Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
AODA Alliance Finalizes and Makes Public Its Proposed Framework for the Promised Education Accessibility Standard
October 10, 2019
It’s done, and it’s public! Below we set out our finished product, the AODA Alliance’s Proposed Framework for the Promised AODA Education Accessibility Standard. We are now submitting it to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee of which AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member.
We are encouraging that Standards Development Committee to use this Framework to help with its work, as it prepares recommendations to the Ontario Government on what the Education Accessibility Standard should include. In the next few months, that Standards Development Committee will make public the draft recommendations that it is now preparing. That Committee is finally back at work after the Ford Government left it frozen for well over a year. The AODA Alliance led the campaign to get that committee and all Standards Development Committees unfrozen and back to work.
We and the public will be able to give our input on them. We hope that by offering this proposed Framework now, we can help the Standards Development Committee with its important work.
We thank all of those who took the time to give us their helpful and thoughtful feedback and suggestions after they took the time to read our draft of this proposed Framework. This finished product includes all the ideas that were in the draft. A number of great new ideas were added, thanks to the excellent and extremely helpful feedback that we received.
We were so gratified to receive such warm and supportive feedback for the draft that we circulated for public comment. This finished product reflects feedback we have received and research we have conducted over quite a stretch of time.
We always welcome your feedback. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, as we make this important proposed Framework, we are sadly reminded that there have now been 253 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the independent review of the AODA’s implementation prepared by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. We are still awaiting a plan from the Government on how it will implement that report.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Proposed Framework for the K-12 Education Accessibility Standard
October 10, 2019
Prepared by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
Introduction — What is This Proposed Framework?
In Ontario, over a third of a million students with disabilities face too many barriers at all levels of Ontario’s education system. For years, the AODA Alliance led a campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In 2018, two committees were appointed by the Ontario Government to make recommendations on what the Education Accessibility Standard should include: The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee is responsible for making recommendations on what that accessibility standard should include to address barriers in Ontario’s publicly-funded schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12. The Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee was appointed to make recommendations for what that accessibility standard should include to address barriers in Ontario’s post-secondary education institutions, e.g. colleges and universities.
Under the AODA, an accessibility standard is supposed to spell out the barriers that are to be removed or prevented, what must be done to remove or prevent them, and the time lines required for these actions.
In this Framework, the AODA Alliance outlines the key ingredients and aims for the promised Education Accessibility Standard. Where we state that “A school board should…” or similar wording, we mean by this that the Education Accessibility Standard should include a provision that requires the school board to take the step that we describe.
We hope that this Framework will assist the two Standards Development Committees. It predominantly focuses on the K-12 school context. However, its contents are readily transferrable to the post-secondary education context.
It is essential that the promised Education Accessibility Standard include the key ingredients that the AODA requires. It must identify the barriers to be removed and the actions required to remove them. It must set out deadlines for an obligated organization to take the steps set out in it.
To do this, it must do much more than to require organizations to have a policy on accessibility and to train its employees on that policy.
Ultimately, it is hoped that the promised Education Accessibility Standard will achieve a change in the culture regarding accessibility within education organizations, including a shift from a more traditional special education mentality to one of inclusion and accessibility. To achieve such a change within an organization, it is first necessary to change its practices on accessibility. From those changes in the organization’s actions on accessibility will flow a change in its culture regarding accessibility. Therefore, the Education Accessibility Standard should be directed to change actions on accessibility.
The job of a Standards Development Committee is to recommend the contents of an AODA accessibility standard. If a Standards Development Committee chooses to also recommend some non-regulatory measures, that is beyond the Committee’s core mandate and should not detract from fulfilling that core mandate. For example, the 2018 final recommendations of the Transportation Standards Development Committee largely focused on recommendations of other measures, outside the revision of the 2011 Transportation Accessibility Standard that that Committee was assigned to review. Recommended practices that are not enshrined in an accessibility standard as a regulation, are not binding on school boards and cannot be enforced as an AODA standard.
1. What Should the Long-Term Objectives of the Education Accessibility Standard Be?
#1 The purpose of the Education Accessibility Standard should be to ensure that Ontario’s education system becomes fully accessible to all students with all kinds of disabilities by 2025, the AODA’s deadline, by requiring the removal and prevention of the accessibility barriers that impede students with disabilities. It should aim to ensure that students with disabilities can fully participate in, fully benefit from and be fully included in all aspects of Ontario’s education system on a footing of equality in the least restrictive environment consistent with a student’s and their parents’ wishes. It should provide a prompt, accessible, fair, effective and user-friendly process to learn about and seek individual placements, programs, services, supports and accommodations tailored to the individual needs of each student with disabilities. It should aim to eliminate the need for students with disabilities and their families to have to fight against education accessibility barriers, one at a time, and the need for educational organizations to have to re-invent the accessibility wheel one school board, college, university or educational program at a time.
2. A Vision of An Accessible Education System
The Education Accessibility Standard should begin by setting out a vision of what an accessible education system should include. An accessible education system at the K-12 level should include the following:
#2.1 It would be designed and operated from top to bottom for all of its students, including students with all kinds of disabilities, as protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code and/or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It would not in any way restrict its programs, services, supports, accommodations or other opportunities only to those students whose disability falls within the outdated and narrow definition of “exceptionality” in Ontario’s Education Act and regulations. Students with low-incidence disabilities would not be relegated to a second-class status within the administration of Ontario’s education system as compared to those with high-incidence disabilities.
#2.2 The education system would no longer be designed and operated from the starting point of aiming to serve the fictional “average” student. It would not treat or label students with disabilities as “exceptions” or “exceptional”. It would not call their needs “special” or their disabilities “exceptionalities.” Their services, supports and needs would not be conflated with or funded from the same budget pot as the services and needs of gifted students who have no disability.
#2.3 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 people 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.
#2.4 Courses taught to students, including the curriculum and lesson plans, as well as informal learning activities, would fully incorporate principles of Universal Design in Learning (UDL), and where needed, differential instruction, so that they are inclusive for students with disabilities.
#2.5 Instructional materials used in Ontario’s education system would be available in formats that are fully accessible to students with disabilities who need to use them and would be available in accessible formats when needed.
#2.6 All digital technology used in Ontario’s education system, such as hardware, software and online learning, used in class or from home, would be fully accessible and would fully embody the principle of universal design. Education staff working with students with disabilities would be properly trained to use the accessibility features of that hardware, software and online learning technology, and to effectively assist students with disabilities to use them.
