Ford Government to Spend 1.3 Billion Dollars on School Construction Without Ensuring that these Schools will be Fully Accessible to Thousands of Students, Parents and School Staff with Disabilities

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 8, 2024 Toronto: Disability advocates are blasting the Ford Government for failing to announce any measures to ensure that newly built or renovated schools will be designed to be accessible to thousands of students, parents, teachers, and other school staff with disabilities when it announced last week that it is investing 1.3 billion tax dollars into building new schools and expanding existing ones.

Our Government must ensure that public money is never used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, said David Lepofsky, Chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, which has been campaigning since 2009 to get the Ontario Government to pass an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to make Ontarios public education system accessible to hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities. If new schools are wastefully built that include disability barriers, it costs the public much more to later remove them.

For years, Ontarios Ministry of Education has largely left it to each school board to decide what, if anything, to include in the design of a new school building to ensure it is disability accessible. For two years and three months, the Ford Government has failed to implement the final report of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. The Government had appointed that expert Committee under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to recommend what the Government should enact in the promised Education Accessibility Standard to make publicly funded education in Ontario fully accessible to and barrier-free for Ontario students with disabilities. In January 2022, that committee made detailed recommendations on the physical accessibility features that should be required in Ontario-funded school buildings. Yet the Ford Government continues to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on school construction without implementing those recommendations.

This is not the first time that the Ford Government has embarked on such a misuse of public money, said Lepofsky. On July 23, 2020, the Ford Government announced a major plan to build 30 new schools and to construct additions to another 15 schools to provide both learning venues and more day care locations for students across Ontario. Then, as now, the Ford Government announced no requirement that this new construction must be disability accessible. It is wasteful, duplicative and counterproductive for the Ontario Government to leave it to 72 school boards to each reinvent the wheel when it comes to the design of a school building to ensure that it is accessible.

School boards do not necessarily have expertise in accessible building design. Making this worse, too often architects are not properly trained in accessible design.

Ontario desperately needs mandatory standards. A student, parent or school staff member with a disability has the very same accessibility needs when it comes to getting into and around a school building, whether that school is in Kenora or Cornwall, Toronto or Ottawa.

It has been well established for years that compliance with the insufficient accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act accessibility standards, and local municipal bylaws do not ensure that a new building is accessible and barrier-free for people with disabilities. To the contrary, the AODA Alliance has shown how new buildings and major renovations in major public projects can end up having serious accessibility problems. See for example the widely viewed AODA Alliance video that depicts serious accessibility barriers in the new TMU (formerly Ryerson) Student Learning Centre.

This disregard of the most fundamental needs of students with disabilities is part of a larger and troubling pattern, said Lepofsky, who served for four years as a member of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. The Ford Government continues to make self-congratulatory announcements about the education system, all the while failing to enact the promised Education Accessibility Standard. This leaves students with disabilities in a school system that is replete with unfair disabilities, far beyond the design of school buildings, as the expert K-12 Education Standards Development Committee thoroughly documented.

Blistering findings about Government failures to deal with disability accessibility needs across society permeate the 2019 final report of the 3rd Independent Review of the Disabilities Act conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, and the 2023 4th Independent Review of the Disabilities Act conducted by Rich Donovan. Both Reviews, which the Ontario Government appointed, found that progress on accessibility in Ontario has been painfully slow, that there is no effective Government leadership, and that the Ontario Government has no plan to lead Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, the deadline set by the Disabilities Act.

The Ford Government has failed to implement either the 2019 Onley Report or the 2023 Donovan Report. As a first step, the Ford Government should now direct all school boards receiving any public money that all those new buildings must be fully accessible. These projects should be required to meet the detailed accessibility requirements for school buildings recommended in January 2022 by the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.

