Arrowsmith program cancellation sparks lawsuit

By 
  • August 25, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The head of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network says it’s “appalling” that parents of some children with learning disabilities must file a lawsuit against their own school board in order to save a program their children need.

“It’s ridiculous for parents to be put in this situation,” said chair Murielle Boudreau.

Boudreau was responding to news that five parents with children enrolled in a unique special education program called “Arrowsmith ” launched a lawsuit in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice Divisional Court against the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

According to the notice of application, the parents are seeking a reversal of the board’s decision that cancelled the Arrowsmith program on June 24, two days before the end of the school year.

In their application, the parents claim their children were placed in the Arrowsmith program after being designated as “exceptional” by the Toronto Catholic board’s Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC). Ontario’s Education Act requires that school boards identify special-needs children through the IPRC, and then address those needs.

The children, the application said, have been “benefiting greatly” from the program and would likely  be “irreparably harmed” if the program isn’t made available to them.

The parents said 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 IPRC. The parents also accused the board of failing to live up to an agreement when the board had initially asked parents to make a three- to four-year commitment to the program.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board had been the only public board in North America offering the Arrowsmith program, 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.

At a June 24 public meeting, provincially appointed supervisor Norbert Hartmann said the program was cut in order to balance the board’s budget. The annual licence fee to operate the program is $176,000.

The board said the 60 to 70 students enrolled in the Arrowsmith program can join the 5,000 students enrolled in existing learning disabilities programs.

Hartmann, appointed as board supervisor when the province took over the controversial board last year, did not return calls from The Register. The Toronto Catholic District School Board and the education minister’s office said they cannot comment on the lawsuit.

Ward 7 Trustee John del Grande has asked the board to call an emergency meeting to discuss the lawsuit.  He said the lawsuit represents a bigger issue — lack of transparency at the board.

He also suggested that trustees’ powers be reinstated in order to deal with the legal action.

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