#2.7 Inclusion and Universal Design in Learning would extend beyond formal classroom learning to other activities connected with education or the school more generally, such as the playground at recess, social and recreational activities, field trips, extra-curricular activities, and experiential learning opportunities.
#2.8 Students with disabilities would have prompt access to the up-to-date adaptive technology and specialized supports they need, and training on how to use it, to best enable them to fully take part in and benefit from education and other school-related programming. Students with disabilities would be able to bring to school and take home the accessibility technology and supports from which they benefit. For example, they would have the right to bring a qualified service animal to school with them.
#2.9 Teachers and other educational staff would be fully trained to serve all students, and not just students who have no disabilities. They would be fully trained in such things as Universal Design in Learning and differential instruction. “Special Education” teachers and departments would not serve as a silo for those who would teach students with disabilities.
#2.10 Options for placement and programming at school would be sufficiently diverse and flexible to accommodate a wide spectrum of learning needs and styles, rather than tending to be one-size-fits-all for students with specified kinds of disabilities.
#2.11 Tests and other forms of evaluation in school education would be designed based on principles of universal design and Universal Design in Learning, so that they will be barrier-free for students with disabilities and will provide a fair and accurate assessment of their progress.
#2.12 Classroom teachers and other front-line teaching staff would be provided sufficient staff support, and, where needed, additional specialized training, to enable them to effectively serve students with disabilities in their classes.
#2.13 Students with disabilities would be assured the opportunity to receive an equal education in the least restrictive environment, consistent with the student’s/parents’ wishes.
#2.14 Students with disabilities would encounter a welcoming environment at school and in class to facilitate their full participation, and a welcoming environment in which they can seek and receive accommodations for their disabilities. Students without disabilities, teaching staff and other school staff, as well as other parents in the school context, would be welcoming and inclusive towards students with disabilities. To achieve this, among other things, all students will receive positive curriculum content on the importance of inclusion and accessibility for students with disabilities. Bullying, teasing, stereotyping, patronization and the soft bigotry of low expectations will be eliminated from the school environment.
#2.15 Admission criteria, admission tests or other admission screening to get into any specialized education programming would be barrier-free for students with disabilities.
#2.16 Students with disabilities and their parents/guardians would have prompt, effective and easy access to user-friendly information in multiple languages about the educational options, programs, services, supports and accommodations available for them and their disability, and about the process for them to seek these. Students with disabilities and their parents would be given a timely opportunity to observe options for placement, programming and other educational services and supports, when considering which would be most suitable for that student, and before they need to make any decisions about this.
#2.17 Students with disabilities and their families would be kept regularly informed about the effectiveness of the placement, program, services, supports and accommodations that the student is receiving.
#2.18 The school board’s process for deciding on the placement, programming, services, supports and accommodations for students with disabilities would be fair, open, transparent and collaborative, in which the student and their family can fully participate. For example, before an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is written, the student and parents/guardians would be able and invited to take part in an Individual Education Plan meeting with school officials, at which the Individual Education Plan would be jointly written. At each stage of the process, the student and parents would be given clear user-friendly “rights advice” on how the process works, and on their rights in the process.
#2.19 Once a student has an established Individual Education Plan at one school, that plan would be portable, and would carry forward should that student move to another school at the same or a different school board.
#2.20 A decision about a student’s placement would not be made until assessments and decisions are reached about the needs and most appropriate program, services, supports and accommodations for that student with disabilities.
#2.21 Where a student with a disability or their family believes that the school or school board is not effectively meeting the student’s disability-related needs, (e.g. by not including a desired item in the Individual Education Plan), or if the student or family believes that the school board is not providing an educational program, service, support or accommodation which it had agreed to provide, the student and family would have access to a prompt, fair, open and arms-length review process, including an offer of a voluntary Alternative Resolution Process if needed. It would be conducted by someone with expertise in the education of students with disabilities who was not involved in the original decision or activity, and who does not oversee the work of those involved in the student’s direct education.
#2.22 The mandatory minimum qualifications and required training for specialized support educators (such as teachers of the visually impaired) would be modernized and upgraded where needed to ensure that they are qualified to meet the specialized needs of their students and of the other teachers whom they support.
#2.23 There would be no bureaucratic, procedural or policy barriers that would impede the effective placement and accommodation of individual students with disabilities at all levels of Ontario’s education system.
#2.24 Students with disabilities would have a right to attend school for the entire school day, and the right to not be excluded from school by their school or school board for all or part of a school day, directly or indirectly because of their disability. Schools would not systemically or disproportionately exclude students with disabilities from school for either all or part of the school day (e.g. because a special needs assistant is away from school).
#2.25 Major new Government strategies in Ontario’s education system would be proactively designed from the start to fully include the needs of students with disabilities. For example, if the Ontario Government were to announce a new math strategy for Ontario’s schools, it would, among other things, include an effective strategy to address disability barriers that students with disabilities face in math education.
#2.26 Those responsible at the provincial and local school board levels for leading, overseeing and operating Ontario’s education system would have strong and specific requirements to address disability accessibility and inclusion in their mandates and would be accountable for their work on this. This responsibility will not be relegated to and segregated in special education bureaucratic silos.
#2.27 The education system would provide disability-related funding to a school board based on the actual number of students with disabilities at that board, and not on a provincial formula that merely tries to estimate how many should be at that school board.
3. General Provisions that the Education Accessibility Standard Should Include
#3.1 This proposed accessibility standard should cover and apply to all education programs and opportunities for students at any school board that receives public funding in Ontario.
#3.2 Where this accessibility standard refers to “students with disabilities “, this should include any student who has any kind of disability, including, for example, any kind of physical, mental, sensory, learning, intellectual, mental health, communication, neurological, neurobehavioural or other kind of disability within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . It should not be limited to the much more restricted definition of an “exceptional pupil” or a student with an “exceptionality” in the Education Act and regulations and policy related to them, or who is therefore treated under Ontario’s Education Act, regulations, or policy as a “student with special education needs”.
#3.3 Each school board should be required to establish a permanent committee of its trustees to be called the “Accessibility Committee”. Other members should include the school board’s chair or vice chair. The chair and vice chair of the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee should sit as ex officio members of this committee, whether or not they are trustees of the school board. The school board’s Accessibility Committee should have responsibility for overseeing the school board’s compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and with the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in so far as they guarantee the right of students with disabilities to fully participate in and fully benefit from the education programs and opportunities that the school board provides.
