Catholic board approves first accessibility plan

The Northwest Catholic District School Board passed its first annual board accessibility plan Tuesday night, which outlines policies for and identifies barriers to full accessibility to school buildings for people with disabilities.
The plan establishes yearly goals for the removal of barriers to accessibility, in accordance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, and will be submitted to the Ministry of Citizenship.
“Access studies with occupational therapists were made at all five schools,” said Al Cesiunas, the superintendent of education.
A number of barriers to accessibility were identified, and changes to be made in the future include installing ramping, providing handicapped parking spaces, designating handicapped washrooms, and installing automatic doors on entrances.
Some informal initiatives in the past few years include making washrooms accessible at St.
Joseph’s and Sacred Heart schools, providing Handi-transit for St.
Joseph’s school, and installing elevator lifts at St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart schools.
“I think we’re well ahead of the game on it,” said Gerald Rousseau, the board’s chair.
The working group outlined a multi-year accessibility plan, with projects to be completed by 2006.
The plan goes beyond architectural and structural questions, and includes changes in policy and practices.
Accessibility must be taken into account in the hiring process, all signage must be readable by the disabled, and materials should be available in Braille, audio, or large print formats.
Also discussed at last night’s meeting were ways to distribute money from the Rural Education Strategy Plan.
The additional $486,000 the board is expecting from the Ministry of Education is a Distant School Allocation, and must be used on schools that are located at least 8.2 km from another school.
This would mean Sacred Heart, Our Lady of the Way, and St.
Joseph’s schools would qualify for the funding.
The board discussed putting the money into increased speech assistance, increasing bandwidth for better Internet access, hiring teachers to address large class sizes, particularly at St. Joseph’s school in Dryden, and in maintaining fulltime secretaries.
“We’ll have a more costed out plan next month,” said John Madigan, director of education.
The deadline for the board to submit its Rural Education Strategy Plan to the Ministry is December 15.
Also discussed at the board meeting was the report on Aboriginal education, with the goal of improving the academic success of Aboriginal students.
“We want schools to be more appreciative of the history and culture of students of First Nations,” said Madigan.
The report stems from a forum held in Thunder Bay in October 2002. Recommendations from that forum were sent to Dr. Mordechai Rozanski, who was responsible for a review of the province’s education funding, and to the Ministry of Education.
The recommendations include funding for school board staff training on Aboriginal cultural awareness and anti-racism, and the inclusion of at least one Native parent representative on school councils.
“I read this [report] and it looks really well. It shows the schools and the board are trying to do something,” said Ralph Bruyere, a board trustee.
The board’s next monthly meeting is scheduled for Nov. 18 by videoconference at the board office at 555 Flinders Ave. next to St.
Francis school.