The Rich Donovan Independent Review of the Disabilities Act found last year that Ontario has an accessibility crisis, requiring an urgent Government crisis response. None has been forthcoming from the Ford Government. The Ford Governments failure to ensure that this new school construction is disability accessible is more proof that Ontario indeed has an accessibility crisis.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

For background, check out:
* The June 16, 2016 AODA Alliance Update which sets out the recommendations for the design of an accessible school building which the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee circulated in 2021 for public feedback, which were well-received, and which in almost identical terms are included in the final report of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.
* The final report of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, which the Ford Government received on January 28, 2022.
* The 2019 final report of the David Onley 3rd Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
* The 2023 interim report and final recommendations of Rich Donovans 4th Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
* The AODA Alliance websites education page, which documents the grass roots campaign since 2009 to get the Ontario Government to enact the much-needed Education Accessibility Standard to make Ontarios education system accessible to and barrier-free for hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities.

April. 4, 2024 Ontario Government News Release

Ontario More Than Doubling Funding to Build New Schools

Historic investment will accelerate, build and expand more schools across the province

April 04, 2024
Ministry of Education

OAKVILLE The Ontario government is investing a historic $1.3 billion to support the construction and expansion of 60 schools across the province. For the first time in the provinces history, the government is more than doubling the funding commitment to build more schools and expansions, which will create 27,093 new student spaces and 1,759 child care spaces.

The announcement was made by Education Minister Stephen Lecce in Oakville today alongside Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and Parliamentary Assistants Natalie Pierre and Billy Pang.

This $1.3 billion in funding represents the single largest investment in school building in Ontario’s history, said Minister Lecce. We are stepping up with a massive investment to build the homes, schools, and communities our province needs, and to ensure children have access to state-of-the-art schools close to home that give them real life and job skills to succeed in the future.

This investment is part of the provinces plan to ensure that the public education system focuses on what matters most: important life-long skills such as reading, writing and math; improving accountability and transparency for parents and families; and maximizing capital assets.

With Ontarios population growing, we need to continue to build schools so students can learn close to home, said Minister Bethlenfalvy. This is part of our Plan to Build a Better Ontario by investing in infrastructure to get more homes, schools, hospitals, and highways built faster, attract better jobs with bigger paycheques, and keep costs down for families.

Since 2018, the Ontario government has approved or supported the development of over 300 school-related projects including child care, of which more than 100 are actively under construction.

The 2024 Budget: Building a Better Ontario continues to support the provinces work being delivered in the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Actto build schools faster and better use taxpayer-funded assets.

Quick Facts
list of 5 items
In December 2023, the Ministry of Education announced Ontarios plan to help build schools faster through a transparent, accountable and more efficient process. In the recent Capital Priorities round, school boards were encouraged to standardize the design of new school construction, identify opportunities to work together on joint-use school projects, and bring forward shovel-ready proposals.
Since 2018, the Ontario government has invested more than $3.6 billion in capital construction projects in education, including 139 new schools, 109 additions and renovations to existing facilities and over 8,000 new licensed child care spaces.
For the 2023-24 school year, the province is providing school boards with approximately $1.4 billion in funding to revitalize and renew aged building systems and components.
The investment is part of Ontarios commitment to provide about $16 billion to support school construction, repair, and renewal over 10 years.
The Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023 will ensure the public education system focuses on what matters most: teaching important life?long skills such as reading, writing and math; improving accountability and transparency for parents and families; maximizing capital assets of boards to support building modern schools faster; and better utilizing current school capacity.

