55-Page Condensed and Annotated Version of the March 12, 2021 Initial Report/Recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee on What An Education Accessibility Standard should Include, condensed and Annotated by the AODA Alliance

Condensed and Annotated Version of the March 12, 2021 Initial Report/Recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee on What An Education Accessibility Standard should Include

Prepared by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

June 23, 2021

Explanatory Note from the AODA Alliance

The Ontario Government has committed to enact an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It appointed an advisory committee, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, to develop recommendations on what the Education Accessibility Standard should include.

On March 12, 2021, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee (the Standards Development Committee) sent The Government its initial report that sets out its initial recommendations. The Government made that report and its recommendations public on June 1, 2021. The Government gave the public up to September 2, 2021 to send the Standards Development Committee feedback on its initial recommendations. The Standards Development Committee can use that feedback to refine and finalize its report and recommendations to The Government.

The Standards Development Committee’s initial report and recommendations is 185 pages long. To assist the public, the AODA Alliance prepared this 55-page condensed and annotated version of that 185-page document. The initial report and recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee on what the Ontario Government should include in an Education Accessibility Standard, to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

This condensed version only presents a selection of the initial recommendations. The AODA Alliance supports all the recommendations. By including some of them here, we are not meaning to diminish the importance of all the Committee’s initial recommendations, which we support in their entirety.

The editing and annotations of this version are solely the responsibility of the AODA Alliance, and not the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. In This condensed version, some of the recommendations are presented in a different order than that in which they appear in the Standards Development Committee’s full report. In some cases, we have added our own headings. We also have tried to group together key recommendations under major themes. This is all done to help anyone wishing to understand them, put them into action now, and offer feedback to the Standards Development Committee about these important recommendations. Where any text is an addition after the fact by the AODA Alliance, it is clearly marked as a note from the AODA Alliance.

Introduction

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Students with disabilities continue to confront numerous barriers in Ontario’s publicly funded school system. Such barriers impede students with disabilities from fully participating in and benefitting from an accessible, equitable, and inclusive education system in Ontario. As such, the Ontario Government is enacting an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, (the Act). Under the Act, an accessibility standard is a regulation that spells out the barriers that are to be removed or prevented, what must be done to remove or prevent them, and the timelines required for these actions. The call for an Education Accessibility Standard to be developed and enacted under the Act initially came from the disability community. This call eventually achieved bi-partisan support by all three Ontario political parties, and support from key labour unions representing many of those working on the front lines of Ontario’s education system….

…In this report, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee brings forward for public comment and feedback a comprehensive series of initial recommendations on what the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should include. It is the result of the extensive joint efforts of Government-appointed representatives from the disability community and the education sector to identify the barriers that students with disabilities face and the measures needed to remove and prevent them…

…These initial recommendations are intended to help educators ensure that students with disabilities can fully participate in and be on a footing of equality from all that Ontario’s education system has to offer. They aim to help school boards save the cost of having to re-invent the wheel when it comes to accessibility, and the cost of leaving barriers in place that disadvantage students with disabilities. They seek to ensure that in Ontario’s education system, public money is never used to create new barriers that negatively impact students with disabilities or to perpetuate existing barriers.

These initial recommendations also aim to implement the rights of students with disabilities to equity and equality in education, guaranteed to them since 1982 by the Ontario Human Rights Code and by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In addition to students with disabilities, there are others who will substantially benefit from these initial recommendations. For example, they will help parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members who have disabilities, teachers and other school staff and volunteers who have disabilities, and any members of the public with disabilities who might wish to interact with and benefit from Ontario’s education system.

The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee hopes that the promised Education Accessibility Standard will achieve a real change in the practices and culture regarding accessibility within the school system. This will unleash both the potential of all students with disabilities and of the professionals employed to educate them.

Initial Proposed Long-Term Objective for the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

That by 2025, the publicly funded K-12 education system will be fully accessible, equitable, inclusive and learner-centered:

  1. A) By removing and preventing accessibility barriers impeding students with disabilities from fully participating in, and fully benefitting from all aspects of the education system, and
  2. B) By providing a prompt, accessible, fair, effective and user-friendly process to learn about and seek programs, services, supports, accommodations and placements tailored to the individual strengths and needs of each student with disabilities

…We envision an Ontario public education system K-12 where learning environments are barrier free and fully inclusive of learners with disabilities. All learners with disabilities will have full access to meaningful education and relevant learning experiences that include appropriate instructional supports.

Major Theme 1: Ensure that Ontario’s Schools Effectively Serve All Students with Any Kind of Disabilities

Note from the AODA Alliance:

At present, Ontario’s special education system is only designed to serve students with a condition that falls within the Ministry of Education‘s out-dated definition of “exceptionality. That definition leaves out some disabilities. It includes some students who have no disability at all.

As a theme, when they are read as a whole, the Standards Development Committee ‘s entire package of initial recommendations would replace the out-dated term “exceptionality” used throughout Ontario’s special education system. Instead, the focus of all disability-related education efforts should extend to all students with any kind of disabilities, as disability is defined in the Charter of Rights, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. For example, the ‘Standards Development Committee s initial recommendations include the following:

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

The Ministry of Education shall:

40.1 Ensure that no student with a disability is excluded from eligibility for programs and services, including special education programs and services, that they require due to definitions or criteria that are inconsistent with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

40.3 Ensure that school boards fulfil their duty to accommodate the disability-related needs of students with disabilities, in relation to all school-related activities, and that the policies are in place to ensure that they do so.

Major Theme 2: Training on Disability Accessibility for Everyone Involved in Ontario’s Education System

Note from the AODA Alliance:

The Standards Development Committee makes several recommendations that school boards provide training on disability accessibility and inclusion for teachers, school staff, parents and all students. As well, it recommends that the Ministry of Education should develop models for this training, which school boards can use. This would avoid the need for each school board to have to re-invent the same training.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

2.1. The Ontario College of Teachers and the Ministry of Education require that, to graduate with a degree in education and to qualify to teach in an Ontario school, teachers receive specific curriculum and training, as part of their university program in education, on the need for our education system to be inclusive and accessible for students with disabilities, and on how to teach curriculum to all students on this topic; and…

3.1. Each school board provide specific training to all school board staff who deal with parents or students, on the importance of the inclusion of and full participation by students with disabilities, and on effective strategies for teaching and designing lesson plans in this area….

4.2 Each school board develop, implement and periodically evaluate a multi-year age-appropriate program/curriculum to teach all students, school board staff and families of school board students, about the inclusion of and full participation of students with disabilities. This program shall include the following:

  1. a) Communication posted in all schools and sent to all families of the school board’s students, on the school board’s commitment to the inclusion of students with disabilities, and the benefits this brings to all students.
  2. b) Where possible:

(i)            Exercises having students, staff and, where interested, parents/guardians conduct a barrier assessment such as a “barrier scavenger hunt” in the school or nearby community, to catalogue disability barriers and invent suggestions on how these can be removed or prevented

(ii)           Hearing from, meeting and interacting with persons with disabilities [e.g. at assemblies and/or via guest presentations].

  1. c) Online posting of resources on these activities to enable sharing with other school boards…

Scool Board Human resources Practices

5.1 Each school board develop and implement human resources policies targeted at full accessibility and the inclusion of and full participation by students with disabilities, including:

  1. a) Making knowledge and experience on implementing the inclusion of and full participation by students with disabilities an important hiring and promotions criterion especially for principals, vice-principals and teaching staff.
  2. b) Emphasizing accessibility and inclusion of and full participation by students with disabilities knowledge and performance in any performance management and performance reviews…
  1. school boards develop and deliver adaptive/assistive technology and services training programs …
  2. The Ministry of Education, Boards, schools and Faculties of Education responsible for teacher education and ongoing professional learning and leadership development ensure the principles and practices of Universal Design For Learning and Differentiated Instruction are applied in curriculum, assessment, and instruction including procurement requirements and use of instructional resources, optimizing teaching and learning for all.
  1. Require boards to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate comprehensive training programs for its staff on procuring and using accessible digital technology…

Ontario College of Teachers shall:

53.5 Ensure that the mandatory qualifications to teach students who are blind/low vision be enhanced to provide the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of these students.

53.6 Work with the Ministry of Education and select faculties of education to initiate a Master’s level program in both French and English for teaching students who are blind/low vision such that exists in other jurisdictions.

53.7 Revise the Guideline for Accreditation of Faculties of education:

  1. a) To add more credits on teaching students with disabilities in the pre-service program
  2. b) To add training on the duty to accommodate all students with disabilities

53.8 Create and distribute a professional advisory to all certified teachers on the duty to accommodate students with disabilities and understand how to assist in their support.

  1. As a part of efforts to educate the entire school community about inclusion of students and school community members with disabilities, all school boards will develop and implement workshops to educate on and address bullying and cyberbullying in schools and the impacts that they can have on students’ physical and mental health. These workshops need to be informed and facilitated by young persons with disabilities. The workshops are to be presented to all members of the school community…

 Major Theme 3: Removing and Preventing Digital Disability Barriers in Ontario Schools

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

  1. Require school boards to designate an accessible “digital accessibility lead” (a board level staff appointment) that will support educators in the procurement and use of digital technologies and will be responsible for all digital information at the school and system level.
  2. Require all school boards to develop and make public in an accessible format a “Digital and Technology Action Plan” with specific policies, procedures, timelines and outcome evaluation metrics that identify, remove and prevent digital, technology and bureaucratic barriers that impede learning for students with disabilities. This plan shall be updated every two years in light of new and emerging technology. For example, the plan should include:

35.1 Establishing, publicizing and enforcing information technology procurement accessibility requirements, to ensure that no technology is purchased either by a school board unless it ensures full digital accessibility. Digital and information technology accessibility should be included as a requirement in all Requests for Proposal or other tenders for sale of products and services to a school board or the Ministry. If a vender provides a product that turns out to have accessibility problems, it should be a term of the procurement that the vender will remediate the product at its expense.

35.2 Ensuring that digital and other technology that is used by or with students is designed based on universal design principles and is accessible to students with disabilities, except where to procure such is impossible without undue hardship.

35.3 A process for researching, evaluating and acquiring new evidence informed accessible technologies;

35.4 Websites, intranet content and e-learning software and hardware use a variety of accessible formats;

35.5 Each board’s Learning Management Systems (LMS) is to be fully accessible to staff and students with disabilities, including those who use adaptive technology. The plan should ensure that no teacher or other, school board staff is able to turn off any feature of the Learning Management System that is accessible in favour of one that is not.

