Kathleen Wynne weighs in on changes to Ontario Autism Program and education

Former Premier Kathleen Wynne says there are “no simple solutions” for families of kids with autism in the education system, arguing that her government was making progress before the Doug Ford government’s changes to the Ontario Autism Program.

In a wide-ranging interview for Focus Ontario, Wynne defended her government’s record on this issue and criticized the current government’s approach to educational issues such as low math scores and class sizes.

In February, Wynne wrote an opinion editorial in the Toronto Star. She reached out to Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, offering advice and urging MacLeod to talk to others who have tackled the issue previously. Wynne wrote: “It is not easy to be where Lisa MacLeod is right now. I know that from personal experience. In an ideal world, MacLeod would sit down with the other politicians who have tried, or have half-succeeded in addressing the needs of children with autism.”

When asked why the government should listen to her advice since MacLeod and Ford have repeatedly said the Liberals are the reason families have been struggling, Wynne said her government was “making progress.”

“The reality is that there are no simple solutions for families of kids with autism. It’s a process that’s been ongoing for many years, to get it right and to build a system that allows kids to get the therapy that they need outside of school and make that transition into school in a way that allows them to be successful and we were making progress with the very families that are now protesting this government.”

Global News has learned Education Minister Lisa Thompson will make a major announcement on Friday overhauling the way math is taught. Wynne, a former Minister of Education, said the government is oversimplifying how to tackle the issue of low math scores.

“Just waving a slogan that says back to basics, I don’t know what that means. The reality is that for the 21st century, kids do need basic building blocks and we were already in the process of making some changes but they also need to be able to have the creativity and the flexibility and the critical thinking skills that are necessary.”

In a statement to Global News, Ministry of Education spokesperson Kayla LaFelice said her government has been “committed to scrapping the failed discovery math curriculum and getting back to the basics” since day one.

“Under the watch of Kathleen Wynne, for the past five years math scores in Ontario have declined,” the statement read. “Today, 50 per cent of grade six students are unable to pass a basic math test. This is unacceptable.”

The former premier also spoke about speculation the Ford government may move to reduce the number of teachers in full-day kindergarten.

“If they think that’s a good idea, I would say that’s very wrong-headed,” said Wynne.

On the issue of class sizes and a possible removal of caps: “If they think that not having caps on class size is a good idea, then we’ll end up with a situation like we had in 1995 when Mike Harris was elected, which was that boards had average class sizes and you had some classes of 35 or 40 kids and others with 15.”

“I’m very worried that what’s happening now, it’s not based in evidence, it’s not based in good practice and it’s not based on the advice given by teachers and education workers who know what’s going on in the classroom,” she added.

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