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Montreal mom fears special needs son will be held back with more public sector strikes coming

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As Quebec's Common Front of public sector unions announced a weeklong strike will happen next week, one Montreal parent is worried about her special needs son being held back in a crucial school year.

Tina Chapman says she fought "tooth and nail" to get her 12-year-old son, Blake — who is on the autism spectrum — a full-time aid at Laurentian Elementary School in Lachute after only getting about eight hours of support in class.

But after four days of labour action by support staff in the English school system this month and more on the horizon, she's worried what impact it will have on her son who is in his last year of elementary school.

"I had to fight in the media, in the public eye, to get him the eight hours he had for the years, and now transitioning to high school with the strike days that are happening, it's making that transition plan … so much more harder because we can't schedule it properly," she said in an interview Tuesday.

The Common Front of unions announced Tuesday that they will be striking from Dec. 8 to 14, which means close to half a million workers in the public sector will be off the job unless they reach a deal with the province.

The group of unions held previous strikes for its 420,000 members on Nov. 6 and from Nov. 21 to 23.

Chapman says she believes Premier François Legault and Education Minister Bernard Drainville are out of touch with the realities that Quebec parents — including single parents like herself — are facing with kids repeatedly out of class amid the labour action.

Parents of children with special need more support, as do the teachers, she said.

"There is no way he can function at school and get the education level as any other neurotypical child if he didn't have it. He's very bright, he's very motivated, very wants to be like every other kid in his class. He has come to me and said, 'I want to be like everybody else, I know I'm not,'" Chapman said through tears.

"Would you hear your 12-year-old child come to you and say, 'I know I'm different but I don't want to be like that. I don't want it to be so noticeable.' How hard is that for the government to understand?"

Her son has built an "amazing bond" with his support worker in recent years. He often communicates with her on Facebook Messenger and "she's always able to keep him calm, or redirect and get him back on task," she added.

"Having aids in the classroom, it helps them to be able to not only focus on the children as well as the special needs child, it allows them to do everything and treat everyone equally."

Some parents have been struggling to make special arrangements with their kids' classes cancelled on previous strike days. Some of them took time off of work, while others said they would rely on family members and private tutors.

With no deal in sight, opposition parties are putting pressure on the CAQ government to reach a deal with the public sector unions.

Treasury Board President Sonia LeBell faced calls from the Quebec Liberal Party to resign, saying she is unable to get along with the unions.

"Sonia is zero for 10 in contract negotiations," said Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy. "Why is she still the head of the Treasury Board? Maybe it's time the premier found a better Treasury Board president."

Quebec Solidaire (QS) also said the government needs to "table a real offer to the unions."

With files from CTV News Montreal's Matt Gilmour and The Canadian Press

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