35.6 All accessibility features on digital equipment are turned on and available to ensure that information posted through them will be accessible to students with disabilities, including those using adaptive technology such as screen readers or voice recognition tools;

35.7 Board documents affecting students (report cards, assessments, Individual Education Plans etc.) are fully accessible. Software used to produce a school board’s documents such as report cards, Individual Education Plans, or other key documents should be designed to ensure that they produce these documents in accessible formats.

35.8 All technology procurement policies and procedures meet accessibility requirements. Any procurement of technology including information technology should include specific accessibility end-user functionality requirements. A condition of procurement should be a requirement that the supplier or vender must remediate any inaccessible product or service at its own expense.

35.9 Any textbook used in any learning environment must be accessible to teachers and students with disabilities at the time of procurement.

35.10 Electronic documents created at the school board for use in education and other programming and activities should be created in accessible formats unless there is a compelling and unavoidable reason requiring otherwise.

35.11 A school board shall not use PDF format for documents to be used by or in connection with students or their parents unless an accessible alternative format such as MS Word is also simultaneously available, including, for example, for any textbook or other instructional material, school or Ministry policy, or student-related document such as report card or Individual Education Plan. For example, if a textbook is available in EPUB format, the textbooks must meet the international standard for that file format. For EPUB it is the W3C Digital Publishing Guidelines currently under review. If a textbook is available in print, the publisher should be required to provide the digital version of the textbook in an accessible format at the same time the print version is delivered to the school/Board.

35.12 Ensure that students who are provided assistive technology for use at school can also take them home for home use as well;

35.13 School boards remove any barriers that prevent students with disabilities from fully accessing adaptive technologies such as restrictions on being able to install apps on laptop computers or mobile devices, or firewalls that restrict access to websites needed to facilitate the use of adaptive technology.

  1. Ensure the Ministry of Education provides sufficient long-term funding through the Grants for Student Needs (GSN) to support boards in acquiring and supporting assistive technologies and related hardware and software via enhancements to the Special Education Grant. This should also include funding for any student with any kind of disability defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act….

38.1 The ministry shall not use PDF formats for documents to be made available for students or parents/guardians, or for Special Education Advisory Committees, unless an accessible alternative format such as MS Word is also simultaneously made available.

38.2 The Ministry of Education should establish, implement, publicize and enforce information technology procurement accessibility requirements for any technology to be made available in schools, to ensure that no technology is purchased by the Ministry for use by school boards, unless it ensures full digital accessibility, along the same lines as is required above for procurement by school boards.

38.3 The Ministry’s program for funding adaptive technology for students with disabilities shall not bar the use of any category of technology, such as smart phones, which are needed by and effective for those students.

38.4 The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to persons with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

38.5 The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for persons with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

39.1 For any real time classes (sometimes called synchronous learning), or any meetings with school board staff and students or families held virtually rather than in person (such as an Individual Education Plan or Identification, Placement, and Review Committee meeting), only accessible virtual platforms shall be used by a school board.

39.2 Each school board shall make public the name of the virtual platform or platforms it uses and publicly certify that it has confirmed that it is an accessible virtual meeting platform.

39.3 The Ministry of Education should regularly monitor and have tested the accessibility of major virtual meeting platforms, shall make public the results of its comparisons, and shall provide a list of approved accessible options for virtual platforms to school boards on a quarterly basis.

39.4 The Ministry of Education and each school board shall make public a phone number and email address for the public to contact to report accessibility problems experienced with virtual meeting platforms used in the education system. The aggregated feedback received shall be shared with the public and, school boards on a quarterly basis.

Major Theme 4: Ensuring Accessible Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction

Note from the AODA Alliance:

The Standards Development Committee made many recommendations aimed at the design of curriculum taught in school, at how students are taught in school, and at how student learning is assessed in school. “Curriculum” refers to the content to be taught. “Instruction” refers to how a teacher teaches that curriculum, such as the teacher’s lesson plans. “Assessment” refers to how the student is tested or assessed to see what they have learned.

Several recommendations taken together would require that curriculum, student instruction and student assessment should be reformed to ensure that they are all barrier-free and fully accessible for students with disabilities. This includes ensuring that the principles of universal design in learning and differential instruction are built into curriculum, student instruction and student assessment. Beyond the specific requirements below, the Ministry of Education would be required to develop models and tools to help school boards implement these requirements.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

9.1 The Ministry of Education and Boards incorporate Universal Design for Learning in the requirements for curriculum design.

9.3 The Ministry identify a ministry designated office or person with lead responsibility for the ongoing review of all provincially mandated curriculum (and secondary resources guidelines offered to school boards) for removal of accessibility barriers.

9.4 The Ministry mandate a strategy and action plan for continuous review of all curriculum. requiring that all reviewed and new curriculum address accessibility barriers and is barrier free.

9.5 Curriculum review and renewal in curriculum areas, include specific focus areas, such as:

  1. b) science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics
  2. c) alternative, expanded curriculum for students with disabilities that is barrier free and addresses relevant life skills
  3. g) new and developing curriculum areas and competencies such as multi-literacies, e.g., digital literacy, financial literacy that is designed and integrated within specific courses (e.g., career studies, mathematics) and across curriculum
  4. h) curriculum that addresses experiential learning, employability skills development, specialty pathways such as Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) and school to work transitions
  5. i) curriculum that focuses on the development of learning skills that specifically address executive functioning skills (e.g., emotional and physical self-regulation, working memory, self-monitoring, organizational planning and prioritizing, and task initiation). The development of these skills is critical to accessing learning for all, and student achievement and well-being.

These recommendations would among other things require that the timely access, use, and the benefits of curriculum materials, goods and services. Instructional learning materials need to be fully accessible through Universal Design for Learning that uses many differing, alternative methods of engaging, representing, expressing, and communicating learning. This requires:

  1. The Ministry and Boards require current and newly developed special programs, for example, French Immersion and Extended French, be open, fully accessible and barrier free for students with disabilities and that the programs be reviewed, monitored and developed utilizing open, transparent processes that provide for timely communication, accessibility and participation by students with disabilities.

This requires that:

24.1 The Ministry set direction and Board required practices that ensure specialized programs are accessible to and effectively accommodate students with disabilities. This requires provision for effective accommodations, accessible locations, instructional materials and program design that is accessible, and barrier free for the needs of students with disabilities.

  1. Boards ensure students with disabilities who participate in specialized and expanded programs receive the required adaptations to instructional design and assessment practices so that they have every opportunity afforded them to earn a diploma albeit 16 credits for an Ontario Secondary School Certificate (OSSC) or 30 credits for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). It is in the design process where many students for example, with intellectual disabilities can achieve credits and pursue diploma pathways (e.g., through apprenticeship programs and others).

25.4 The Ministry and Boards provide Adapted Physical Education (APE) by developing, implementing and monitoring carefully designed physical education programs for students across all disabilities, based on comprehensive assessments, so that students with disabilities develop skills and competencies to enable healthy personal living.

11.1 Ministry and Boards will ensure the design of instructional materials that are fully accessible on a timely basis for students with disabilities, including for example, materials that are accessible to those with vision and hearing loss, full captioned digital, visual accommodations, and non-verbal formats.

11.2 Ministry and Boards will establish procurement procedures requiring any new instructional materials be fully accessible, in timely, quality alternative formats and/or conversion ready.

11.3 Ministry and Boards will require that procurement procedures for approved educational resources meet accessibility, barrier free standards, be transparent, with quality design requiring ongoing timely review, monitoring and communication.

11.6 The Ministry and Boards establish dedicated shared resources within and among school boards, to assist efficient and effective, timely conversion ready materials that are in accessible format, where needed. This includes ensuring a board lead for oversight, coordination and response.

Note from the AODA Alliance:

Under these recommendations, the Ministry of Education should ensure that school boards use barrier-free assessments for student performance. The Ministry should provide guides and resources to school boards on how to do this. The Ministry should ensure that all provincial standardized tests are barrier-free for students with disabilities. The Ministry and school boards should monitor student assessments to ensure that they are barrier-free for students with disabilities.

Major Theme 5: Substantially Strengthen Requirements Regarding Individual Education Plans

Note from the AODA Alliance:

A centerpiece of how Ontario’s education system tries to serve students with disabilities is by having school boards develop and implement an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each student with special education needs. However, the Standards Development Committee found that there are important shortcomings with the existing regime for these. For example, Ontario’s requirements only apply for students whose disability falls within the out-dated and too narrow term “exceptionality. They should be available for all students with disabilities, whether or not their disability falls within that term “exceptionality. Among the Committee’s recommendations are the following:

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

  1. Each school board should notify the parents/guardians of students with disabilities, and where applicable, the students themselves, of their right to have an Individual Education Plan. All students with disabilities who want or need an Individual Education Plan shall have one provided.
  1. The Ministry of Education shall revise the format and content of the Individual Education Plan to include accommodations, as defined by the Ontario Human Rights Code, as well as supports or services that a student with disabilities needs to enable them to fully participate in and fully benefit from all opportunities available at school. It should include accommodations, supports or services in relation to all aspects of school life, including those needed for education and learning, for emergencies, for health and safety, behavior or social engagement. The aim should be to consolidate to the extent possible all such planning for the student in one place. The portions of the Individual Education Plan that are needed to be shared with specific school staff members to implement them shall be shared with those staff members. Otherwise, the student’s confidentiality in connection with the Individual Education Plan shall be maintained.
  1. The Ministry of Education shall publicly report on what changes have been made to the standards for Individual Education Plans, and regularly audit school board Individual Education Plans for compliance with the new standard.
  1. School boards shall conduct annual audits of Individual Education Plan compliance and publicly report on the results of the audit.

Major Theme 6: Expanding and Strengthening Parent and Student Participation In the Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Barrier: Parents /guardians of students with disabilities, and students with disabilities themselves, need direct, easy access to important information about the menu of programs, services, supports and accommodations available for students including students with disabilities, and how to request or advocate for them. They have a right to know all the important information they need including, for example what is available, what persons and what office to approach to get this information and to or to request or change the student’s placements, programs, supports, services or accommodations, or to raise concerns about whether the school board is effectively meeting the student’s disability-related education needs.

This information should be easy to find, and should be readily available in accessible formats, in plain language and in multiple languages. Parents report that too often, it is very difficult to find out this important and basic information. It is inefficient and unreliable to leave this responsibility to individual principals, spread across Ontario, to each deal with this as they choose. When it is left to each principal, without clear requirements and pre-prepared materials for parents, guardians and students, school boards won’t be able to ensure that this important need is met.

