government just won’t take seriously the conditions in our provincial schools,” she began, noting that parents and advocates have tried to get meetings with Education Minister Stephen Lecce and deputy minister Kate Manson-Smith, “and have been stonewalled”.

“Journalists have reached out to get answers and have gotten the blow-off from the ministry.”


MPP Chandra Pasma has continued to try and hold the PC government accountable for its lack of action to address serious issues with Ontario’s school system for the deaf and blind.

(Queen's Park/Screenshot)


Minister Lecce was not present in the Legislature, the issue instead was addressed by his Parliamentary Assistant Patrice Barnes, MPP for Ajax. What she said has infuriated parents, teachers and union members. 

Barnes dismissed the disturbing treatment and ongoing harm to students raised by Pasma—and the parents, teachers, staff and union members who have been demanding protection for over a decade—labelling it all as nothing but “opposition rhetoric”, claiming “we remain steadfast and continue to support and promote provincial demonstrations schools and providing quality opportunities for students who attend these schools.”

Barnes chose to ignore her own Ministry’s reports and the disturbing stories of students like Jane

When she was 13, according to evidence in an ongoing lawsuit, Jane was violently assaulted at her PDSB school, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury and what she described as “lightning” in her head. 

When Jane’s parents raised the assault with school administrators, they denied that anything serious had happened. The vice principal dismissed their concerns, saying it was nothing more than a harmless school prank, of which Jane was a willing participant. 

In a separate incident detailed in the lawsuit, school and board officials failed to inform Jane’s parents after she was bullied into providing sexually explicit photos of herself to another student.  

Her parents were beyond shocked when they only learned about the sexual abuse of their daughter through their ongoing lawsuit against the PDSB and the Ontario government. It alleges and provides detailed evidence over years of mismanagement by senior administrators at EC Drury School for the Deaf in Milton that led to physical and sexual abuse and mishandling of their daughter’s medical needs, leading to a misdiagnoses and significant trauma to Jane culminating in multiple suicide attempts. 

Barnes ignored all of it. 

She also ignored the press conference held by Pasma on February 13, along with senior PDSB union officials and Julien Abraham, another parent of a PDSB student. 

Abraham shared how his 14-year-old son has been left to fall further behind in school as the system does not have enough teachers and resources to support him. He has continually been on waitlists for services. 

“Each delay felt like a gut punch,” Abraham said. 

Him and his wife fought to get further accommodations for their son but got nowhere, leaving them to feel helpless because there were no other schooling options due to his exceptional needs. 

“My only option is to watch my son being failed,” he said. “I’m tired of watching our son fall through the cracks.”

The continued dismissal of the disturbing allegations, as Lecce and Barnes refuse to take action to protect children and youth in their care, have left parents and union officials feeling like the government is actively working to gaslight them all. 

Pasma previously stood up in the Legislature and said, “there are allegations of abuse, discrimination and neglect. A serious teacher shortage, crumbling schools and absurd emergency response plans” —referencing a Ministry of Labour investigation that found deaf teachers were being told to ring a cowbell to let other deaf teachers and students know about an ongoing emergency. 

Lecce’s response: “We are committed to and investing in supporting these kids.” He repeated the same during Question Period on Monday. 

When told stories of how students routinely arrive at school to be met with locked doors and have to wait outside in the freezing cold (often after being bused over an hour to get there), and then once they do step inside there is a note on the door of the classroom telling them a teacher is not available that day and to head to the library; or when she heard stories of classrooms getting so cold students must go the bathrooms to communicate because it is the only place warm enough to take their gloves off to sign—Barnes stood up with a smile and said: “We remain committed to unlocking the potential in all our learners.”


MPP Patrice Barnes labelled the numerous allegations of abuse and documented mismanagement within Ontario schools for the deaf and blind as nothing but “opposition rhetoric”.

(Queen's Park/Screenshot) 


David Sykes, the executive coordinator, district officer and chief negotiator for District 30 of the Provincial Schools Authority, the union representing approximately 200 teachers who work in provincial demonstration schools across Ontario, was left stunned hearing the statements made by Barnes Wednesday. 

“It’s insulting,” he said. “After 10 years of neglect, to call this “rhetoric”, is a slap in the face to all of our students, parents and staff.

“It’s creating continued liability to the taxpayer that they would ignore this fire on the mountain.” 

For nearly a year The Pointer has been trying to get answers from Minister Lecce about why he continues to refuse to take any action to address these allegations or fix the well-documented failures of the board. The Pointer first asked Lecce in April of 2023 if he could explain his reasoning for not taking any action, following repeated class action lawsuits, letters from opposition leaders, parents, teachers and union representatives. 

Lecce did not respond. Instead a spokesperson said, “we will continue to invest in students with exceptionalities in all Ontario schools,” noting that funding is being maintained despite declining enrolment in these schools—sources have told The Pointer parents are being warned to keep their kids out of these schools because of the disturbing state they are being left in. “Our government is investing in modernizing and upgrading PDSB schools to ensure students today, and into the future can benefit from these specialized supports,” the spokesperson concluded. 

Since this initial non-response, The Pointer has repeatedly attempted to get answers directly from Lecce who, to date, has refused to provide a direct statement. 

Requests sent in October, December, and earlier this month were all met with the same responses similar to those spoken in the Legislature by Barnes. 

Adding further insult, on Wednesday, as an example of how the PCs “see results” in these schools, Barnes pointed to how a team of students from EC Drury travelled to the Rochester Institute of Technology for the Deaf in Rochester, NY for the finals of a math competition. The team placed 7th in a pool of 40 schools, she said with a smile and several satisfied nods from her fellow PC MPPs. 

What she failed to mention, as sources have told The Pointer, is that the effort to get the children to the competition and their success was an entirely teacher-run initiative, and the PC government taking credit for it as the “results” of a well functioning school system, discredits the work of teachers trying to provide meaningful learning opportunities for their students, despite the continued harm being done by a government that undercuts the efforts of dedicated educators.

During her press conference on February 13, Pasma called for the auditor general to step in and investigate the various allegations levelled against the PDSB along with the instances of neglect, mismanagement and other issues that are not only costing Ontario taxpayers millions of dollars, but most concerningly are causing ongoing harm to deaf, blind and deaf/blind children. The PC government under Premier Doug Ford has shown it does not care.

“The rot starts at the core here,” Pasma previously told The Pointer. 

 “This is a government that just does not care about these children. That 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.” 



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