‘They sat in silence’: PCs ignore heart wrenching abuse of deaf & blind students, block AG audit of Ontario schools where they continue to suffer
Government of Ontario

‘They sat in silence’: PCs ignore heart wrenching abuse of deaf & blind students, block AG audit of Ontario schools where they continue to suffer

A female student inside an Ontario school was thrown to the ground so violently she suffered traumatic brain injury. The same student suffered sexual abuse inside the same school and her parents were not informed.

At the province's schools for the deaf and blind, students routinely arrive in the morning met by locked doors and have to wait outside in the freezing cold (often after being bused over an hour to get there). 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. Some classrooms get so cold students must go to the bathrooms to communicate because it is the only place warm enough to remove their gloves so they can sign.

Chillingly, the PC government has for years known about the ongoing abuse of students inside its schools for the deaf and blind, but has decided to pay out settlements in class action lawsuits to keep issues quiet, rather than do the work to protect these vulnerable young people who are under the care of our elected officials.

“They just sat there in silence,” NDP MPP Chandra Pasma, who has tried for months to protect students in the broken system, said Monday after the latest disgraceful display by her colleagues on the other side of the legislature.

The unthinkable behaviour of PC politicians, elected to protect the public, continued this week. 

Students, parents, teachers, advocates, and survivors of abuse have been demanding action to fix Ontario’s school system for deaf and blind children for years. Overwhelming evidence of abuse and mismanagement has been outlined in repeated lawsuits against the Province—which has paid out $23 million in settlements to avoid any admission of wrongdoing—and detailed in stories from students and parents. Even the government's own reports have highlighted the inhumane conditions. 

On Monday the Ontario NDP once again attempted to finally confront the issue by requesting the Standing Committee on Public Accounts at Queen’s Park support a motion for the Auditor General to conduct a value for money audit of the Provincial Demonstrations School Branch (PDSB). 

PC MPPs in attendance ignored the matter altogether, refusing to even acknowledge the issue, once again, despite ongoing harm to students across Ontario. 

While NDP MPPs detailed the deplorable conditions inside the schools and disturbing evidence of what some of the province’s most vulnerable students are living through every day, several PC MPPs were distracted on their cellphones, not even paying attention while the heart wrenching plight of thousands of young people under their care was being highlighted. 

The same request was made by MPP Pasma in February during a press conference with union members and the parent of a young child within the PDSB who has suffered due to the lack of educational resources. 

Pasma told The Pointer the auditor general responded to her request stating the office is open to conducting the investigation. However, the slate of audits for 2024 is already filled and underway. The AG informed her that if the Public Accounts committee were to pass a motion requesting the audit, it would need to be prioritized and conducted immediately. 


NDP MPP France Gélinas introduced a motion Monday seeking PC support for an auditor general’s audit of Ontario schools for the deaf and blind.



The motion to request the much-needed audit was brought forward by the NDP’s only standing member of the committee, France Gélinas. 

“Ontario spends quite a bit of money on these special schools,” she told the committee, noting the audit would allow the government to understand if those investments are going to the areas they are most needed. Advocates and staff have highlighted a significant teacher shortage, as well as a lack of assistants to provide specialized learning. The board is currently short 17 percent of its teaching workforce. This has led to students arriving at school to find notes posted on the classroom door advising them a teacher is not available and to spend the school day in the library. 

“Are the children getting the benefits of those investments and if they’re not, it would be good to know where that money is going if it's not going to teach special needs children the skills they need to succeed in life,” Gélinas said.

NDP MPP Jennifer Stevens of St. Catharines urged PC members to put partisan agendas aside. 

“No matter what you feel about the way this is being brought forward, we have to put our differences aside,” she said. “Children have rights too and they just don’t have that voice… I think as MPPs we should listen.”

Pasma, while not a voting member, was also in attendance at the committee meeting. 

She highlighted the $23 million the government has paid out to settle class action lawsuits that detailed disturbing levels of abuse within the system. The MPP, who has led the NDP’s push for change within the troubled special school board, also pointed out that systems meant to protect students are failing, while infrastructure is crumbling. 