As well, parents/guardians of students with disabilities report that too often, they find it very difficult, frustrating, and demoralizing to advocate for their child’s needs in the school system. Depending on the board, the school and the people involved, it can be a welcoming, positive and cooperative process, or an alienating, bureaucratic and rigid process.

When there is a dispute about the Individual Education Plan contents or implementation, parent/guardians/students do not have a dispute mechanism and some parents, guardians or students resort to filing a human rights complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Filing a human rights complaint involves great legal expenses, delays, and hardships to a family. A dispute mechanism that is easy to use and that can resolve issues quickly is needed.

  1. We recommend: All of the students with disabilities and the parents/guardians of those students have the right to fully participate in the planning and implementation of the student’s educational plan/program.

The Ministry of Education shall:

49.1 Ensure effective processes and resources used for planning for all students with disabilities to ensure that students and parents/guardians are able to participate effectively in the process.

49.2 Develop a timely formal process/dispute resolution mechanism for parents/guardians and students to appeal the contents or implementation of Individual Education Plans, to make necessary changes if required, and to ensure that district school boards follow it.

49.3 In cases where disputes cannot be resolved at the school board level, appoint an arm’s length third party mediator when parents and/or students can show that the school is not effectively meeting their needs.

The District School Boards shall:

49.4 Provide parents/guardians of students with disabilities, and where applicable, students with disabilities themselves, with timely and effective information, in accessible formats, on the available services, programs and supports for students with disabilities (whether or not they are classified as students with special education needs under the Education Act and Regulations).

49.5 Ensure that parents, guardians, and students are informed, as early as possible, in a readily accessible and understandable way, about important information such as:

  1. a) What “special education” is and who is entitled to receive it.
  2. b) What the rights are to full participation in and full inclusion in all the school board’s education and other programming, and to be accommodated in connection with those programs under the Ontario Human Rights Code and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whether or not the student is classified as a student with special education needs under Ontario’s Education Act and regulations.
  3. c) The menu of options, placements, programs, services, supports and accommodations available at the school board for students with disabilities.
  4. d) Who to approach at the school board to get this information, and how to request placements, programs, supports, services or accommodations for students with disabilities, including the development of Individual Education Plans, or to raise concerns about whether the school board is effectively meeting the student’s education needs.

49.6 Ensure parents and guardians of students with disabilities can easily find out and, where necessary visit, different placement, program, service and support options for a student with a disability, to ensure that the parent, guardian or the student, is knowledgeable about the options for placement, program or services that are available to be provided to that student.

49.7 Develop, implement, and make public an action plan to ensure parent/guardian/students have access to the information they need and meet the requirements of this section. The action plan should incorporate the following:

  1. a) The goal of the plan
  2. b) What information will be made available to parent/guardian/students with disabilities
  3. c) How information will be formatted to make it easy to understand and jargon free
  4. d) The types of formats that will be used to make the information available and accessible
  5. e) Where information will be available to parents/guardians/students (in schools and on-line including school and school board websites)
  6. f) The timelines for distributing information to all parent/guardians/students and the key transition points when information will be provided (such as at start of school, at least once annually, and as part of student planning, including Individual Education Plan development and review)
  7. g) Who will be responsible for ensuring information is provided to parent/guardian/students with disabilities
  8. h) How the distribution of information will be tracked or measured
  9. i) What measures will be used to evaluate the value and impact of providing the information
  10. j) How the action plan will be evaluated
  11. k) How the action plan will be shared publicly with regular progress updates

49.8 Ensure that each school shall send home an introductory pamphlet, or equivalent, to all parent/guardians at the start of each school year, or when first registering a student in the board, and not only to families of those students who are already being identified as having a disability.

49.9 Ensure provision of in-person and virtual events to help families learn how to navigate disability-related school board processes. Where possible these should be streamed online and archived online as a resource for families to watch at a convenient time.

49.10 Ensure an effective process for parents and guardians of students with disabilities, and, the students themselves, to effectively take part in the development and implementation of a student’s plans for meeting and accommodating their disability-related needs, including (but not limited to) their Individual Education Plan.

49.11 Consistent with the Ministry of Education policy recommendations, parents and guardians and students with disabilities must be invited to take part in a all school planning meetings, including meetings where accommodation plans will be made and where the Individual Education Plan will be developed or reviewed. Such meetings should include the following:

  1. a) The school board should bring to the table all key professionals who can contribute to the discussions,
  2. b) The family should be invited to bring to the table any supports and professionals that can assist the family and the planning process.
  3. c) Parents should have the right to bring with them anyone who can assist them in advocating for their child.
  4. d) Parents/families should be given a wide range of options for participating e.g. in person or by phone. They should be told in advance who will attend from the school board.
  5. e) Any proposal for accommodations including a draft Individualized education plan should include a summary of key points to assist families in understanding them.
  6. f) If a school board refuses to provide an accommodation, service, or support for a child’s disability that a parent, guardian, the student requests, or if the school board does not provide an accommodation or support that it has agreed to provide, the school board shall be required to promptly provide written reasons for that refusal. It should let the family and student know that they can request written reasons.

49.12 Consistent with the recommendations for a Ministry of Education policy on student and parent engagement, a school board level dispute resolution mechanism is available to parents of students with disabilities, and to those students, for concerns related to accommodations, including Individual Education Plan’s.

The dispute resolution process shall be:

  1. a) Fair, independent and impartial
  2. b) Respectful
  3. c) Non-adversarial
  4. d) Timely
  5. e) Accessible
  6. f) One where the decision is provided in writing.

49.13 After the dispute resolution process is completed, if the family is not satisfied, they have the right to bring their concerns regarding the proposed accommodations, including the Individual Education Plan, to a designated senior official at the school board with authority to approve the requested accommodations, for a further review.

49.14 In cases of dispute, the Ministry shall appoint a mediator.

49.15 No proposed services, supports or accommodations that the school board is prepared to offer shall be withheld from a student pending a review.

49.16 Notify parents and guardians, who themselves have a disability, that they have a right to have their disability-related needs accommodated in these processes, so that they can fully participate in them. For example, they should be notified that they have a right to receive any information or documents to be used in any such meeting or process in an accessible format.

49.17 Ensure that students with a disability who move from school board to school board, or school to school, have the right to an Individual Education Plan with same or comparable programs, services and accommodations. If the school board, or the school to which the student transfers proposes to deny or to reduce those accommodations or supports, the parent/guardian/student should be able to take their concern to the dispute resolution process. All accommodations shall be maintained until and unless, through the dispute resolution procedures set out in this accessibility standard, the school board has justified a reduction of those accommodations.

49.18 Ensure the training and development of a roster of helpers (sometimes known as system navigators) for parents of students with disabilities to help them navigate the often-complex world of supports for students with disabilities both within the system and with partner community agencies.

Major Theme 7: Access for Students with Disabilities to Timely Professional Assessments Needed for Disability Accommodation

Note from the AODA Alliance:

Often, students with disabilities need to have some sort of expert or professional assessment of their needs, for a school board to know how best to meet their needs. There are too often great delays in getting these assessments. Accordingly, the Standards Development Committee made several recommendations, such as the following:

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

  1. The Education Accessibility Standard directed through Ministry of Education and Boards establishes measures and processes to address and eliminate administrative and other access barriers that impede or delay timely and fair/unbiased assessments for the identification of disability related need. These assessments include but are not limited to professional and clinical assessments such as psycho-educational, and other educational assessments in the identification of disability related needs.

17.1 Where there are barriers related to timely access to identification or needs assessments, the board will have a solution-based process to address the assessment needs which may include a plan to access clinical assessments through partnership with external service providers. And where the board provides evidence to the ministry that it is experiencing barriers to timely access of clinical professional services for assessment related to the identification of disability related needs, and the board continues to plan for a clear solutions-based process, the ministry will support the board in securing the necessary assessments.

17.2 District school Boards shall identify on an annual basis their unmet professional assessment needs of students with disabilities as evidenced through the Data Collection Standard (Standards Development Committee) and seek timely access to disability related assessments with the support of the Ministry of Education. The Ministry shall take action to review and address access barriers to disability related assessments.

17.3 Pending a necessary assessment, the school board has a duty to accommodate and cannot refuse to accommodate a student’s need due to delay in getting an assessment performed that has been requested by the board. There are many educational assessments including on-going evidence-based classroom assessments that can inform how a student learns best.

Major Theme 8: Reforming the Process for a School Board Identifying and Making the Placement of Student with Disabilities

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Barrier: The system for a school board‘s formal identification and placement of students with disabilities, Regulation 181/98 creates barriers for students with disabilities, beyond the fact that the definition of “exceptional pupil” does not include all students with disabilities as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Charter of Rights.

For a formal decision on a student’s identification and placement, one must apply to a school board committee called an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee. The review committee can only decide on whether the student falls within the definition of “exceptional pupil” and on the students’ “placement”. It can only make recommendations but not binding decisions on the student’s “program” or services”.

A student or their parents/guardians can appeal to the Special Education Appeal Tribunal about the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee’s decision on identification and placement (but not on recommendations regarding program or services). Courts can review that tribunal’s decision. Such appeals are rare.

Regulations for Identification, Placement, and Review Committees were created before the protections for equality for students with disabilities were enacted in the Charter of Rights and Ontario Human Rights Code, and the following problems have been identified:

  1. More than half of the students receiving special education services and who have an Individual Education Plan, were not identified through an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee. This strongly suggests this process is irrelevant to many.
  2. Many school staff and families complain about the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee’s administrative burden and delays that can create barriers to student success.
  3. Identification, Placement, and Review Committees are hampered by the arbitrary, undefined and confusing distinction between define “placement” on which the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee can decide, and inseparable issues concerning “program” or “services on which the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee cannot decide.”
  4. Families report that they don’t understand the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee process or feel included in it. Frequently the meetings are short, and families feel rushed. In addition, families who don’t understand the process may waive their right to a review.
  5. Some families feel forced into adversarial appeal processes, that may not address the family’s core concerns about the supports that the student needs.
  1. The Identification, Placement and Review Committee process and regulation should be reviewed to determine if it needs to be re-designed, retained or replaced.
  1. If the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee process is to be redesigned, the following principles should be included:
  2. a) A provincially consistent mandatory process, that is expeditious, fair, and user-friendly, for a student and/or parent/guardian to work collaboratively with the school board to develop an agreement as to how the needs of the student with a disability will be met.
  3. b) Decisions about a student’s placement should not be separated from decisions over a student’s program and services. The overlapping terms “placement”, “program” and “services”, if retained, should be defined and clarified.
  4. c) The student and/or parent/guardian should be assured of reasonable timelines to enable the consideration of options and provide input into the decision-making process.
  5. d) Dispute resolution or appeal processes should be available on all issues regarding decisions about how the school board will meet the student’s needs, and not limited to identification and placement only. These mechanisms should be prompt and user friendly.

