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Children with special needs should be supported regardless of their school

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There are many families in Ontario who struggle every day with a glaring inequality in the provision of essential services for children with disabilities and special needs.

For some children, their local public school might be the best choice. But for many others, a Jewish or other specialty school might better meet their needs.

Unlike other provinces, Ontario doesn’t offer many disability-related services for children who happen to attend an independent school. While some services are covered, the list of such supports is very narrow  – compared to the wide range of government-funded services available for public school students.

For example, the province will pay for a speech-language pathologist to help a Jewish day school student with pronunciation. But the province will not pay for the same pathologist to aid the student with comprehension and expression. This distinction does not exist for public school students, where the government funds both, along with many other crucial services denied to children who attend an independent school. This inequality is acutely felt by parents who receive little or no government support for their child’s mental health, ADHD, or anxiety needs.

This is wrong. It would not be an overstatement to note that the impact of this policy has proven financially and emotionally damaging, and in some cases devastating, for many families in our community. Many parents must send their children to a public school, which is not necessarily the right fit and may not meet their child’s needs. Others pay exorbitant, out-of-pocket costs for these essential services so that their child can remain in a Jewish day school.

In our community, many day schools are helping to cover the costs of special needs service providers for their students, resulting in millions of dollars in added costs for the entire day school system every year. This financial burden should not fall on our community institutions alone, and it certainly should not fall on the most vulnerable families among us.

This is why the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) supports a grassroots campaign called Every Kid Counts. This broad coalition of diverse communities and disability advocates have rallied around one message: every child, regardless of the school they attend, should have access to the same publicly funded health services.

It is time to change the way Ontario’s School Health Support Services program addresses the needs of children in the province. Every Kid Counts is asking the Government of Ontario to expand its range of services, and to ensure children receive the support they need based on their disability, not the school they happen to attend.

If Every Kid Counts is successful, it will have a massive impact on the well-being of many vulnerable families in our community and beyond. It would also ensure that our struggling day schools are not forced to pay millions every year for health services that should be universally accessible.

READ: PARENTS OUTRAGED OVER NEW QUEBEC HOMESCHOOLING RULES

I am a parent of four young children, three of whom will be in a Jewish day school in the fall. Like many others in our community, my family knows firsthand the commitment shown and challenges faced by families who choose a Jewish education. Summer break provides us an opportunity to come together as a community and lay the foundation for meaningful change in the fall.

Visit everykidcounts.ca today to join me and thousands of other Ontarians from all walks of life in emailing the Government of Ontario to ask for this important policy change. Because in Ontario, every kid counts.

Noah Shack is vice-president, Greater Toronto Area, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.