Parents of Ontario special needs students claim they’ve been given no guidance for new year

A group of Toronto parents of special needs students have banded together in hopes of getting answers from the Toronto District School Board on whether their children can take part in in-person classes to start the new year.

Many parents claim children aren’t able to learn virtually and much of January will be spent doing at-home, online learning across all school districts during the province-wide lockdown.

“We’re wondering why TDSB hasn’t communicated to our families and they’re just basically leaving us hanging,” said Michelle Quonce, whose 20-year-old daughter, Tennyson, is in her last year of high school.

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“We always seem to be the last people that they respond to and it’s not until we get together and we act as a group that they start to listen to us — and I just wish they would watch out for the vulnerable student population first.”

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Tennyson suffers from Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, and can’t learn through virtual classes.

“The virtual doesn’t work for us. Tennyson is non-verbal and Tennyson’s hands don’t work very well for us,” Quonce added.

“It works for maybe five minutes, but that is it.”

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All Ontario schools will begin the new year with virtual learning for the provincial shutdown, but will switch to in-person learning at various dates depending on where you live and what grade you’re in.

In-person classes will resume for elementary students in southern Ontario on Jan. 11, but secondary students have to wait to switch from online to in-person classes until the 25th.

Both elementary and secondary school students outside southern Ontario can resume in-person learning on Jan. 11.

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Some school districts have already allowed students with special educational needs to begin the school year by learning in a physical classroom.

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board said school staff will be ready to receive students in self-contained special education classes beginning Jan. 4.

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Meanwhile, Durham District School Board said its students with special needs can begin in-class learning on Jan. 5, as soon as the winter break is over.

TDSB’s website said that in-class learning for students with special educational needs is available, but parents need to consult with the principal of their school to make it happen.

That’s where some parents say the issue lies, since their schools haven’t communicated any ability to accommodate in-person learning for their students with special needs.

“It really takes a research degree to figure out what’s being planned for our kids,” said Kathleen Deck, whose 16-year-old daughter, Lucy-Claire Furguiele, goes to Oakwood Collegiate Institute.

“When we’re on a holiday break, wanting to enjoy the holiday break — instead, were all emailing with each other, saying, ‘what’s going on?’ There’s chaos, there’s confusion there’s fear.”

TDSB was unable to respond to Global News’ request for comment in time for this story’s deadline.

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Ontario sees record number of COVID-19 infections

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