Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
A Modest Interim Victory for Joint Efforts by the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition — Ford Government Agrees to Consult on Practices of Schools Refusing to Admit some Students with Disabilities to School for All or Part of The School Day
March 14, 2019
Here is some potentially good news for students with disabilities in Ontario.
On Monday, March 11, 2019, the Ford Government made an announcement about measures it plans to take to address the expected influx of children and youth with autism into Ontario schools as a result of provincial cuts to pre-existing autism services that those children previously received. Amidst the details of that announcement by Ontario’s Ministry of Education were these two sentences on the Ministry’s website which got little attention.
“The ministry will also host a series of virtual sessions about exclusions and modified days to engage parents, educators, administrators and others in a dialogue about these complex issues. The details will be communicated at a later date.”
Here is a joint statement by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition:
“This is a small preliminary step in the right direction, for which we can claim a modest interim victory.
As the Globe and Mail exposed in articles earlier this year, students with a range of different disabilities, who have a right to an education in Ontario schools, too often can be directed by their school or principal either that they may not come to school at all or that they can only come to school for part of the school day. On January 30, 2019, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held a joint news conference at Queen’s Park and issued a joint news release. We called on the Ford Government to take action to redress this recurring and systemic unfairness, including two immediate steps:
- To now convene a summit of key stakeholders to get input on legislation and policy changes to fix this problem.
- In the interim, to immediately issue a policy direction to school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school for all or part of a school day.
It is helpful that the Ford Government has now announced that it is prepared to look into the issue of schools refusing to admit a student to school or reducing the length of their school day. This is the Government’s first implicit recognition that there is an issue here that the provincial government should address. It is also helpful that the Government will seek input from families, educators and others on this.
However, this should be done by face-to-face meetings with all stakeholders, not through “virtual” or online input-gathering. The Government must allow for the direct in-person engagement of all stakeholders together, which is necessary to find effective solutions. As part of this,
We repeat our call that the Government now bring together at a summit meeting leaders of key organizations of stakeholders such as parents and families of students with disabilities, students themselves, teachers, principals and school boards. Get us around one table.
As well, we need the Government to rein in the obvious excesses that can and do now occur at Ontario schools. The Government can issue a policy direction to school boards on this in no time.
For example, the Government should now direct all school boards that when a principal refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day, the student and family should be given the reason for this. A time limit for this should be specified.
They should be told about their right to appeal. The Ontario Government should require each school board to record a student’s absence from school for all or part of a school day by a unique attendance code.
At present, it is harmful that the Ontario Government directs school boards to use a more general attendance code which makes it impossible to know how many students or how many school days are affected by these exclusions from school.
None of these new policy directions would cost any money. Who could oppose such obvious and simple measures?
The March 11, 2019 Government announcement was made in the context of ongoing problems with the Ford Government’s treatment of children with autism. This issue pertains to all students with any kind of disabilities, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It is important for this issue to be seen as part of the broader need to tear down the many disability barriers facing students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. It is also important for the tremendous outpouring and advocacy efforts in opposition to the Ford Government’s changes to the Ontario Autism Program to be seen in this broader context. Even though children and youth with autism have gotten a great deal of recent public and media attention, all students with disabilities need to have their learning needs effectively met in Ontario’s education system. It is our shared aim that this recent outpouring can be effectively harnessed to ensure that all students with disabilities can benefit from improved Government action.”
The Globe and Mail today reported on this news. We set out that article below. This is the third time our issues have been in the media this week.
This Globe article bears an inaccurate headline. The headline makes it sound like the Ford Government is only looking into the issue of refusing to admit students to school who have autism. In fact, as the text of the article accurately reports (but not the headline), the announcement relates to students with all kinds of disabilities, and not just those with autism. This headline error was understandable since the Government’s announcement of this consultation is included in a larger Government announcement about students with autism.
The AODA Alliance is conducting a survey of all Ontario school boards to learn about their policies and practices regarding refusals to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day. So far, a clear majority of school boards have not answered our survey, even though it was sent to them some six weeks ago.
As we set out in the January 24, AODA Alliance Update, last year, the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board made a detailed recommendation on what the policy should be regarding the power to exclude a student from school for all or part of the school day.
The Globe and Mail March 14, 2019
Ontario to look into school exclusions of children with autism
CAROLINE ALPHONSO EDUCATION REPORTER
The Ontario government will examine the issue of students with complex needs being excluded from school after demands from disability advocates that the practice be halted.
The government said earlier this week, as part of an announcement on supports for schools related to the province’s autism program, that it would hold “virtual sessions” on exclusions and modified days with parents, educators and others.
The details will be shared at a later date, Kayla Iafelice, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said on Wednesday.
The issue of indefinite exclusions from school has been top-of-mind for many parents as Doug Ford’s government implements changes to the province’s autism program. Families who currently receive full funding for intensive therapy will receive only a fraction of it after April 1, when funding will be distributed based on a child’s age and household income.
School districts have said they are expecting a number of children with complex needs who were on modified schedules to attend full-time if their parents cannot make up for the lost funding.
The Ministry of Education said in its release on Monday that it would also survey school boards regularly “to assess the impact of increased school enrolment and attendance by children and youth with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] as they transition into the school system.”
Earlier this year, a Globe and Mail analysis found that families with children in many parts of the country who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up children early, start their school day later or keep them home for an indefinite period because of behavioural issues.
Aside from school districts in North Vancouver and Greater Victoria that passed motions in the fall to record how many children with special needs are being asked to stay home, most school boards do not formally track these exclusions.
But parent and advocacy groups surveys have documented a rise in frequency.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the government’s plan to have virtual discussions is a “small preliminary step in the right direction, for which we can claim a modest interim victory.”
Mr. Lepofsky’s group and the Ontario Autism Coalition, which advocates for families, have been calling on the government to hold public discussions on possible legislation and policy changes surrounding exclusions of special-needs students with behavioural issues. The groups have also asked the government to issue a policy directive to school boards in the interim that would require principals to tell families why a child is being excluded and specify a time limit.
The Globe’s story in January highlighted the plight of Grayson Kahn, a seven-year-old with autism and behavioural issues who was expelled from his school in Guelph, Ont. The expulsion followed an incident in which Grayson struck an educational assistant, leaving her with bruises, scrapes and a concussion. Expulsions such as Grayson’s are rare – they involve a principal’s report and a hearing by a school board committee. Disability advocates say exclusions are far more common and are typically informal; parents will be given oral notice of a decision made at a principal’s discretion.
Mr. Lepofsky said it is “helpful that the Ford government has now announced that it is prepared to look into the issue” of exclusions.
He added: “This is the government’s first implicit recognition that there is an issue here that the provincial government should address. It is also helpful that the government will seek input from families, educators and others on this.”