#3.4 Each school board should be required to establish in each school or related cluster of adjacent schools, a School Accessibility Committee. It should include representatives from the school’s teachers, management, staff, students and parents/guardians, including representation where possible of people with disabilities from these groups. Its mandate should be to identify barriers in the school and its programs and to make recommendations for accessibility improvements to be shared with the school board administration and with the trustees’ Accessibility Committee.
#3.5 Each school board should be required to establish or designate the position of Chief Accessibility/Inclusion Officer, reporting to the Director of Education, with a mandate and responsibility to ensure proper leadership on the school board’s accessibility and inclusion obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, including the requirements set by this accessibility standard. This responsibility may be assigned to an existing senior management official.
#3.6 Each school board should 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.
#3.7 Beyond the specific measures on removing and preventing barriers set out in this accessibility standard and in other AODA accessibility standards, each school board should be required to systematically review its educational programming, services, facilities and equipment to identify recurring accessibility barriers within that school board that can impede the effective participation and inclusion of students with disabilities. A comprehensive plan for removing and preventing these accessibility barriers should be developed, implemented and made public with clear time lines, clear assignment of responsibilities for action, monitoring for progress, and reporting to the school board’s trustees , the school board’s accessibility committee, and to the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee. It should include actions on barriers identified by the local School Accessibility Committees established under this standard. This plan should aim at all accessibility barriers that can impede students with disabilities from full inclusion in the education and other programs and activities at that school board, whether or not they are specifically identified in the Education Accessibility Standard or in any other specific accessibility standards enacted under the AODA.
#3.8 Each school board should be required to develop, implement and monitor a comprehensive new Inclusion Strategy for students with disabilities, whether or not their disability is identified as an “exceptionality” under Ontario’s special education laws. Under this strategy, where a school board proposes to refuse to provide a placement for a student with a disability in a regular class setting with needed accommodations, supports or services, over the objections of the student or of their family, on the grounds that the school board believes that it cannot serve that student in a regular classroom setting, the principal should be required to give written notice of this to the family, with reasons, and to tell the family that it has the right to promptly receive the principal’s reasons in writing. But this should not be reason to stop or withdraw any services or support from the student until a meeting has been held to discuss this issue.
#3.9 Each school board should have an explicit duty to create a welcoming environment for students with disabilities and their families, including other family members with disabilities, to seek accommodations for their disabilities.
4. The Right of Parents, Guardians and Students with Disabilities to Know About Disability-Related Programs, Services, and Supports, and How to Access Them
Barrier: Parents, including parents with disabilities, too often find it difficult to get easily accessed and accessible information from their school board and from the Ontario Government on education options, services and supports available for students with disabilities and how to access them.
#4.1 Each school board should provide parents 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). Each school board should ensure that parents, guardians, and where practicable, students are informed, as early as possible, in a readily-accessible and understandable way, about important information such as:
- a) What “special education” is and who is entitled to receive it.
- b) That the school board has a duty to ensure that a student with a disability has the right 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.
- c) The menu of options, placements, programs, services, supports and accommodations available at the school board for students with disabilities, whether or not they are classified as students with special education needs under the Education Act and regulations.
- d) What persons and what office to approach at the school board to get this information, to request placements, programs, supports, services or accommodations for students with disabilities, whether or not they are classified as students with special education needs, or to raise concerns about whether the school board is effectively meeting the student’s education needs.
- e) The processes and procedures at the school board for a parent, guardian or student to request or change placements, programs, services, supports or accommodations for students with disabilities, whether or not they are classified as students with special education needs. This includes formal legislated processes like the Identification and Placement Review Committee (IPRC) and the development and implementation of the students Individual Education Plan (IEP). It also includes other informal processes like requests for programs, services, supports and accommodations that are not covered in an IPRC or IEP.
#4.2 Without restricting the important information that must be made readily available, each school board should ensure, among other things, that:
- a) 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, whether or not they are classified as a student with special education needs, before the parent, guardian or, where practicable, the student must take a position on what placement, program or services should be provided to that student.
- b) Parents and guardians of students with disabilities, and, where practicable, students with disabilities themselves, should be given clear, understandable explanations of their rights in the school system, including but not limited to the special education process. For example, when a school board presents parents or guardians with a proposed IEP, the school board should explain to them that they need not agree to and sign the proposed IEP, that the school board is open to consider the family’s suggestions for changes to the proposed IEP, and the avenues by which parents or guardians can seek to get the school board to make changes to the proposed IEP.
#4.3 Each school board should develop, implement and make public an action plan to substantially improve its provision of the important information, described above, to all parents and guardians of that school board’s students, and to all students where practicable, and especially to parents and guardians of students with disabilities:
- a) This plan’s objective should be to ensure that all parents, guardians and where practicable, students, get the information they need to ensure that students of all abilities can fully participate in and benefit from the educational and other opportunities available at the school board.
- b) A school board should not simply leave it to each principal or teacher to make sure that this important information is effectively provided. Each school board should instead have an effective system in place to ensure that this information actually reaches all parents and guardians, and where applicable, students.
- c) Each school board should ensure that all of this important information is fully and readily accessible in a prompt and timely way to all parents, guardians and students, in accessible formats and in jargon-free plain language, in a diverse range of languages. It should be easy to find this information. Among other things, this information should be posted on the school board’s website, in a prominent place that is easy to find, with a link on the school board’s home page. A school board should not simply rely on its website to share this information since this will not serve those families that do not have internet access.
- d) Among other things, each school board should send home an information package to all families at the start of each school year, and not merely to families of those students who are already being identified or served as having special education needs or disabilities. This package should include, among other things, a Question and Answer format to help families see how this information could relate to the student in their family.
- e) Each school board should also create a user-friendly package of information to be provided to families who first approach a school board about the possibility of enrolling a child at that school board, e.g. when they register for kindergarten. This should help enable a family to know whether they should be trying to access disability-related services and supports.
- f) Each school board should periodically host events at local schools to help families learn how to navigate disability-related school board processes like the Individual Education Plan and the Identification and Placement Review Committee processes. Where possible these should be streamed online and archived online as a resource for families to watch online.
5. Ensuring that Parents, Guardians and Students Have a Fair and Effective Process for Raising Concerns About a School Board’s Accommodation of the Education Needs of Students with Disabilities
Barrier: Lack of sufficient, easily-accessed and fair processes at each school board to enable students with disabilities and families to have effective input into the placement and accommodation of the student, and for raising disability-related concerns.
The procedures required by the Education Act and regulations for identifying and accommodating the needs of students with disabilities are out-of-date. They are insufficient to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are effectively met.