Major Theme 9: Ministry of Education and Each School Board Needs to Embed Accessibility Oversight in Their Operations

Note from the AODA Alliance:

Several recommendations call for the Ministry of Education and each school board to put in place measures to ensure that school boards are effectively serving students with disabilities. For example:

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

41.10 Dispute resolution mechanisms be developed at the student, school board and provincial level regarding access and delivery of student support services from provincial and community partners. The dispute mechanism for students and families should be user friendly and provide timely decisions, building on the approaches provided by the Supporting Success, A Guide to Preventing and Resolving Disputes Regarding Special Education Programs and Services (2007). The process for resolving systemic disputes should be solution focused and include accountability mechanisms to ensure follow up and evaluation of solutions provided.

  1. The Ministry of Education shall:

42.1 Ensure accountability and oversight to ensure that District School Boards are fulfilling their responsibilities to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

42.2 Create an ombudsman/oversight office where students’ and parents’ concerns regarding the provision of education for students with disabilities can be investigated and resolved.

52.6 The Ministry of Education should be required to designate an office or role, such as an Assistant Deputy Minister, responsible for achieving a barrier-free and accessible school system for students with disabilities. This office or person, should have in place a permanent advisory committee representing individuals with disabilities, including students, that are representative of both high-incidence and low-incidence disabilities. As part of the role, the office or lead should publicly report on the progress of the Ministry and school boards to improve accessibility annually.

52.10 The Ministry of Education should be required to annually:

  1. a) Analyze the barriers and accessibility problems identified by each school board ‘s Accessibility Committee, and the actions identified or proposed for corrective action.
  2. b) Post a report to the public that identifies the recurring barriers experienced in Ontario school boards and share actions that are being taken or proposed to correct these. This includes the requirement to identify areas where corrective action has not being taken or where more is needed.

42.4 Mandate that the designated Assistant Deputy Minister shall have in place a permanent advisory committee representing individuals with disabilities, including students with disabilities and their parents, that reflects the needs of high-incidence and low-incidence disabilities.

42.5 Ensure monitoring, auditing, surveying, and feedback of District School Boards’ provision of education to students with disabilities, including Special Education and Accessibility Plans, to ensure compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

42.6 Collaborate with the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility and make public and provide effective practices in terms of Special Education and Accessibility Planning.

School Board Accessibility Committees and Plans Recommendations

1.1 Each school board set up and maintain a network of teachers and other staff with disabilities, and a network of students with disabilities, to get input on accessibility issues at the school board and to get advice on barriers

  1. The K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should require the following of any school board and of the schools operated by the Ministry of Education to:

52.1 Establish an Accessibility Committee and develop multi-year accessibility plans that identify barriers, establish plans to eliminate the barriers and ensure compliance with accessibility standards.

52.2 Designate an accessibility lead staff reporting to the Director of Education.

Ensure that the membership of the school board Accessibility Committee includes senior board officials with responsibility for human resources, teaching and learning, physical facilities, information technology, procurement, transportation, as well as students and individuals with disabilities.

52.3 Assign the respective responsibilities of the lead staff and committee members to oversee the planning and monitoring of accessibility compliance with the accessibility standards.

52.4 Systematically review educational programming, services, facilities, and equipment to identify recurring accessibility barriers within that organization that can impede the full and effective participation and inclusion of students with disabilities, as well as strategies to eliminate those barriers.

52.5 Mandate that the contents of the accessibility plan to include:

  1. a) Processes to identify accessibility barriers, including complaints/reports from schools, students, and community members
  2. b) Plans for removing and preventing accessibility barriers
  3. c) Clear assignment of responsibilities for action
  4. d) Performance measures for monitoring progress
  5. e) Requirements to report to the school board’s trustees regularly
  6. f) Requirements for seeking input from the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee
  7. g) An annual report on progress towards the elimination of accessibility barriers
  8. h) Feedback mechanisms to collect and review input from School Accessibility Committees, staff students and the community.
  9. i) Require school boards to publicly report on the Accessibility Plan and progress to implementation, as well as a summary of feedback on accessibility barriers and strategies.

District School Boards shall:

52.11 Establish at each school an Accessibility Committee that would include the Principal or designate, staff, students, families, and community groups, to identify accessibility barriers and possible solutions to address them. The committee will provide input to the School Board Accessibility Committee and/or lead staff responsible for accessibility. This will ensure that accessibility barriers unique to each school are identified and addressed as quickly as possible.

52.12 Establish a dedicated resource within the school board, or shared among school boards, to convert instructional materials to an accessible format, where needed, on a timely basis.

52.13 Ensure that all schools create an accessible and welcoming environment for students with disabilities and their families, including those family members with disabilities. This includes ensuring schools encourage and make it easy to seek accommodations for their disabilities.

Major Theme 10: Recommendations Regarding Disability-Specific Needs

Note from the AODA Alliance:

Some of the Standards Development Committee‘s recommendations are disability specific, such as the following:

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

41.8 An education advisory committee on autism should be established and include stakeholders from the education sector, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Ministry of Health, parents and autistic individuals consistent with the recommendations from the Ontario Advisory Panel Report (2019). The scope of the role of the committee is described in the detailed recommendations for a New Needs-Based Ontario Autism Program, Alignment with Other Ministries – Ministry of Education, Page 33-39.

Specialized Alternative and Expanded Curriculum and Pathways Recommendations

Curriculum development and learning expectations that support the learning needs of students with disabilities need to be accessible and responsive to specific individual needs. This includes extensions to curriculum and alternative curriculum resources and learning expectations.

There are limited provincially regulated resources for some disabilities, for example, low incidence disabilities such as vision loss. For example, references such as Expanded Core Curriculum are supported and resourced by some learning institutes. While individual boards provide a variety of differing supports, in specialized, learning centers and regular class there needs to be enhanced development, shared access, and staff development in these areas of expanded and alternative curriculum across the province. Additionally, students who participate in specialized and expanded programs require fair and impartial assessment practices. Instructional designs need to be inclusive and accommodate the needs of students with disabilities ensuring they have every opportunity to meet diploma and specialize certification requirements (e.g., apprenticeship programs, Specialist High Skills Major).

Curriculum and Instruction Recommendation:

  1. The Ministry of Education review, develop and provide alternative and expanded curriculum and learning expectations that support the specific learning needs of students with disabilities in access and use of learning resources.

27.1 This includes the requirement of specific curriculum, and /or recommended resources for students with disabilities, that address or are tailored to the needs arising from the student’s disability or combination of disabilities.

27.2 For students with vision loss, resources including the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) be adopted for required use across each board.

27.3 The Ministry upon consultation, review and development of any new provincial curriculum and supporting supplementary resource documents include specialized, expanded or additional curriculum that address the needs arising from specific disability or combination of disabilities.

Ontario College of Teachers shall:

53.5 Ensure that the mandatory qualifications to teach students who are blind/low vision be enhanced to provide the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of these students.

53.6 Work with the Ministry of Education and select faculties of education to initiate a Master’s level program in both French and English for teaching students who are blind/low vision such that exists in other jurisdictions.

Major Theme 11: Reducing the Exclusions/Refusals to Admit to School/Reduced School Hours

Note from the AODA Alliance:

These recommendations are consistent with the results of a detailed survey of all school boards that the AODA Alliance conducted in 2019-2020, that reviews in detail the policies of any school boards regarding the refusal to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day, available at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/new-report-reveals-that-at-majority-of-ontarios-school-boards-each-school-principal-is-a-law-unto-themselves-with-arbitrary-power-to-exclude-a-student-from-school-real-risk-of-a-rash-of-exclusio/

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Barrier: Parents have concerns with the use of the principal’s power to exclude students from school. (Also called refusal to admit to school) Section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act requires principals to:

“Subject to an appeal to the board, to refuse to admit to the school or classroom a person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well being of the pupils.”

Concerns are expressed that a significant proportion of those excluded from school are students with disabilities. The Ministry of Education does not track data on exclusions and does not require school boards to track data on them, in contrast to suspensions and expulsions.

Parents identified a lack of due process, such as:

  • Not being told the reason for the refusal to admit or how to challenge it
  • No limit on how long the refusal to admit can continue
  • The absence of a plan for the student’s return to school
  • No assured provision of alternative education program while the student is excluded
  • No consistent and fair process to appeal the refusal to admit

There are many stories from parents about formal and informal arrangements for a student with disabilities to attend for less than the full school day or school week without the parents’ voluntary consent. The school board places the student on a “modified school day.” There are no consistent practices for when or how this can occur, the documentation to be kept, or plans for return to full time school.

Concerns have been raised that in some situations, a student with disabilities is excluded from school directly or indirectly because the school has not effectively accommodated that student, as is required by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.

A survey of Ontario school boards showed that a majority of boards have no policy on how and when a principal may refuse to admit a student. Of the 33 boards for which a policy was obtained, these policies vary substantially. A student, excluded from school, and their parents are treated very differently from one board to the next. Students and parents across Ontario deserve the same safeguards. Principals are placed in a difficult position, not knowing what they can and should do.

These recommendations seek to reduce or eliminate the number and duration of exclusion of students with disabilities. References to “refusal to admit” includes formal and informal exclusions, and exclusions from school for all or part of the school day.

  1. The K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should require the following of any school board and of the Ministry of Education where it operates schools:

50.1 Exclusions/Refusals to admit should only be imposed in rare cases when it is demonstrably necessary to protect the health and safety of students or others at school, and only after all relevant accommodations for the student up to the point of undue hardship have been explored or attempted.

50.2 Refusal to admit of a student shall not last more than five consecutive school days, unless formally extended following the due process requirements required for an initial refusal to admit.

50.3 Refusal to admit a student to school cannot be used, in whole or in part, for purposes of discipline of a student, or as a form of discipline of that student. A student shall not be subjected to a refusal to admit to school for purposes of facilitating a police investigation.

50.4 When considering whether to refuse to admit a student to school, the principal and school board should take into account the fact that excluding a student from school is contrary to the student’s right to an education. The principal and school board should also proceed from the starting point that the rights of students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, including their right to accommodation of their disability-related needs up to the point of undue hardship, take primacy over all other Ontario laws and policies.

