The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) union is warning that an Upper Canada District School Board decision to lay off mental health support workers will have negative consequences for students heading back to school in two weeks.

In June, the board issued layoff notices to all 25 of its child and youth workers and behaviourists, known as Student Support Partners. People in those positions worked with students on mental health, suicide prevention, student engagement, and establishing connections between families and support agencies.

The OSSTF represents the laid-off employees and claims that the job cuts amount to a 53 per cent reduction in para-professional positions in the USCDSB.

The layoffs are a result of a decision by the board to reduce expenses on paraprofessionals by $1.3 million.

“Students with mental health and behaviour concerns could be left stranded,” said OSSTF District 26 Professional Student Services Personnel Bargaining Unit President Jim Mulville.

He added that it will be difficult to continue establishing student behaviour plans and developing professional relationships with at-risk students without the positions.

The OSSTF claimed that more than 2,000 people have petitioned the UCDSB to reverse its decisions to cut para-professional spending and Student Support Partner staff.

The union noted that Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes MPP Steve Clark, who is also Premier Doug Ford’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, criticized UCDSB spending decisions in the Brockville Recorder and Times on August 8 in an open letter to board Chair John McAllister.

Clark’s riding includes Brockville, where the UCDSB headquarters is located.

The MPP questioned why the board has cut spending even though it has received what he called a “record amount” of additional funding for the 2019-2020 school year.

On August 12, McAllister responded with an open letter to Clark on the UCDSB website stating the board had to reduce spending due to an initial budget shortfall of $11.7 million.