#5.1 Each school board should establish and maintain an effective process for parents and guardians of students with disabilities, and where applicable, the student 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 (IEP).
#5.2 As part of this process, parents and guardians of students with disabilities, and where practicable, the student, should be invited to take part in a joint school team student accommodation/IEP development meeting, where accommodation plans will be made and where the IEP will be written. The school board should bring to the table all key professionals who can contribute to this. The family should be invited to bring to the table any supports and professionals that can assist the family. Parents should have the right to bring with them anyone who can assist them in advocating for their child. 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. Any proposal for accommodations including a draft IEP should include a summary of key points to assist families in understanding them.
#5.3 If a school board refuses to provide an accommodation, service, or support for a child’s disability that a parent, guardian, or where appropriate, the student requests, or if the school board does not provide an accommodation or support that it has agreed to provide, the school board should, on request, promptly provide written reasons for that refusal. It should let the family and student know that they can request written reasons.
#5.4 If parents and guardians of students with disabilities, and where applicable, the student, disagree with any aspect of the proposed supports, services or accommodations including (but not limited to) the proposed IEP, or if the student or their family believe that the school board has not provided a service, accommodation or support that the school board has agreed to provide, the school board should make available a respectful, non-adversarial internal review process for hearing and deciding on the family’s concerns. The K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should set out the specifics of this review process. This school board review process should include the following:
- a) It should be very prompt. Arrangements for a student’s accommodations, including an IEP, should be finalized as quickly as possible, so that the student’s needs are promptly met.
- b) No proposed services, supports or accommodations that the school board is prepared to offer should be withheld from a student pending a review. The family should not feel pressured not to seek this review, lest the child be placed in a position of educational disadvantage during the review process. In other words, a family should not fear that if they launch a review, the student will suffer because the school board will not provide an accommodation or service that the school board has offered, while the review is pending.
- c) The review process should be fair. The school board should let the family know all of its issues or concerns with a family’s proposal regarding the student’s accommodations, including the contents of the IEP. The family should be given a fair chance to express its concerns and recommendations regarding the student’s accommodations’, including in the IEP.
- d) The review should be by a person or persons who are independent and impartial. They should have expertise in the education of students with disabilities. They should not have taken part in any of the earlier discussions or decisions at that school board regarding the services, supports or accommodations or IEP for that child.
- e) At the review, every effort should be made to mediate and resolve any disagreements between the family and the school board. If the matter cannot be resolved by agreement, there should be an option for the school board or the Ministry of Education to appoint a person or persons who are outside the school board to consider the review, along prompt time lines.
- f) At the review, written reasons should be given for the decision, especially if any of the family’s requests or concerns are not accepted.
- g) If, after receiving the review’s decision and reasons, the family wishes to present any new information, they should be able to ask for the review to be reconsidered. This should be along short time lines.
- H) After the review is decided, if the family is not satisfied, they should be able to bring their concerns regarding the proposed accommodations including any IEP to a designated senior official at the school board with authority to approve the requested accommodations, for a further review.
#5.5 Each school board should 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.
#5.6 Where a student with a disability is being accommodated in a school covered by this accessibility standard, and the student transfers to another school in that school board or to another school board, that student should have a right to have the same accommodations maintained at the new school or school board. If the school board of the school to which the student transfers proposes to reduce those accommodations or supports, they should be maintained until and unless, through the procedures set out in this accessibility standard, the school board has justified a reduction of those accommodations.
6. Expediting the Early Identification and Assessment of Students with Disabilities’ Needs
Barrier: Students with disabilities can face delays and bureaucratic impediments to early and timely professional assessment, where needed, of their disability-related needs.
#6.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should require measures to tear down administrative, bureaucratic and other barriers to reduce delays for getting psychological and other educational assessments for the identification of disability related needs.
7. Ensuring a Fully Accessible Built Environment at Schools
Barrier: Too often, the built environment where education programming is offered have physical barriers that partially or totally impede some students with disabilities from being able to enter or independently move around.
The Ontario Building Code and existing accessibility standards do not set out modern and sufficient accessibility requirements for the built environment in Ontario. Moreover, the Ontario Building Code is largely if not entirely designed to address the needs of adults, not children. The Ontario Government has no accessibility standard for the built environment in schools, whether old or new schools. The Ontario Government has not agreed to develop a Built Environment Accessibility Standard or to substantially strengthen the accessibility provisions in the Ontario Building Code.
It is thus left to each school board to come up with its own designs to address accessibility in the built environment in schools and other school board locations. This is highly inefficient and wasteful. It allows public money to be used to create new barriers against people with disabilities and to perpetuate existing barriers.
#7.1 The K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should set out specific requirements for accessibility in the built environment in schools and other locations where education programs are to be offered. These should meet the accessibility requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights. They should meet the needs of all disabilities, and not only mobility disabilities. These should include:
- a) Specific requirements to be included in a new school to be built.
- b) Requirements to be included in a renovation of or addition to an existing school, and
- c) Retrofit requirements for an existing school that is not slated for a major renovation or addition.
#7.2 Each school board should develop a plan for ensuring that the built environment of its schools and other educational facilities becomes fully accessible to people with disabilities as soon as reasonably possible, and in any event, no later than 2025. As part of this:
- 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. Accessibility does not only include the needs of people with mobility disabilities. It includes the needs of people with all disabilities, for example people with vision and/or hearing loss, autism, or mental health disabilities.
- 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 accessible, taking into account the need to also consider geographic equity of access across the school board.
- 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.
#7.3 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 a 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 (RFP) 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 AODA. 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.
#7.4 When a school board is planning a new school, or expanding or renovating an existing school or other infrastructure, a qualified accessibility consultant should be retained by the school board (and not 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 course is substantially inadequate and has significant problems.
#7.5 A committee of the school board’s trustees and the school board’s Special Education Advisory 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 schools School Accessibility Committee should also be involved in this review.
#7.6 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.
#7.7 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.
#7.8 Each school board should only hold off-site educational events at venues whose built environment is accessible.
8. Ensuring Digital Accessibility at School
Barrier: School boards using classroom technology, such as hardware, software, online learning systems and internal or external websites that lack digital accessibility; school board policies that can be obstacles to using adaptive technology designed for people with disabilities; Insufficient staff training and familiarity with the use of accessibility features of mainstream technology, and with disability-specific adaptive technology.
#8.1 Each school board should ensure that:
Educational equipment and technology, including hardware, software, and tablet/mobile apps deployed in educational settings should be designed based on universal design principles, to ensure that students with disabilities can use them.