50.5 The Principal must make a family aware of the possibility of exclusion as early as that option realistically presents itself as being under consideration. The school board shall have a mandatory meeting with the family before a refusal to admit is imposed, or if crisis circumstances arise without any warning, as soon after the refusal to admit as possible (a pre-exclusion meeting). The meeting should advise the student and/or family of the school’s intention to exclude the child, the reasons for the exclusion and underlying events, the process for the family to contest the exclusion, the demonstrated outcomes for which the school board shall be looking, and an explanation that a subsequent meeting day will be set within a reasonable timeframe where the Principal and parent(s) will review progress and discuss a re-entry plan for the student.

50.6 Parents and guardians who themselves have a disability shall be notified that they have a right to have their disability-related needs accommodated where needed to take part in any meetings, appeals or other procedures regarding an actual or contemplated refusal to admit. For example, they should be notified that they have a right to receive any information or documents to be used in any such meeting or process in an accessible format.

50.7 Any student excluded from attending school shall be provided an equivalent and sufficient educational program while away from school. A written plan for the student’s education should be required, prepared immediately, and shared with the family.

50.8 A mandatory fair procedure should be established that the school board must follow when refusing to admit a student. These procedures should ensure accountability of the school board and its employees, including:

  1. a) A student and their families should have all the procedural protections that are required when a school board is going to impose discipline such as a suspension or expulsion.
  2. b) The prior review and written approval of the superintendent should be required before a refusal to admit is imposed. If it is an emergency, then the superintendent should be required to review and approve this decision as quickly afterwards as possible, or else the refusal to admit should be terminated.
  3. c) superintendent should independently assess whether the school board has sufficient grounds to refuse to admit the student and has met all the requirements of the school board’s refusal to admit policy (including ensuring alternative education programming is in place for the student).
  4. d) The principal should be required to immediately notify the student and his or her family in writing, co-signed by the superintendent, of the refusal to admit, the reasons for it, and the duration. The letter should be in plain language, translated if necessary, and include:
  5. what a refusal to admit is and the duration
  6. the permissible reasons

iii.           the school board’s process for reviewing that decision, and

  1. the student/family’s right to appeal (including how to use that right of appeal)
  2. steps that the school board has taken or will be taking to provide an alternative education and to expedite a student’s return to school,
  3. the expected timeline for the completion of these steps.
  1. e) A refusal to admit a student to school should not be extended for an accumulated total of more than 15 days (within a surrounding 30-day period) without the independent review and written approval of the Director of the, school board or their designate.
  2. f) An extension of refusal to admit must first consider excluding the student from a single class, and then the option of excluding the student from that entire school, and only as a last resort, excluding the student from all schools at that school board.
  3. g) The refusal to admit shall be documented, and the record shall include information on:
  4. h) The reason for the refusal to admit
  5. i) The duration of the refusal to admit and any extensions
  6. j) The plan to provide an educational program to the student for the duration of the refusal to admit
  7. k) The plan for the student to return to full time school attendance
  8. l) While the student is excluded, the school board should undertake ongoing efforts to facilitate the student’s return to school as quickly as possible. The return to school plan shall include meetings with the family and student to plan for the return and review the additional supports that may be needed.

50.9 To ensure that appeals to the school board under section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act from a refusal to admit a student to school are prompt and fair, the following should be required:

  1. a) A student excluded from school or their parent/guardian should be permitted to launch an appeal from a refusal to admit at any time that the refusal to admit continues. No time limit for filing an appeal should be imposed.
  2. b) No school board shall set an arbitrary length of time that an appeal hearing can take. The appeal hearing should take as long as needed for a fair hearing. The excluded student or their family should not have an arbitrary prior time limit imposed on their oral presentation of their appeal. They should be allowed the time they need to present their appeal. They shall be permitted to present relevant evidence to support their appeal if they wish.
  3. c) At an appeal, the school staff should present their reasons first on why the exclusion is justified and should continue. The student or their family shall then be given a chance to present their case on why the student should not have been excluded and why they should be allowed to return to school.
  4. d) An appeal should be held quickly to minimize the time the student is away from school. The Board of trustees shall hear and/or determine the appeal within fifteen business days of receiving the notice of intention to appeal (unless the parties agree to an extension).
  5. e) Once an appeal is launched, the school board shall prepare for the student, their parents, and the trustees, a report on the reasons for the refusal to admit, the factual background, and the efforts to return the student to school since the exclusion began. The board staff shall arrange a meeting (pre- appeal meeting) with the student and their family to try to resolve the case or narrow the issues, explain the process, disclose any information the student and their family need, and canvass and address any other matter that might help ensure a smooth and timely appeal.
  6. f) The appeal should be heard in closed session by the entire Board of trustees, not a subcommittee (unless the Board can show it has legal authority to delegate this decision to a subcommittee). Any trustee that votes on a decision in an appeal must have been present for the entire argument of the appeal.
  7. g) A Board of trustees, hearing an appeal from a refusal to admit, should consider whether the school board has justified the student’s initial exclusion from school and its continuation. The burden should be on the School Board to justify the exclusion from school.
  8. h) If the student is not successful on the appeal, they should have a further avenue to appeal to court, with mediation available, or to an expert tribunal designated to hear such cases.

50.10 The school board shall create an emergency process and fund for accelerating education disability accommodations needed to facilitate a student’s remaining at or promptly returning to school, in connection with an actual or contemplated refusal to admit.

50.11 Information and data on refusals to admit shall be collected and aggregated data reported publicly by school boards and by the Ministry of Education.

50.12 The Ministry of Education should develop a central repository/mechanism for sharing effective practices of alternatives to exclusion/refusal to admits and modified days in order to support school board efforts to reduce the number and duration of refusal to admits and modified days.

Major Theme 12: Improving the Collection of Data Concerning Education of Students with Disabilities

Note from the AODA Alliance:

The Ministry of Education regularly requires school boards to collect and report very extensive data and statistics regarding teachers, staff, and other aspects of school board operations. Yet the Ministry collects far too little data on the numbers and needs of students with disabilities, and on what is being done to meet those needs. As such, the Standards Development Committee called for a substantial increase in the collection and public availability of such data regarding students with disabilities.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

  1. The K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should require the following of any school board and of the Ministry of Education where it operates schools:

51.1 Collect data on students with all types of disability as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, using Individual Education Plans, or the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee, and such other methods that the Ministry and, school boards devise, rather than only collecting data on students with an “exceptionality” as defined under current Ontario special education laws.

  1. a) Data should be collected about students with disabilities that is consistent and comparable across the province according to the parameters below:
  2. b) Data collection should accurately report the numbers of students with each kind of disability. Where a student has more than one disability, each disability would be separately counted.

51.2 Data should also be collected on the accommodations, or programs and services that are to be provided to the student.

51.3 Collect student data on all incidences of exclusion/refusal to admit, consistent with the recommendations related to exclusions and modified days in Section 7. The data collected should include whether the student has a disability, the nature of the incident, the length of the exclusion/refusal to admit, reasons for the exclusion/modification in writing, the educational services provided to the student while excluded from school and the plan for return to full time school attendance.

51.4 Collect student data on the number of students who are on a modified day, including reason for modified day, duration, and appeals, if any, as well as about the alternative education program provided.

51.5 Collect and analyse annual data on the number of students who are accessing professional services and assessments provided by Regulated Health Professionals and other specialists, both from school board services and community partners who delivery services in schools. Further the data collected should be in compliance with a standardized protocol designed by the Ministry of Education (see also data collection recommendation four). Data collected should include the number of days students wait for the assessments and be publicly reported.

51.6 Collect information on the numbers of staff with specialized expertise relating to students with disabilities such as:

  1. a) Teachers of the Deaf and hard of hearing
  2. b) Teachers of the visually impaired
  3. c) Applied Behavioural Analysists
  4. d) Speech-Language Pathologists
  5. e) Audiologists
  6. f) Physiotherapists, occupational therapists
  7. g) Assistive Technology
  8. h) And other key personnel

51.7 Publicly report on an annual basis data related to disability, exclusions, modified day, wait times for professional assessments, and the number and types of staff who instruct students with disabilities.

Ministry of Education shall:

51.8 Collect all of the above data form each school board and:

  1. a) Publicly report on the data referred to above, as an aggregate and on a school board by school board basis
  2. b) Identify changes over previous year(s) and any gaps or deficits or areas for improvement.
  3. c) Develop a provincial action plan to resolve gaps or unmet needs.

51.10 Provide a standardized provincial rubric for documenting the number of professional and specialist assessments provided by each school board annually that includes information on the prioritization criteria used in referring students for assessments and the length of time from identification of the need for the assessment and the assessment completion and results shared.

Ministry of Education/Equity Secretariat shall:

51.11 Ensure the collection of student census data includes information about disability, including the type of disability, or disabilities, the intersectionality of disability with other key factors such as race, indigenous identity, sexual identity and socio-economic factors. Data collection should be based on processes and questions that are consistent for all school boards.

51.12 Analyse data related to disability and report publicly on information related to the number and types of disabilities and the intersectionality of disability with other factors. In addition, the data should be linked to student outcomes and achievements, including graduation rates, credit accumulation, course selection and other measures.

51.13 Use disability information and analysis to identify gaps and develop plans to improve the outcomes and achievement of students with disabilities.

Major Theme 13: Addressing Barriers Facing Students with Disabilities in Social Realms

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Educational and Online Events Recommendation

  1. Each school board should only hold educational events at venues on school board property or outside school board property whose built environment is accessible to students and staff with disabilities. The buses used to transport students to the off-site events should also be accessible, so that students with disabilities do not have to travel to the event separate from their classmates.

Educational events include, but are not limited to clubs, teams, field trips, dances, graduation, fundraisers, extracurricular groups or any school or school board event that includes students and school personnel.

Note: To assign specific staff at school board to facilitate transportation for students with disabilities.

  1. Each school board shall provide where needed or requested by a student with disabilities or their family, staff assistance for social interaction and play, particularly during unstructured or minimally supervised times, such as recess or lunch. This is to address social isolation that students throughout their educational journey from K-12. The Individual Education Plan shall include a detailed, specific plan for how to implement and achieve social inclusion both in the formal school activities and informal parts of the school day. Creative and flexible plans should include multiple organizations or programs both inside and outside school board designed to foster inclusiveness in the long term across all levels from students to the administration.

This recommendation is inclusive of all students with disabilities even those who require a communication device or use augmentative communication to communicate.