“That’s a situation that none of us would accept for our children at school in Ontario,” she said. 

The motion was defeated, with only Gélinas voting in favour.

PC MPPs Will Bouma, Dave Smith, Donna Skelly, Jess Dixon and Anthony Leardi, all voted against the resolution. 

None of them commented on the request, or explained their opposition. Several appeared to be using their cellphones while Gélinas and Pasma expressed the dire need for the motion. 

The defeat does not mean an audit will not occur, but with the AG’s audit plan already full for 2024, the earliest a comprehensive review of the PDSB could move forward is 2025. 

“It’s disappointing the conservative members couldn’t even bring themselves to show community members the respect of saying why they’re going to vote against the motion,” Pasma said. “They just sat there in silence.”

“The fact that parents and students and alumni and teachers and advocates have all been calling for this audit, they didn’t even acknowledge those concerns, they just voted against the motion.”


NDP MPP Chandra Pasma has repeatedly pushed for the PC government to take action and fix the issues plaguing the Provincial and Demonstrations School Branch.



This is the latest example of the PC government ignoring the harm students at PDSB schools are suffering. 

At the end of February, Patrice Barnes, MPP for Ajax and Parliamentary Assistant to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, dismissed the stories of sexual abuse, neglect and mismanagement—some are detailed in reports from the government’s own ministries—as nothing but “opposition rhetoric”.  

For months, Lecce has repeatedly failed to answer questions from The Pointer about his lack of action to address the problems brought to his attention at the PDSB. Spokespeople for Lecce repeatedly assert that the provincial government is investing adequately in the school board and that the PCs “care deeply” about the students in these schools. Lecce refuses to explain why he has failed to launch any type of review or investigation into the numerous claims of abuse and mismanagement that have come to light in recent years. Aside from settling lawsuits for millions of dollars, the Ontario government has taken no action to address any of the problems detailed within those claims. 

The Pointer is told there are currently three pending lawsuits against the government and PDSB. 

One of those involves Jane. 

When she was 13, according to the 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 the mishandling of their daughter’s medical needs, leading to a misdiagnoses and significant trauma to Jane culminating in multiple suicide attempts.

Aside from asserting that all is well at the PDSB, the PCs have not explained why they do not want the auditor looking into the school board—a process that could find ways for the government to save money and streamline public investments into the PDSB to better serve these vulnerable learners.

“It’s not fiscally conservative to refuse to do that,” Pasma said. “And even if, as the minister and the parliamentary assistant insisted in the house that everything is amazing, then you could have the auditor general come in and show that and be able to tell parents and community members, there’s no structural or systemic challenges here. They’re not even doing that.”

David Sykes, is 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. He has previously told The Pointer he believes the Province is intent on allowing the school board to decay to such a state it can easily be dismantled. 

The Province denies this assertion. 

But the evidence brought forward by union members and advocates paints a picture of a board in crisis. 

Classrooms meant to teach a very small number of students with complex needs are routinely overburdened despite collective agreements dictating small class sizes designed to provide proper care for students. This has led to teachers refusing to work due to unsafe conditions. Crumbling infrastructure is ignored and strategies for change fail to consider the special needs of teachers and students, leading to accusations of audism and ableism. 

The Board’s chief psychologist, one of the few doctors in the province capable of assessing the mental state of deaf and blind children, resigned last year over barriers to providing clinical care to students. Dr. Stephen James wrote in his resignation letter that he fears the Board’s effort to prevent him from conducting necessary assessments could have drastically negatively altered the life trajectories of graduating students. He stated the Board blocked him from explaining the situation to parents seeking answers around why their children were not receiving necessary assessments.

Pasma says she can only speculate on why the PC government is refusing to take action. 

“I think the Minister of Education likes to blame everybody else for the challenges in our public-funded school system. It’s the school board's fault, it’s the teacher’s fault, it’s the principal’s fault. And here is a case where these schools are under his direct control and what happens in them is his responsibility and I think he is just trying to deflect attention from that so hard, so that nobody starts to connect the dots that he is also responsible for the challenges in our broader publicly-funded education system.”



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