- a) A school board’s Learning Management Systems (LMS) should be accessible to staff and students with disabilities, including those who use adaptive technology. They should have all accessibility features 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. Each school board should ensure that no teacher is able to turn off any feature of the LMS that is accessible in favour of one that is not.
- b) Each school board’s internal and external websites and intranet content, including internet content available to students for learning purposes, including all online learning programs, should be fully accessible, with all new information posted on them to be fully accessible.
- c) 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. PDF format should be avoided. If a PDF document is created, an alternate version of the content should be simultaneously provided and posted in an accessible Microsoft Word or HTML format.
- d) 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.
- e) Textbooks and learning software should be procured only if they include full information technology accessibility. Any textbook used in any learning environment must be accessible to teachers and students with disabilities at the time of procurement. Here again, PDF should not be used unless an accessible alternative format such as MS Word is also simultaneously available. 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.
#8.2 The Ministry of Education and each school board should establish, implement, publicize and enforce information technology procurement accessibility requirements, to ensure that no technology is purchased either by a school board, or by the Ministry for use by school boards, unless it ensures full digital accessibility. Digital and information technology accessibility should be included in all Requests for Proposal (RFP) or other tenders for sale of products and services to a school board or the Ministry.
9. Ensuring Universal Design in Learning Is Used in All Teaching Activities, Both Online and in Classroom Learning
Barrier: Too often, the curricula and lesson plans used in Ontario schools were not designed based on principles of accessibility and Universal Design in Learning.
#9.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should require that the Ministry of Education and each school board, when setting requirements for or designing school curriculum, shall ensure that it incorporates universal design in learning to make it accessible to students with disabilities.
Barrier: Too often, teachers and other school staff who work with students are not sufficiently trained on how to teach all students, including students with disabilities. Teacher’s colleges and other programs that are publicly funded to train professionals who will work with students in Ontario schools are therefore creating new generations of barriers that will impede students with disabilities.
The solution requires both reforms to the required training of future new teachers while they are in teachers’ college, and measures to expand the training of those who are already graduates of teachers’ college and who are already working as teachers. This also applies to other school staff with teaching-related roles, such as principals and education assistants.
#9.2 The Ontario Government should require that to be qualified to teach or serve as a principal in an Ontario-funded school, a teacher or principal must have specified training in the education of students with disabilities, covering the spectrum of different learning needs and learning styles. Any teacher’s college or like program that receives any provincial funding should require, as part of its degree programming, specified course contents on the education of students with disabilities for all teachers, and not only for special education teachers. Time lines for implementing this should be specified for the transition to this new approach. Each school board should be required to train school board staff, including teachers and other staff who work with students, on ensuring digital/information technology accessibility in the classroom, on the use of access technology (where needed) and on steps how to create accessible documents and web content.
#9.3 Each school board should ensure that all teachers and teaching staff understand, and effectively and consistently use, principles of Universal Design in Learning (UDL), and differentiated instruction, when preparing and implementing lesson plans and other educational programming, to effectively address the spectrum of different learning needs and styles. For example:
- a) This plan’s objective should be to ensure that all parents, guardians and where practicable, students, get the information they need to ensure that students of all abilities can fully participate in and benefit from the educational opportunities available at the school board.
- b) Each school board should develop, implement and monitor a comprehensive plan to train its teachers, other teaching staff, teaching coaches and principals on using UDL and differentiated instruction principles when preparing lesson plans and teaching, in order to effectively meet the spectrum of different learning needs and styles. The Ontario Government should be required to provide a model program for this training which each school board can use.
- c) Each school board should include knowledge of UDL and differentiated instruction principles as an important criterion when recruiting or promoting teachers, other teaching staff and principals.
- d) Each school board should ensure that teachers are provided with appropriate resources and support to successfully implement the UDL training. Each school board should monitor how effectively UDL and differentiated instruction are incorporated into lesson plans and other teaching activities on the front lines.
- e) Each school board should review any curriculum, textbooks and other instructional materials and learning resources used in its schools to ensure that they incorporate principles of UDL.
- f) Each school board should create and implement a plan to ensure that teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineer and math (STEM) have resources and expertise to ensure the accessibility of STEM courses and learning resources.
- g) Each school board should provide teaching coaches with expertise in UDL to support teachers and other teaching staff.
- h) Similarly, specialized training should be included for those who teach sex education to ensure that it includes disability-related sex education.
- i) The Ministry of Education should create templates or models for the foregoing training so that each school board does not have to reinvent the wheel in this context.
#9.4 Concentrated requirements to require the removal and prevention of workplace barriers at school boards impeding teachers and other school staff with disabilities would have the side-benefit of removing and preventing barriers that impede students with disabilities, such as specific measures to ensure that accessible student placements are provided in Ontario schools for teachers and other teaching staff with disabilities during their training in teacher’s college and other post-secondary programs.
10. Ensuring Sufficient Training and Expertise for Education Professionals Who Support Students with Disabilities
Barrier: Lack of sufficient training requirements for some education professionals who specialize in supporting the education needs of students with disabilities.
Ontario does not currently ensure that all professionals who are employed to support the education of students with disabilities will have sufficient qualifications to do so. For example, Ontario’s leading organization of parents of children with vision loss, Views for the Visually Impaired, has pointed out to the Ontario Government and the Ontario College of Teachers that the requirements to qualify to serve as a “teacher of the visually impaired” (TVI) in Ontario are substantially inadequate. They are much lower than in some other places in Canada and elsewhere. A teacher employed to teach braille to a blind child in Ontario need have no prior hands-on experience ever training a blind child to read braille. They need not ever previously even have observed another TVI teaching braille to a blind child.
#10.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should require sufficient training for professionals who support the education of students with disabilities.
11. Removing Attitudinal Barriers Against Students with Disabilities
Barrier: Stereotypes, lack of knowledge and other attitudes among some teachers, principals, other school staff, other students and some families, that do not recognize the right and benefits of students with disabilities to get a full and equal education.
#11.1 To eliminate attitudinal barriers among students, school board employees and some families of students, each school board should:
- a) Develop and implement a multi-year program/curriculum for teaching students, school board staff and families of school board students, about inclusion and full participation of students with disabilities, tailored to age levels. Because online courses are inadequate for this, where possible, this should include hearing from, meeting and interacting with people with disabilities e.g. at assemblies and/or via guest presentations.
- b) Post in all schools and send information to all families of the school board’s students, on the school board’s commitment to inclusion of students with disabilities, and the benefits this brings to all students.