Major Theme 14: Addressing Barriers Facing Students with Disabilities in School-Related Transportation

Note from the AODA Alliance:

In 2011, the Ontario Government enacted the Transportation Accessibility Standard under the AODA. It includes some provisions aimed at transportation of students with disabilities in connection with school. However, after a decade, it is clear that these have not ensured that these transportation services are accessible and barrier-free for students with disabilities. Moreover, the 2016-2019 review of the Transportation Accessibility Standard by the Transportation Standards Development Committee did not lead to any recommendations that would ensure that transportation for students with disabilities becomes accessible and barrier-free. Therefore, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee made recommendations in this area, amongst which are the following:

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Rationale: Up to three organizations may be involved in the transportation of students: A School Board, a consortium of school boards that jointly arrange for student transportation, and private bus companies that are contracted to provide bussing in that area. Students with disabilities and their parents should not have to try to figure out who is responsible for their child’s transportation needs. The following should be required of all three organizations.

  1. To ensure that students with disabilities get the transportation services they need to attend school this recommendation will set criteria for creating monitoring and accountability. The Education Accessibility Standard should require that where a school board provides bussing or other transportation services to students with disabilities in order to enable them to attend school, the school board/bus company’s/transportation consortia shall review and develop policies and procedures that include:

61.1 Individual consultation with each family to identify accessibility and accommodation needs of the student with disabilities in relation to transportation,

61.2 Ensure the Transportation Consortia/bus companies and drivers have been properly trained to accommodate students with disabilities and their individual needs.

61.3 With any bus driver that is changed, they are given the same information and training prior to driving the student, or, in the case of an emergency replacement, as soon as possible.

61.4 Clearly reflect the responsibilities and duties of the school board/bus companies/transportation consortia and acknowledge that they have the shared responsibility to make sure the duties are fulfilled.

61.5 Retention of training records, including when it was provided and report to their respective boards on training twice per year.

61.6 Designate and provide a reachable official at the school board and the transportation, especially during the working hours when students are being transported, to receive and address phone calls, emails and text messages from a family about problems regarding the student’s transportation.

61.7 Documentation of all complaints reported on student transportation services, and the company to which it applies. A summary report including number of complaints, types of complaints and status, be provided to the school board, transportation consortia, Special Education Advisory Committees (SEAC), and accessibility committee on a quarterly basis. These reports shall be made public on the school board’s and transportation consortium’s website.

61.8 The Education Accessibility Standard should make it clear that the fact that the policies and procedures created does not remove or reduce the school board/bus companies/transportation consortia’s duties under this accessibility standard or otherwise under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that the student has been provided with barrier-free participation in the school board’s educational programs and opportunities. In any contract for bussing, the school boards/bus company’s/transportation consortia should be required to monitor compliance with all obligations regarding bussing, such as the duty to properly train each bus driver on the specific disability-related needs of each passenger, and to document this training. School Boards/bus company’s/transportation consortia should periodically audit consumer satisfaction and compliance with all applicable education accessibility standards and publicly report on the audit’s results. A bus company’s failure to consistently and reliably meet its obligations should trigger penalties and termination of the contract.

61.9 A valuation process for past performance and provision of transportation services for students with disabilities should be included in the Request for Proposal for bussing. A valuation of any company’s past performance on accessibility for students with disabilities should be given a major consideration in deciding the continued use of service.

  1. The Education Accessibility Standard should require that where a school board provides bussing or other transportation to students with disabilities in order to enable them to attend school, the school board shall ensure, and shall monitor to ensure that:

62.1 The school board has individually consulted with each family to identify the accessibility and accommodation needs of the student with disabilities in relation to transportation, and the bus company and driver have been properly trained to accommodate that need.

  1. The Education Accessibility Standard should require that the school board and, where applicable, a bus company with which it contracts, will ensure that pick-up and drop-off locations for a student’s bussing are accessible when needed to accommodate the parents or guardians of students with disabilities.

Major Theme 15: Addressing Disability Barriers to Experiential / Co-Op Learning Opportunities

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

  1. Persons with disabilities face extraordinarily high unemployment rates. Getting the chance for an experiential learning or coop placement while in school can be the gateway, if not the only gateway, to that first letter of reference. Every student’s first letter of reference is essential to getting their first job and more importantly, if you have a disability. Therefore, these recommendations are essential to combating the high unemployment that youth with disabilities too often happen to face. For the success of these recommendations, it is extremely important that school boards provide informal advice and support to all employers, including small businesses.

To ensure that students with disabilities can fully participate in a school board’s experiential learning programs, each school board should:

65.1 Review its experiential learning programs to identify and remove any accessibility barriers.

65.2 Put in place a process to affirmatively reach out to potential placement organizations in order to ensure that there will be a range of accessible placement opportunities in which students with disabilities can participate.

65.3 Ensure that its partner organizations that accept its students for experiential learning placements are effectively informed of their duty to accommodate the learning needs of students with disabilities.

65.4 Create and share supports and advice for placement organizations who need assistance to ensure that students with disabilities can fully participate in their experiential learning placements.

65.5 Monitor placement organizations to ensure they have someone in place to ensure that students with disabilities are effectively accommodated, and to ensure that effective accommodation was provided during each placement of a student with a disability who needed accommodation.

65.6 Survey students with disabilities and experiential learning placement organizations at the end of any experiential learning placements to see if their disability-related needs were effectively accommodated.

  1. The Ministry of Education should provide templates or models for these policies and measures. It should be required to prepare and make available training videos for school boards and employers offering experiential learning programs to guide them on accommodating students with disabilities and the impacts in experiential learning placements.

Major Theme 16: Removing Disability Barriers to a Student Bringing a Trained Service Animal to School

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Some students on the autism spectrum and their families in Ontario have reported having difficulties at some school boards with being allowed to bring a service animal to school and have even had to take action before the Human Rights Tribunal against a school board. Others have been able to succeed without barriers in bringing their service animal to school.

68.1 When a student with disabilities or their parent/guardian request permission for the student to bring a trained service animal to school with them as an accommodation to their disability, the school board shall consider, decide upon that request, and give reasons for its decision, in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, with the duty to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, with the policy of the Ontario Human Rights Commission on the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities, available at http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-ableism-and-discrimination-based-disability and the Commission’s Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities available at http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-accessible-education-students-disabilities and with the following requirements set out in this Accessibility Standard. This includes requests regarding a trained service animal from an accredited training organization that provided training to the animal and to the student. Where the service animal was not trained by an accredited training organization, it is open to the student or their family to present to the school board satisfactory evidence that both the service animal and the student have received sufficient training.

68.2 The school board shall put in place a fair and speedy procedure for considering requests for a student to bring a service animal to school. This procedure should include the following:

  1. a) If the school board has any objection to or concerns about the request, the school board will immediately notify the student and family about the specific concerns, and shall work to resolve them, in a manner consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  2. b) If the school board does not believe that the service animal could assist the student at school, the school board should investigate the request, including how the student’ benefits from the service animal outside the school and in the home.
  3. c) If the school board has any concerns about the feasibility of allowing the student to bring the service animal to school, it shall investigate the experience of other school boards and schools which have successfully enabled a student to bring their service animal to school.
  4. d) If a concern is expressed that the service animal at school would interfere with the human rights of other students or staff, the school board shall take action to effectively accommodate their rights without sacrificing the human rights of the student using the service animal, in accordance with the policy of the Ontario Human Rights Commission on conflicting rights. For example, if an EA, assigned to work with the student, cannot work with the service animal for health or other human rights reasons, the school board shall facilitate the assignment of this responsibility to another staff member.
  5. e) A student shall not be refused the opportunity to bring a qualified service animal to school without the school board first allowing a trial or test period with the service animal at school.
  6. f) Where it is proposed to allow a student with disabilities to bring a service animal to school, the school board shall work out with the student, their family, and the organization providing the service animal, a plan to promote the success of the accommodation, including such things as:
  7. Allowing the service animal’s training organization to provide training in the school to school staff.
  8. Allowing the training organization to provide an orientation to the student population at the school to the presence of the service animal.

iii.           Providing information to other families to reinforce the inclusion of the service animal at school.

  1. g) If the school board does not agree to the service animal being allowed at school, or if there is a problem with implementing the school board’s plans to facilitate its inclusion, the school board shall make available a swift dispute resolution process, including independent mediation if needed, to resolve these issues.

68.3 The Ministry of Education shall obtain information from school boards on where service animals have been allowed in school, to make it easier for a school board to reach out to those schools to gather information, if needed.

68.4 Nothing in this accessibility standard shall reduce or restrict the rights of a person with vision loss who is coming to a school bringing with them their guide dog, trained by an accredited school for training guide dogs.

Major Theme 17: Addressing Physical and Architectural Barriers Facing Students with Disabilities in Ontario’s Education System

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

When it was passed in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act required Ontario, including its schools, to become fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025. The Government did not effectively address the need to achieve this in schools’-built environments up until now. These recommendations are designed to achieve the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s goals. It will be for the Government to implement measures to ensure that school boards can fulfil them.

The intent/rationale of these recommendations is to ensure that as soon as possible, and no later than January 1, 2025, the built environment in the education system, such as schools themselves, their yards, playgrounds etc., and the equipment on those premises (such as gym and playground equipment) would all be fully accessible to persons with disabilities and would be designed based on the principle of universal design. Where school programs or trips take place outside the school, these will be held at locations that are disability accessible. The intent/rationale is also to ensure that no public money is used to create new barriers or perpetuate existing barriers in the school system.

  • Ontario Building Code (OBC) and existing accessibility standards do not set out all the modern and sufficient accessibility requirements for the built environment in Ontario.
  • The building code is largely if not entirely designed to address the needs of adults, not children or the specific types of spaces found in K through 12 schools.
  • The Government of Ontario and the Ministry of Education have no accessibility standard for the built environment in schools, whether old or new schools. The Government should develop a Built Environment Accessibility Standard to substantially strengthen the accessibility provisions in the Ontario Building Code.
  • Neither the Ministry of Education nor the individual school boards have any expertise on staff on how to design a school to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Architects and design and construction teams have no standardized education for accessibility beyond building code minima. Many are not aware of or understand the current minimal requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s Design of Public spaces enacted in 2013.
  • When the Ministry reviews proposals from a school board for construction of a new school or renovation of an existing school, the Ministry does not require those plans to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but instead, leaves it to each school board to address accessibility as much or as little as it wishes.
  • It is left to each school board to come up with its own designs to address accessibility in the built environment in schools and at other school board locations even though the needs of persons with disabilities to an accessible built environment do not vary from community to community around Ontario. An inaccessible doorway is an inaccessible doorway, whether in Kingston or Chatham.