Quotes
“Todays milestone announcement reflects our governments vision for maintaining and expanding Ontarios world-class public education system. This historic investment of $1.3 billion will support the construction of 60 new schools and school expansions across the province, opening up 27,093 new student spaces and 1,759 new child care spaces. Our government knows that every child across Ontario deserves to be educated at a world-class, state-of-the-art facility. That is why we are expanding our provinces education infrastructure to meet the needs of Ontarios growing population.” – Kinga Surma Minister of Infrastructure and MPP for Etobicoke Centre
“As Ontarios population continues to grow, so does the need for modern STEM-focused schools. Our governments $1.3-billion investment in new school construction and expansions will ensure students have access to world-class education closer to home. This investment will provide students with the opportunity to learn in new, contemporary spaces that have the necessary technology and supports students need to succeed now, while preparing them for well-paying jobs of the future.”
– Natalie Pierre Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education and MPP for Burlington
“This unprecedented commitment underscores our governments dedication to providing students with modern learning environments that foster success and innovation. Together, we are building the foundation for a brighter future, where students have the resources and support they need to thrive and succeed in an ever-changing world.”
– Billy Pang Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education and MPP for MarkhamUnionville
“Our government knows that our students are the future and with a population growth at record-high numbers in the province, further investments are required when it comes to our childrens education. I am thrilled that our government continues to make historical investments ensuring that our public education system focuses on what is most important while maximizing capital assets so that our students can thrive and prosper.” – Stephen Crawford MPP for Oakville
“Today marks a historic milestone for Ontario’s education system, a groundbreaking investment of $1.3 billion to construct and expand 60 new schools. More than doubling our commitment, this unprecedented funding initiative underscores our unwavering dedication to providing modern educational facilities closer to home. With 27,093 new student spaces and 1,759 child care spaces, we’re not just building schools; we’re building futures. This is the single largest funding commitment in Ontario’s history, ensuring every child has the opportunity to thrive.” – Effie Triantafilopoulos MPP for Oakville NorthBurlington
“The Ontario government’s $1.3-billion investment in new schools and expansions will help address the demand for education in our growing community. The Minister of Education and our two local MPPs have prioritized catching up with our need for new schools. Our town will do its part and maintain our reputation for fast school approvals in Ontario.” – Rob Burton Mayor, Town of Oakville
“AMO applauds the governments significant investment to build and expand schools across Ontario. This investment in modern learning spaces will help critical public infrastructure keep pace with our growing communities. Municipalities look forward to working with partners to get new schools built efficiently and effectively to serve a diversity of community needs.”
– Colin Best President, Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and Halton Regional Councillor
“The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association welcomes and is extremely pleased with todays historic announcement with regard to significant additional funding in support of the construction of new and expanded school facilities. We are grateful to Minister Lecce and the provincial government for their commitment to provide the necessary funds to construct schools in rapidly growing areas and improve the learning environment of students in Catholic schools throughout Ontario.” – Patrick Daly President, Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA)
“The Ontario governments significant and unprecedented investment in new and modern schools for students in high growth areas is a major boost to school boards across the province. Directors look forward to working with the Ministry of Education and municipalities to build new schools more efficiently and effectively to ensure that Ontarios students are able to access state-of-the-art facilities to achieve exemplary results.”
– Laura Elliott Executive Director, Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE)
“Building on the milestone announcement of $1.8 billion for housing supportive infrastructure, the government has made another important investment in Ontarios communities. OHBA members know the value of schools to developing complete communities. This historic investment in community building of $1.3 billion to build 60 new schools means 60 new neighbourhoods are closer towards meeting the provincial housing target.” – Dave Depencier President, Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA)
“ACÉPO is delighted by todays announcement. As French-language public education is the fastest growing system, ACÉPO has been advocating intensely for additional schools to meet the needs of our expanding student population. This additional funding announced by Minister Lecce will play an important role in ensuring that families across Ontario can enrol their children in high-quality French-language public schools, thus fostering linguistic and cultural diversity within our education system and province.”
– Denis Labelle President, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de lOntario (ACÉPO) “LAssociation franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques welcomes the major investments announced for the construction and expansion of Catholic schools. It thanks Minister Lecce and the provincial government for their commitment to improving the learning environment and more access to French-language education for Catholic students in Ontario.”
– Johanne Lacombe Chair, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)
“This investment of $1.3 billion to support the construction and expansion of 60 new schools across Ontario is a direct investment in our future. These schools will serve the new homes in communities across the province and support new approaches to learning that will prepare our children for careers in all of the sectors where we need future workers, leaders and innovators.” – Richard Lyall President, Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON)

Additional Resources

Building, improving and maintaining schools

Media Contacts

Isha Chaudhuri
Minister’s Office
isha.chaudhuri@ontario.ca

Ingrid Anderson
Communications Branch
ingrid.e.anderson@ontario.ca
437-225-0321