- c) Provide specific training to all school board staff that deal with parents or students, on the importance of inclusion.
- d) Implement human resources policies and practices to expand school board staff knowledge and skills regarding inclusion.
#11.2 Each school board should develop and implement human resources policies targeted at full accessibility and inclusion, such as:
- a) Making knowledge and experience on implementing inclusion an important hiring and promotions criterion especially for principals, vice-principals and teaching staff.
- b) Emphasizing accessibility and inclusion knowledge and performance in any performance management and performance reviews.
12. Ensuring Accessibility of Instructional Materials that Students with Disabilities Use
Barrier: Instructional materials, such as textbooks and other instructional materials and teaching resources that are not provided at the same time in an accessible format for students with disabilities.
Section 15 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, enacted in June 2011, and in force for school boards since 2013 or 2015 (depending on their size) requires education organizations to provide instructional materials on request in an accessible format, and to make this part of their procurement of such resources. However, this provision has not been effective and sufficient to effectively ensure that students with disabilities face no barriers in this context. Therefore, stronger measures are needed.
#12.1 To ensure that instructional materials are fully accessible on a timely basis to students with disabilities such as vision loss and those with learning disabilities that affect reading, each school board should:
- a) Survey students with disabilities who need accessible instructional materials, and their teachers and families, to get their front-line experiences on whether they get timely access to accessible instructional materials, and to get specifics on where this has been most lacking.
- b) 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, either alone or in combination with other school boards.
- c) Review its procurement practices to ensure that any new instructional materials that are acquired is fully accessible or conversion-ready and monitor to ensure that this is always done in practice. A condition of procurement should be a requirement that the supplier or vender must remediate any inaccessible materials at its own expense.
#12.2 The Education Accessibility Standard should require the Ministry of Education to implement, monitor and publicly report on province-wide strategies to ensure the procurement of and use of accessible instructional materials across school boards.
13. Ensuring Accessibility of Gym, Playground and Like Equipment and Activities
Barrier: Schools or school boards that have gym, playground or other equipment that is not designed based on principles of universal design, and that some students with disabilities therefore cannot use, as well as gym, sports and other activities in which students with disabilities can fully participate.
Section 80.18 of the 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.
#13.1 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.
#13.2 Each school board should:
- 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 it online.
- 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 families of students with disabilities.
- c) Ensure that a qualified accessibility expert is engaged to ensure that purchase of new equipment or remediation of existing playground is properly conducted, with their advice being given directly to the school board.
#13.3 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 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 left to community groups which may fund-raise for such equipment or facilities.
Barrier: Gym and other physical activity programming at schools may not be designed or operated in a way that allows students with disabilities to fully participate.
#13.4 Each school board should be required to ensure that its gym and other physical activity teachers and coaches have training and access to support information on how to include students with disabilities in these programs.
#13.5 The Ministry of Education should be required to make available to school boards resources and training material on effectively including students with disabilities in gym and other physical activity programming.
14. Ensuring Student Testing/Assessment is Free of Disability Barriers
Barrier: Tests or other performance assessments of students that are not designed in a way that ensures that students with disabilities are fairly and accurately assessed.
Throughout the education system, students take tests and other assessments of their academic performance, whether in specific courses or via system-wide standardized tests. There have been no mandatory provincial requirements of which we are aware to ensure that the ways students’ performance is tested or assessed are barrier-free for students with disabilities, and to ensure a fair and accurate assessment of their performance.
#14.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should set requirements for proper approaches to ensuring tests provide a fair, accurate and barrier-free assessment of students with disabilities, and on when and how to provide an alternative evaluation method.
#14.2 To ensure that a school board fairly and accurately assesses the performance of students with disabilities, each school board should:
- a) Have a policy that commits to ensure that testing and other assessments of students’ performance and learning are designed to be barrier-free for students with disabilities.
- b) Give its teachers and principals training resources on how to ensure a test is a fair, accurate and barrier-free assessment for students with disabilities in their class, and where needed, how to provide an alternative evaluation method.
- c) Monitor implementation of these guidelines.
#14.3 The Ministry of Education should ensure that any provincial standardized testing is fully accessible to and barrier-free for students with disabilities and will provide a fair and accurate assessment of their knowledge and abilities.
15. Ensuring Students with Disabilities Have the Technology and Other Supports They Need at School
Barrier: Policy and bureaucratic impediments to students with disabilities getting the adaptive technology and other supports they need for school.
There are inconsistent practices around Ontario for making available to students with disabilities the adaptive technology and support services they need, and the training required to be able to effectively use that equipment. For example, the Toronto District School Board does not at all support students with vision loss using Apple products such as the iPhone or iPad. Those products come with leading accessibility features and are widely used by people with vision loss around the world. There are also inconsistent practices on whether a student can take such equipment home for use there or can bring their own adaptive equipment from home for use at school.
#15.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should require that procedural, bureaucratic and other barriers to the acquisition, training and use of needed adaptive equipment and technology at school should be eliminated. It should require the establishment of a prompt, standardized and consistent provincial system for the procurement and deployment of accessible technology that ensures access to the most appropriate and up-to-date technology that is available on the market.
Barrier: Some school boards or schools do not let students with disabilities bring a sufficiently trained service animal to school as an accommodation to their disability, either because the school board or school does not allow for this or lacks a proper policy to allow for this.
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.
#15.2 The Education Accessibility Standard should provide that each school board should ensure that students with disabilities are able to bring a sufficiently trained service animal to school as a disability accommodation. Each school board should respect the student’s rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
#15.3 The Education Accessibility Standard should set specific requirements for school board practices in relation to a student bringing a service animal to school. The recent Ministry of Education policy directive to school boards on this topic did not include the important specifics that are needed. Here again, each school board should not have to reinvent the wheel.
#15.4 The Education Accessibility Standard should ensure that there should be no bureaucratic or policy barriers to students with disabilities bringing a sufficiently trained service animal to school. The fair process procedures described in this Framework should apply to such requests.
#15.5 If the school board does not accept at first the sincerity or legitimacy of the student’s request, or the training of the service animal, the school board should immediately notify the student and their family of any and all concerns. The school board should investigate the request, including the student’s benefits from the service animal outside school and in the home, or any other concerns, as well as the experience of other schools or school boards that have allowed students with disabilities to bring service animals to school, before acting on any potential board reluctance or unwillingness to grant the student’s request. If a school board is not prepared to accept a request to be able to bring a service animal to school at first, the school board should undertake a test period of allowing the service animal at school, unless the school board can demonstrate that it would be impossible to conduct such a test period without causing the school board undue hardship. A school board should not refuse a request to bring a service animal to school based on no test period and based on speculative assumptions or stereotypes.