Summary of Recommendations for Mandatory Beyond Building Code Accessibility Requirements

This section includes 3 different areas of requirements for beyond code additional mandatory requirements for schools and associated facilities including the exterior site elements, the buildings interior elements, and universal design better practices.

The exterior site elements include five topics:

  1. Access to the site for pedestrians
  2. Access to the site for vehicles
  3. Parking
  4. Exterior doors
  5. Public Playgrounds on or Adjacent to School Property

The interior building elements include 10 topics:

  1. Entrances
  2. Door
  3. Layout
  4. Gates, Turnstiles and Openings
  5. Windows, Glazed Screens and Sidelights
  6. Circulation including Elevators, Ramps and Stairs
  7. Drinking Fountains
  8. General Facilities
  9. Washroom Facilities
  10. Specialty Room and Spaces

Finally, enhanced universal design best practice section includes 17 different elements and considerations have been provided based on feedback from a recognized accessibility and universal design expert for ways to improve building and facilities use for all users of the school and community.

Note from the AODA Alliance:

The Standards Development Committee’s detailed recommendations for the built environment in the education setting are set out in full in the June 16, 2021 AODA Alliance Update.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Ensuring a Fully Accessible Built Environment at Schools Recommendations

Barriers:

Too often, the built environment where K-12 education programming is offered, have physical barriers that can partially or totally impede some students with disabilities from being able to enter or independently move around. These barriers also impede parents, teachers and other school staff and volunteers with disabilities.

The Ontario Ministry of Education does not effectively survey all school buildings to ensure that they are accessible, or to catalogue what accessibility improvements are needed.

The Ministry of Education’s specifications for new school construction do not require all accessibility features or can even preclude needed accessibility features in a new school or other education facility.

Recommendations:

  1. The K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should set out specific requirements for accessibility of the built environment in schools and other locations where education programs are to be offered. Accessibility requirements should not only include the needs of people with mobility disabilities. They should include the needs of people with other disabilities such as (but not limited to) people with vision and/or hearing loss, autism, intellectual or developmental disabilities, learning disabilities or mental health disorders. There should be no priorities among disabilities. These requirements should meet the accessibility requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These should include:
  2. a) Specific requirements to be included in a new school to be built.
  3. b) Requirements to be included in a renovation of or an addition to an existing school, and
  4. c) Retrofit requirements for an existing school not slated for a major renovation or addition.
  1. Each school board should develop a plan to ensure that the built environment of its schools and other educational facilities becomes fully accessible to persons with disabilities as soon as reasonably possible, and in any event, no later than January 1, 2025. As part of this:
  2. a) As a first step, each school board should develop a plan for making as many of its schools’ disability-accessible within its current financial context.
  3. b) Each school board should identify which of its existing schools can be more easily made accessible, and which schools would require substantially more extensive action to be made physically accessible. An interim plan should be developed to show what progress towards full physical accessibility can be made by first addressing schools that would require less money to be made physically more accessible, taking into account the need to also consider geographic equity of access across the school board and a school building’s expected lifespan.
  4. c) When designing a new school or managing an existing school, wherever possible, a quiet room should be assigned in a school facility to assist with learning by those students with disabilities who require such an environment. For example, when a school board is deciding what to do with excess building capacity, it should allocate unused or under-used rooms as quiet rooms whenever possible.
  1. When a school board seeks to retain or hire design professionals, such as architects, interior designers or landscape architects, for the design of a new school or an existing school’s retrofit or renovation, or for any other school board construction or other infrastructure project, the school board should include in any Request for Proposal a mandatory requirement that the design professional must have sufficient demonstrated expertise in accessibility design, and not simply knowledge about compliance with the Ontario Building Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This includes the accessibility needs of people with all kinds of disabilities, and not just those with mobility impairments. It includes the accessibility needs of students and not just of adults.
  1. When a school board is planning to construct a new school, or expanding or renovating an existing school or other infrastructure, a properly qualified and experienced accessibility consultant should be retained by the school board (and not necessarily by a private architecture firm) to advise on the project from the outset, with their advice being transmitted directly to the school board and not only to the private design professionals who are retained to design the project. Completing the 8-day training course on accessibility offered by the Rick Hansen Foundation should not be treated as either necessary or sufficient for this purpose, as that brief course is substantially inadequate and has significant problems.
  1. A committee of the school board’s trustees, and the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee or Accessibility Committee should be required to review design decisions on new construction or renovations to ensure that accessibility of the built environment is effectively addressed. A school’s Accessibility Committee should also be involved in this review. Consultations should include getting input from students, parents, school employees and school volunteers with disabilities. These Committees should not be seen as technical experts, or as a substitute for the earliest engagement of accessible design experts.
  1. Where possible, a school board should not renovate an existing school that lacks disability accessibility, unless the school board has a plan to also make that school accessible. For example, a school board should not spend public money to renovate the second storey of a school which lacks accessibility to the second storey, if the school board does not have a plan to make that second storey disability accessible. Very pressing health and safety concerns should be the only reason for any exception to this.
  1. When a school board decides which schools to close due to reduced enrollment, a priority should be placed on keeping open schools with more physical accessibility, while a priority should be given to closing schools that are the most lacking in accessibility, or for which retrofitting is the most costly.
  1. Each school board should hold off-site educational events at venues whose built environment is accessible.
  1. The Ministry of Education should be required to revise its funding formula or criteria for school construction to ensure that it requires and covers and does not obstruct the inclusion of all needed accessibility features in a school construction project. The following design features should be required by the Education Accessibility Standard and in any new school construction or renovation, and effectively addressed in the Ministry’s funding/approval requirements for school construction projects. Where an existing school is undergoing no renovation, any of the following measures which are readily achievable should be required. The Ministry should enact technical requirements for the following, as binding enforceable rules, not as voluntary guidelines:

Ensuring Accessibility of Gym, Playground and Like Equipment and Activities Recommendations

Barrier:

Schools or school boards that have gym, playground or other equipment not designed based on the principles of universal design, which some students with disabilities cannot use, as well as certain gym, sports and other activities in which students with disabilities cannot fully participate.

Section 80.18 of the Ontario Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, as amended in 2012, requires accessibility features to be considered when new outdoor play spaces are being established or existing ones are redeveloped. However, those provisions do not set the spectrum of detailed requirements that should be included. They do not require any action if an existing play space is not being redeveloped. They ultimately leave it to each school board or each school to re-invent the accessibility wheel each time they build or redevelop an outdoor play space. They do not require anything of indoor play spaces or gyms.

Recommendations:

  1. To ensure that gym equipment, playground equipment and other like equipment and facilities are accessible for students with disabilities, the Education Accessibility Standard should set out specific technical accessibility requirements for new or existing outdoor or indoor play spaces, gym and other like equipment, drawing on accessibility standards and best practices in other jurisdictions, if sufficient, so that each school board does not have to re-invent the accessibility wheel.
  1. Each school board should:
  2. a) Take an inventory of the accessibility of its existing indoor and outdoor play spaces and gym and playground equipment, and make this public, including posting this information online.
  3. b) Adopt a plan to remediate the accessibility of new gym or playground equipment, in consultation with the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee and Accessibility Committee, and widely with the families of students with disabilities.
  4. c) Ensure that a qualified accessibility expert is engaged to ensure that the purchase of new equipment or remediation of existing playground is properly conducted, with their advice being given directly to the school board.
  1. Where playground or other school equipment or facilities to be deployed on school property for use by students is funded and/or purchased by anyone other than the school board, the school board should remain nonetheless responsible for approving the purchases and ensuring that only accessible equipment and facilities are placed on school property for use by students or the public. Decisions over whether accessibility features will be included, or which will be included, should not be totally left to community groups which may fund-raise for such equipment or facilities.

Major Theme 18: Accessible Transitions for Students with Disabilities

Note from the AODA Alliance:

Some of the Standards Development Committee recommendations on transitions are set out in the main initial report of the Committee. Some are in the joint report of the Technical Subcommittee. The following brings together some key recommendations from both places.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Committee Initial Report/Recommendations

  1. Each school board should develop and create the role of the Transition Facilitator/Navigator to work with students and their families in collaboration with school staff, and community agencies to explore pathways and develop transition plans. The Transition Facilitator/Navigator would assist students accessing special education supports, consult and liaison with community disability service providers and provide transition planning resource development for all school board and school staff.
  2. Ministry of Education should set up a centralized Transitions Hub. The Hub would support the role of the Transitions Facilitator / Navigator as well as provide a conduit of best practice transitions information and regular communication from across all publicly funded school boards and school authorities in Ontario. If needed it would provide smaller boards the ability to partner and develop successful programs.

From the Standards Development Committee‘s Technical Subcommittee Report

  1. Ensure that co-operative education programs include accommodations and supports for all students as needed, including transportation to and from placements and support staff at placement as needed.
  1. Where possible, and to the point of undue hardship, allow siblings of a student with a disability who attends a special education program outside of their home school, to attend that same school if requested by the family. Note: This does not include provincial schools, for example W. Ross MacDonald School.
  1. Offer learning strategies courses in secondary school that are responsive and aligned with the IEPs of participating students.
  1. Facilitate the participation of all students with disabilities in their IEPs and transition plans through teacher student conferences, beginning in elementary school.
  1. Ensure that students with disabilities receive all necessary accommodations and other supports as outlined in their IEPs and transition plans when accessing summer or night school continuing education courses during their secondary school education.
  1. Ensure that students with an Identification, Placement & Review Committee (IPRC), and their parents/guardians, are informed in grades 7 through 10 about the importance of updating their assessment during Grade 11 and 12.
  1. Ensure that students in Grades 11 and 12 are informed during their IEP review/renewal meetings and transition support meetings if/when their formal professional assessment must be updated.
  1. Ensure that students with an IEP only that includes a transition plan, and their parents/guardians, are informed in Grades 7 through 10 that they will need an IPRC if they will be requesting accommodations when they enter post-secondary education. As well as ensuring students and their parents/guardians understand accommodations in K-12 do not automatically translate to the post-secondary environment and an assessment of accommodations needs will be conducted in post-secondary.

Major Theme 19: Planning for Emergencies and Safety

Note from the AODA Alliance:

The following recommendations are inspired by experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. They identify what should be done to plan in advance for any future emergencies, as well as for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic as it continues.

Last summer, a subcommittee of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee submitted a detailed and comprehensive package of excellent recommendations to the Ontario Government on July 24, 2020 on how to address the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the pandemic. The AODA Alliance strongly endorses that report and all its recommendations. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee distilled those recommendations for future use in its March 12, 2021 initial report/recommendations. The following are some of the key recommendations.

