Toronto Arrowsmith program saved

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  • September 18, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The newly appointed provincial supervisor of the Toronto Catholic District School Board is overturning a controversial decision to axe the Arrowsmith program, effectively ending a lawsuit against the board and Ontario’s education minister.

Richard Alway said in a letter to parents that after a “careful review,” and in consultation with the board’s director of education, he has decided to continue the program for students currently enrolled until 2012.

“I wish to make clear that I am confident that the rationale behind that decision was, at the time, aligned with the best of human and fiscal resources,” he said.

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne announced Alway’s decision in the Ontario Legislature on Sept. 14.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board had been the only public board in North America offering the Arrowsmith program for students with learning disabilities, which was introduced in some schools in 1997. Students spend half of the school day working on cognitive exercises and the other half in regular classes.

Although Alway expressed confidence in the board’s current learning disabilities programs which can help “all our students coping with learning disabilities,” he said the decision to continue the program was “in the interests of the least disruptive arrangements for students currently participating in the Arrowsmith Program.”

The board, under former supervisor Norbert Hartmann, had cancelled the program on June 24. Hartmann, along with supervisory team member Norm Forma, resigned on Aug. 21.

But a group of five parents launched a legal challenge to the board’s decision on Aug. 7. In the lawsuit, the parents had claimed that the board failed to comply with and “unlawfully ignored” the mandatory requirements of Ontario’s Education Act which calls for the board to implement all placement decisions by the Toronto Catholic board’s Identification, Placement and Review Committee. The committee is designated under the Act to identify special-needs children and then address their needs.

One of the parents’ lawyers, Michael Watson, told The Catholic Register that the parents are “ecstatic” about the news.

“They thought they always had a good case to go to court but they’re very pleased that (Alway) has reconsidered this situation and has made this decision to grandfather all of their children in the program until it’s completed,” he said.

Watson said he was unable to comment about whether there may have been a financial settlement offered.

“This was never about money at all and that has never been a part of what we have been seeking,” Watson said. “All the parents were looking for was a reconsideration of the program for their children.”

According to Alway’s letter, “there will be no new students enrolled in the program.”

Trustee John Del Grande said although it would have been preferable to have the program full and open to other students if there were any spaces left this year, the reversal is still a “victory” for parents.

“I think this speaks to the power of parents and students, and (that) anything can be appealed and overturned, so I think it’s a good lesson learned.”

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