#15.6 The question when dealing with such requests should not be whether the student is doing adequately at school without the service animal. The question should be whether the student could do better at reaching their potential at school if assisted by their service animal. Similarly, the question is not whether the service animal will assist the student in accessing the curriculum. Rather the relevant question is whether the service animal could assist the student with any aspect of student life in the school environment, such as social interaction, independence and self-regulation. In its May 2, 2019 letter to Ontario’s Education Minister, the Ontario Human Rights Commission stated: “We believe that limiting disability accommodation to only “learning needs” is not a proper interpretation of the Code.”
#15.7 Each school board should ensure that principals, teachers, school office staff and families of students with disabilities know about this policy and that no attitudinal barriers impede this accommodation.
#15.8 The preference of some other students or staff with no disability not to have a service animal in class is not a justification for refusing to allow this accommodation for a student with a disability. Such concerns of other students, or of staff should be addressed by making arrangements that allow the student with a disability to bring their service animal to school, while situating any objecting student or staff with no disability at an acceptable distance from them. Notwithstanding anything in such school board policies, nothing may restrict a person with vision loss, student, staff, and parent or otherwise, from being a qualified guide dog with whom they have trained to school.
16. Removing Barriers to Participation in Experiential Learning
Barrier: Experiential learning programs that do not ensure that accessible experiential and inclusive experiential learning placements are made available to students with disabilities, and insufficient supports to help organizations, providing experiential learning placements, to facilitate the placement of students with disabilities.
#16.1 To ensure that students with disabilities can fully participate in a school board’s experiential learning programs, each school board should:
- a) Review its experiential learning programs to identify and remove any accessibility barriers.
- b) 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.
- c) 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.
- d) 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.
- e) 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.
- f) 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.
#16.2 The Ministry of Education should provide templates for these policies and measures. It should also prepare and make available training videos for school boards and organizations offering experiential learning programs to guide them on accommodating students with disabilities in experiential learning placements.
17. Ensuring French Immersion and Other Specialized Programs Are Barrier-Free for Students with Disabilities
Barrier: A potential combination of different barriers reviewed in this Framework.
#17.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should set a province-wide standard for ensuring that French immersion programs and other specialized programs are accessible to and effectively accommodate students with disabilities. These programs should be offered in accessible locations. Their instructional materials should be available in accessible formats. Their admission criteria should be screened for any disability barriers.
#17.2 Each school board should develop, implement and monitor a strategy to ensure that French Immersion and other specialized programs are open and accessible to and barrier-free for students with disabilities, including:
- a) Identifying what percentage of the students in these programs are students with disabilities, to document any patterns of under-participation.
- b) Reviewing the admission process for gaining entry to these programs, to identify possible accessibility barriers.
- c) Reviewing the choice of the buildings and classrooms where these programs are to be delivered to ensure that students with disabilities will be able to physically attend these programs.
- d) Identifying what efforts the school board now makes to ensure that students with disabilities are included in and accommodated in these programs, and the extent to which UDL and differentiated instruction principles are used in the teaching in these programs.
- e) Developing an action plan to address any accessibility and inclusion shortfalls.
- f) Actively publicizing to students with disabilities and their families about the opportunities to take part in these programs, and the school board’s readiness to ensure that their accommodation needs will be met.
- g) Monitoring the effectiveness of efforts to ensure inclusion and accessibility of these programs for students with disabilities, and report publicly on this, including to school board trustees, to the trustees’ accessibility committee and to the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee, on an annual basis.
18. Substantially Reducing the Shuffling of Students with Special Education Needs From School to School over Their school Years
Barrier: The school board’s choice of in which schools to locate special education classes or programs for students with disabilities can force too many of these students to have to change the school they attend over their years at school much more than do other students, causing disruption and hardships for the students and their families. This can also make it harder for flexible placements that straddle more than one of these programs or classes.
#18.1 Each school board should be required to develop and implement a strategy to substantially reduce the shuffling of students with disabilities from one school to another over their school years. For example:
- a) If a student, attending a school other than their home school, for a special education program or class, is prepared to shift to inclusion in a fulltime regular classroom, then consistent with parental agreement, the student should have the option of remaining at the same school as the special education class, and treating it as their home school.
- b) Where possible, the school board should locate in the same school a combination of two special education classes that involve different levels of support. This would enable a student to gradually progress through different levels of special education classes towards a regular class setting in that school, without having to switch schools in order to switch to a different level of special education class. It would also enable a student, where appropriate, to spend part of a school day in one program and another part of the school day in another program, to best and most flexibly meet the student’s needs.
- c) Where feasible, if a student with a disability is required to attend a different school than his or her home school in order to take part in special education programming, the family should have the option of having that students’ siblings also attend that school, especially where this will help the student with a disability. Whenever possible, siblings, including those with disabilities, should be able to attend the same school.
19. Transportation for Students with Disabilities
Barrier: Barriers to accessibility of the education programming offered at a student’s local school that necessitates the provision of bus transportation to more distant schools, combined with the failure to ensure that students with disabilities are consistently, reliably and safely bussed to and from school.
The provisions on bus transportation for students with disabilities in s. 75 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation 2011 (IASR) have not been sufficient to effectively remove transportation barriers facing students with disabilities. Stronger provisions are required. The 2018 recommendations for revisions to the transportation provisions in the IASR do not address or meet this need.
#19.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should provide 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:
- a) 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.
- b) Where the school board or its bussing contractor changes the driver assigned to transport the student, the replacement driver is given the same information and training prior to driving the student, or, in the case of an emergency replacement, as soon as possible.
- c) The school board and, where applicable, any contractor it hires, shall retain records of the training provided, including when it was provided and shall make this information public.
- d) The school board should have a readily available and reachable official, especially during periods when a student is being transported, to receive and address phone calls, emails and text messages from a family about problems regarding the student’s transportation.
- e) The school board should document all complaints reported on transportation services, and the company to which it applies. A summary of these should be provided to all members of the school board including its Special Education Advisory Committee and its Accessibility Committee on a quarterly basis and shall make this public on the school board’s website.