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

  1. The Ministry of Education establish an independent review committee as soon as possible to assess the COVID-19 response by the Ministry of Education and School Boards by:
  2. a) Documenting the response by the Ministry and school boards to supporting students with disabilities
  3. b) Documenting the coordination and collaboration with other Ministries in responding to the needs of students with disabilities at school and at home during remote learning
  4. c) Identifying key decision points and changes in response activities
  5. d) Surveying key stakeholders, including student voice about the effectiveness of key response activities
  6. e) Assessing the information collected to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges in the response and preparedness to ensure access and delivery of education and health services for students with disabilities
  7. f) Making recommendations for future emergency planning and preparedness
  8. The independent review committee membership should include, but not limited to school boards, students and other individuals with disabilities, and 2 to 3 members of the Education Accessibility K to 12 Standard Development Committee and supported by Ministry of Education staff.
  9. The report of the committee, or interim reports if the COVID-19 pandemic last more than one year, shall be submitted to the Premiere and Cabinet, and made public.
  1. The Ministry of Education should make its own online learning content accessible for persons with disabilities, including TVO and TFO as a provider of centralized support for online learning in the English-language and French-language publicly funded education systems, respectively.
  2. The Ministry of Education should direct its entire staff and all School Boards that whenever making information public in a Portable Document Format (PDF), it must at the same time, make available a textual format such as an accessible Microsoft Word (MSWord) or accessible HTML document. Videos must be audio described (DV) and closed captioned (CC). Templates and technical guides should be developed and provided to school boards.
  3. The Ministry of Education collect and make readily available resources/information on practices, effective strategies in learning environment, and alternate approaches for students struggling with online learning, etc. from School Boards, agencies and disability specific associations to ensure resources are readily available during an emergency.
  4. That Ministry of Education should model leadership to School Boards and provide accessible virtual learning webinars, templates for learning, etc. to be utilized in training administrators and teachers to ensure all educational and training resources are accessible remotely in case of an emergency.
  5. The Ministry of Education should provide guidelines for a coordinated training delivery model to support parents of students with rehabilitation needs, mental health concerns or who have complex or significant medically needs to access and continue education and health services remotely during an emergency.
  6. School Boards should ensure that its hub of learning resources specific to students with disabilities is accessible and available remotely to support teachers and students in their learning during an emergency.
  7. School Boards should plan to provide solely dedicated or designated staff, who are available to support technology including accessibility needs to parents who are supporting the learning needs of students with disabilities.
  8. The Ministry of Education’s Emergency Plan shall include the creation of a Central Education Leadership Command Table with the responsibility of ensuring that students with disabilities have access to all accommodations and supports during an emergency. Structure and membership shall be outlined in the plan, ensuring all students with disabilities and educational partnership groups are represented on the Central Education Leadership Command Table.
  9. School Boards’ Emergency plans shall include the creation of a similar Board Command/Central table as the Ministry of Education’s Central Education Command/Central Table, to develop its own emergency plan following the Ministry of Education’s Guidelines for Emergency Plans for School Boards.
  10. The School Board Emergency Plan should include establishment of a Command/Central Table during an emergency that will be responsible for:
  11. a) Receiving and acting on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during an emergency event. The Table will quickly network with similar offices/Tables at other school boards and can report recurring issues to the Ministry’s command table.
  1. School Boards should utilize the expertise of the Special Education Advisory Committee members by directly involving members in developing the School Board’s Emergency Plan and planning for the delivery of remote learning, other emergency plans, through regular meetings and frequent communications.
  2. School Boards should involve their Accessibility Committee which will review all plans at the school board and school level for mitigating risk of an emergency and to meet the accessibility requirements of all students or persons with disabilities in the case of an emergency.
  3. In the School Board’s Emergency Plan, assign its Senior Staff member responsible for accessibility to ensure that all changes at schools in response to an emergency maintain accessibility for all students with disabilities.
  4. The Ministry of Education develop a rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.and quickly and resolve issues for students with disabilities as they arise during an emergency.
  5. Ministries should review policies and regulations to allow therapy supports and services that have transitioned successfully to a virtual learning environment be shared to geographic areas that have no access to these services.
  6. The Ministry of Education should develop curriculum for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to enable students to develop the skills and knowledge they need for learning in a virtual learning environment. In the interim, the Ministry should share existing, accessible resources on this topic to teachers and School Boards

Major Theme 20: Setting Timelines for Action and Measures to ensure Compliance and Accountability

From the Standards Development Committee Report:

Serious concerns have been expressed for several years about deficiencies in the Accessibility Ministry’s compliance/enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The second Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Independent Review conducted by Mayo Moran in 2014 and the third such review conducted by David Onley in 2018 both called for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act enforcement to be substantially strengthened. Their reports demonstrate that the slow progress on accessibility in Ontario has been due in part to shortcomings in the Ministry`s compliance/enforcement actions in the past. Despite the findings of those Independent Reviews, these deficiencies remain.

The compliance/enforcement actions of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act are more likely to succeed where there is clear delegation of responsibility and accountability within obligated organizations for compliance with the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard and where there is a clear, visible and renewed demonstration by the Government of Ontario of its commitment to achieve Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act compliance through greater education and rigorous regulatory action for willful lawbreakers.

The focus of compliance/enforcement activities should not simply be whether an obligated organization such as the Ontario Ministry of Education or a publicly funded school board has posted a policy on an action required by the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard. It is important to assess the end result i.e. whether obligated organizations have in fact removed and prevented disability barriers that impede students with disabilities and to assess whether students with disabilities are being effectively included in and fully participating in the opportunities that Ontario’s public education system provides to students.

 

The focus of compliance/enforcement activities should not simply be whether an obligated organization such as the Ontario Ministry of Education or a publicly funded school board has posted a policy on an action required by the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard. It is important to assess the end result i.e. whether obligated organizations have in fact removed and prevented disability barriers that impede students with disabilities and to assess whether students with disabilities are being effectively included in and fully participating in the opportunities that Ontario’s public education system provides to students.

Accountability and Compliance Recommendations:

Implementation Planning and Outcomes Measurement

  1. We are proposing that each obligated organization develop a detailed implementation plan, with measurable performance metrics and timelines for achieving milestones towards the implementation of the Standard. The identified performance metrics should have process requirements such as establishing committees with impacted stakeholders (such as students with disabilities) to oversee the implementation planning as well as specific timelines for completion.

It is important to assess the end result i.e. whether obligated organizations have in fact removed and prevented disability barriers that impede students with disabilities and to assess whether students with disabilities are being effectively included in and fully participating in the opportunities that Ontario’s education system provides to students (see Appendix 1 for a model implementation planning template).

Public Reporting: School Boards, College of Teachers and Government

  1. In terms of reporting, each obligated organization should be directed by the Accessibility Directorate to have a section on their web site that publicly reports on the implementation of the Standard. This could be in the form of an annual report, or a completion matrix of the organizations progress to date.
  1. In addition, The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario should be required to promptly make public a detailed, comprehensive annual and multi-year compliance/enforcement plan for the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard. It should publicly report quarterly on actions taken and actual accessibility improvements achieved.
  1. To help promote accountability and compliance, the Ministry of Education should be required to establish and maintain a public searchable data base where all reports, annual plans and updates posted or prepared by school boards or by the Ministry in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will be made available in an accessible format to the public.
  1. As part of the Government’s compliance/enforcement plan, it should establish and widely publicize a provincial toll-free number, and dedicated email address to receive complaints and concerns from students with disabilities their families or others regarding accessible education for students with disabilities. Those contacting this number should be advised to take up their concern first with the relevant obligated organization through its process for addressing such concerns, before bringing it to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. The Ministry should assign a rapid response team to take action where appropriate on input received from this phone number or email address. A summary of input/complaints received (with no identifying information) should be made public quarterly.
  1. Those appointed with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act compliance/enforcement powers who will be addressing the implementation of the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should have knowledge and any building permit process for a new school or major renovation should be required to comply with the built environment provisions of the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard in order to get a building permit. The project should be checked for compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and not just the Ontario Building Code in that process. In addition, the Accessibility Directorate should have staff with experience in the area of education of students with disabilities or should have a resource team whom they can regularly and readily consult who have that expertise. To avoid conflicts of interest, the members of that resource team should be independent of any organizations that have obligations under the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard.

Internal: School Boards

  1. In terms of school boards, the implementation plan and its milestones should be tabled with and receive input from their Special Education Advisory Committees and Accessibility Advisory Committees every 6 months. In addition, the implementation plan should also be tabled with the school board or board of trustees every 6 months until 2025 (during public board meetings). Student transportation consortia should also report to their respective school boards on their implementation plan.
  1. In terms of implementation planning, boards should build into their multi-year strategic plans accessibility outcomes as part of the process and required goals.

Reporting to the Government: School Boards, College of Teachers, Transportation consortia

  1. In addition, although the Accessibility Directorate has regulatory authority over its obligated organizations, we believe Boards should be also be required to report to the Ministry of Education (and the Accessibility Directorate) each quarter on the results of their implementation actions and performance. Reports should detail successes and challenges in meeting the requirements of the Education Accessibility Standard recommendation with proposed solutions or remediation efforts. The College of Teachers should have the same reporting requirements.

Ensuring Compliance Obligations: Audits and Reviews

As noted above, recent reports have documented how little oversight and enforcement currently exists with respect to various accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Given the relatively short timelines for the full implementation of these recommendations (by 2025 at the latest), we are recommending:

  1. The Accessibility Directorate conduct on-site inspections of a range of obligated organizations each year on the actual accessibility of their facilities and educational programs and services as addressed in the Standard, and not just an audit of their paper records on accessibility documentation.
  1. The Accessibility Directorate conduct “implementation reviews” of a select number of school boards and the College of Teachers within 6 months of the government’s enactment of the Education Standards regulation. The purpose of these reviews is to ensure boards and the College have developed an implementation plan with performance metrics and designated responsibility centers and have started to move forward with the implementation of the Standard.
  1. The Accessibility Directorate conduct a compliance review or audit of Government of Ontario on a quarterly basis.
  1. Under s. 26 of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Government should designate a tribunal to hear appeals from monetary penalties and compliance orders under the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard to a tribunal that has expertise in disability, human rights and education, such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Those appeals should not go to the License Appeal Tribunal, as is now the case under other Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s accessibility standards, because that commercial tribunal lacks the needed knowledge or expertise in the field of education for students with disabilities.