It’s a story of heart and hard work. A story that makes the eyes wet, too. A small private school for autistic children, launched 40 years ago in a church basement, will become a unique “autism center” in Quebec, financed in large part by private donors recruited by parents, who have advanced $ 27 million.

The Ministry of Education announced on Tuesday an investment of $ 15 million in this unprecedented public-private partnership that will see the light of day in the heart of the Angus district, in the borough of Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie. The total cost of the project is estimated at 51.4 million. The À Pas de Géant autism center will house a preschool, elementary and secondary school, an adult education center, community services and an autism research center.

There is a shortfall of $ 10 million to complete the financing of the project. The promoters are preparing to knock on Ottawa’s door in the hope of obtaining funds to set up the research and innovation component, which falls under the federal government.

“It’s not just a school. It is an autism center. We’re expanding the mission. The school, which is well established in Montreal, will spread its wings and become a reference center, ”Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said on Tuesday during a visit to the Angus district.

This project defies the standards of the Ministry of Education. Usually, Quebec pays private schools about 60% of what public schools receive for educational services, but does not fund brick and mortar. The small private school À Pas de Géant is already 100% funded by Quebec, and parents pay no tuition fees because of its nature of public interest, it is said.

A new model had to be imagined to set up this “autism center”, explained Minister Jean-François Roberge. “This project is a little different and at the same time fully consistent with what we are doing, to create new schools, beautiful, but also different and efficient. We want educational innovation. And yes, it goes through partnerships, ”he argued.

A model called into question

The member for Rosemont, Vincent Marissal, salutes Quebec’s financial commitment and the extraordinary dedication of the parents of students, who have put in dozens of volunteer hours to raise $ 27 million in private donations. The chosen one of Solidarity Quebec nevertheless wonders about the public-private partnership set up for this school, which provides essential services to vulnerable children.

“Wouldn’t it be up to the state to pay completely? These are children who need special care. Without private funding, there would be no new school for these young people. The State is disengaging and unraveling the social safety net, ”says Vincent Marissal.

The À Pas de Géant school welcomes 90 autistic students in its current facilities in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district. The needs are much greater: for lack of space, the school refuses nine out of ten children whose parents apply for admission.

Parents mobilized

Parents of autistic children welcomed with great emotion the announcement of the creation of the autism center. With wet eyes and a tight throat, Andrée Dallaire, mother of a teenage girl who attends À Pas de Géant school, welcomed the birth of this unique project.

“We were really lucky to have a place in school. It was a blessing for my daughter and for us, ”says Andrée Dallaire. She and her partner André Bourbonnais (who is not the teenager’s father), managing director of the BlackRock Long Term Private Capital fund, are co-chairs of the project’s fundraising campaign.

Andrée Dallaire had to give up her position as vice-president of a real estate investment fund to take full-time care of Catherine, her autistic daughter. The 14-year-old has the academic level of a kindergarten child. At one point in her life, not so long ago, Catherine would get up at 3 a.m. His mother could never sleep a full night.

The couple and their partners have achieved the feat of raising $ 27 million in private donations in the midst of the pandemic, only through virtual meetings. “All parents who have children with special needs will say that there is never enough funding. Everyone would like more money. But we are happy that the Ministry of Education has invested in the project, ”says André Bourbonnais.

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