- f) The Education Accessibility Standard should make it clear that the fact that the school board has contracted for a private company to provide the student transportation does not remove or reduce the school board’s duties under this accessibility standard or otherwise under the AODA, 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 board should be required to monitor the bus company for 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 with a disability, and to document this training. Each school board should periodically audit the bus companies with whom they contract for compliance, and publicly report on the audit’s results. A bus company’s failure to consistently and reliably meet its obligations should trigger substantial monetary penalties and termination of the contract.
Barrier: Some school boards do not ensure that pick-up/drop locations for student bussing are accessible for parents with disabilities.
#19.2 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.
20. Protecting Students with Disabilities from Being Unfairly Denied the Right to Attend School for All or Part of the School Day
Barrier: The arbitrary power of school principals to exclude students from school, outside the disciplinary suspension and expulsion power, that disproportionately impacts on students with disabilities.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has identified as a human rights issue the sweeping and arbitrary power of any school principal to exclude a student from school. Section 265(1) (m) of Ontario’s Education Act provides:
“265. (1) It is the duty of a principal of a school, in addition to the principal’s duties as a teacher…
… (m) 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; …”
This power can be and is misused, especially to keep some students with disabilities away from school. This is made worse by the school board’s power under Ontario regulations to shorten the length of the school day for students with disabilities, even over a parent’s objection. This Framework addresses together the school board’s power to exclude a student from school for an entire day as well as the school board’s power to reduce the length of the school day, whether or not they emanate from the same provisions under Ontario’s Education Act.
#20.1 The Education Accessibility Standard should set specific comprehensive, mandatory requirements on when a school board can exercise any power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of a school day. It should have no loopholes that would let a principal or teacher exclude a student informally without complying with these requirements.
- a) This should include any time a school board formally or informally asks or directs that a student not attend school, or that the student be removed from school, whether in writing or in a discussion
- b) This should include a school board request or direction that a student only attend school for part of the regular school day.
- c) This does not include a situation where a family requests that a student be absent from school for all or part of a school day, but the school board is willing to let the student attend school.
#20.2 The school board should be required to ensure that a student, excluded from attending school, is provided an equivalent and sufficient educational program while away from school. The school board should keep records of and publicly account for its doing so.
#20.3 A refusal to admit should only be imposed when it is demonstrably necessary to protect the health and safety of students at school, and only after all relevant accommodations for the student up to the point of undue hardship have been explored or attempted.
#20.4 A refusal to admit should go no further and last no longer than is necessary. A principal should only resort to a refusal to admit if the principal can demonstrate that the student presents an imminent risk to health or safety which cannot be addressed by lesser measures, such as suspension.
#20.5 If a refusal to admit is to take place, the first resort should be to exclude the student from a specific class, accommodating that student in another class. Only if that can’t be sufficient, should a principal consider excluding the student from that school, accommodating the student at another school. A school board should only refuse to admit a student from any and all schools if it is impossible to accommodate them at any other school at that school board.
#20.6 The Education Accessibility Standard and policy directives from the Ministry of Education should give clear examples of the circumstances when a refusal to admit is permitted, and when it is not permitted.
#20.7 A refusal to admit should not be allowed to last more than five consecutive school days, unless extended by the school board in accordance with this accessibility standard.
#20.8 The burden should be on the school board to justify the refusal to admit. It should not be for the student or the student’s family to justify why the student should be allowed to attend school.
#20.9 When school board staff decide whether to refuse to admit a student, they should take into account all mitigating considerations that are considered when deciding whether to suspend or expel a student.
#20.10 A school board should not refuse to admit a student with a disability on the ground that school board staff believe they cannot accommodate the student’s needs, e.g. because staff is absent.
#20.11 If, when a refusal to admit is to expire, the school board wants to extend it, the school board must justify it. The student’s family need not prove why the student should be allowed to return to school.
#20.12 An extension of a 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.
#20.13 An extension of the refusal to admit should not be permitted if the school board has not put in place an effective alternative option for the student to receive their education while excluded from school.
#20.14 The Education Accessibility Standard should establish a mandatory fair procedure 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:
- 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.
- b) The prior review and 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.
- c) The 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).
- d) The principal should be required to immediately notify the student and his or her family in writing of the refusal to admit, the reasons for it, and the duration. That should include outlining steps that the school board has taken or will be taking to expedite a student’s return to school and provide an expected timeline for the completion of these steps.
- e) The principal should immediately tell the student and the student’s family, in clear and plain language, in writing, what a refusal to admit is, its duration, the reasons for it, the steps the school board is taking to expedite the student’s return to school and time lines for those steps, the school board’s process for reviewing that decision, and the family’s right to appeal it (including how to use that right of appeal). This should be provided in a language that the family speaks. These procedures should again be mandatory any time the school board extends a refusal to admit a student to school.
- f) 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 an executive superintendent of the school board.
- g) No refusal to admit a student to school should be extended for an accumulated total of more than 20 days (within a surrounding 45 day period) without the independent review and written approval of the Director of Education.
#20.15 A fair and prompt appeal process should be provided to the parents/guardian and, where appropriate, the student who was refused admission to school, which includes:
- a) The appeal should be to school board officials who had no involvement with the initial decision to refuse to admit that student to school or any extensions of it.
- b) The school board should promptly inform the student and the student’s family about how to start an appeal, who decides the appeal, the procedures for the appeal, that the student and family can present reports, support people or experts or any other information they wish, and can have a representative, either a lawyer or other person, to speak for them or assist them with the appeal.
- c) The appeal should include an in-person meeting with the student and family.
- d) The appeal should be heard and decided very promptly along time lines that the Education Accessibility Standard should set.
- e) On the appeal, the school board should have the burden to prove that the refusal to admit was justified, that it went no further and lasted no longer than was necessary, and that proper alternative education programming was provided or offered.
- f) A decision on the appeal should promptly be provided in writing with reasons along time lines that the Education Accessibility Standard should set.
#20.16 The Ministry of Education or the school board should set a unique code for marking attendance for a student who is absent from school for all or part of a day due to a refusal to admit.
#20.17 Each principal should be required to immediately report to their superiors in writing whenever a student is excluded from school, including the student’s name, whether the student has a disability, the reason for the exclusion, the intended duration of the exclusion, and the substitute educational programming that will be provided to the student while excluded from school The school board should centrally collect these reports and should make public quarterly aggregated data (without any names or identifying information) on the number of refusals to admit, reasons for them, percentage that involve any kind of disability, the number of days missed from school, and measures to provide alternative education during refusals to admit.
#20.18 To help ensure that refusals to admit are not used due to a failure to accommodate a
student’s disability up to the point of undue hardship, each school board should create an emergency 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.