In a sense, this process follows the Applied Behaviour Analysis principle of shaping behaviour from the sample to the complex. It’s how we learn to swim and read and drive… and it’s a good way to learn advocacy.
That being said, the best way I know to help you understand the labyrinth of the Ontario special education regulatory scheme is to initially refrain from addressing issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorder.
ASD is, in a word, “complicated.” The diagnosis shifts over time and has many facets and related conditions. In short, it has many moving parts.
Also, if you care for and about the child on the spectrum, there is a tendency to miss the forest for the trees. The facts of their child’s life cloud and obscure a clear view of the process.
I first learned the value of explaining special-education regulations in terms of a single trait physical disorder in my work teaching special education to teachers and educational assistants. When I spoke about the needs of the child who was blind or mobility challenged they got it. Such disabilities are immediately obvious to the senses and engage our “common sense”. By initially substituting a single physical limitation for ASD we replace big numbers with small numbers so that our common sense can perceive what should be. It allows you to say things like “Tom Cruise is in grade 9 and is profoundly learning disabled. He can’t read. How are we going to help him pass grade nine English?”
One final thought. We will use scenarios to explore of the material. Key concepts will be woven into the material. There will be links to source material, letter templates and other related resource material.
The Case of Emily
Emily Green was six years old and should be in grade one.
She has moved from another province.
She was visually impaired. She saw nothing. Her blindness was absolute.
Emily had a medical diagnosis of profound vison impairment.
There was no concern about or evidence of any other limitation or condition.
There were no behavioural or safety issues.
Emily had no system in place to allow her to access the curriculum. The other children could look at pictures and learn to read and print and draw but Emily could not.
In September her mother, Ms. Green, walked into the neighbourhood community school on the first day to register her daughter. She also asked to meet immediately with the principal to talk about her daughter.
The principal, Ms. Smith, responded by arranging to speak to the mother that morning. She immediately spoke to the school’s special education resource teacher as well as the classroom teacher to talk to them about Emily and her needs. The school also allocated an educational assistant for part of the day to provide support.
Comment: The principal and the school acted appropriately by taking immediate action to provide initial programs and services and to collaborate with the parent.
Relevant legislation and legal principles.
30. 9. (1) In accordance with requirements under the Education Act, no pupil is to be denied an education program pending a meeting or decision under this Regulation. O. Reg. 181/98, s. 9 (1).
The concreteness of the visual impairment makes it obvious and self evident that Emily should be in school. It is also always clear that a child with a visual impairment should and could be identified with an exceptionality. The regulation states that programming and services must not wait until the child is identified.
The Education Act states that all children have a right to be school.
32. (1) A person has the right, without payment of a fee, to attend a school in a school section, separate school zone or secondary school district, as the case may be, in which the person is qualified to be a resident pupil. 1997, c. 31, s. 13.
Ontario’s human rights regimen would also come into play if the school in any way either denied or limited access to school or denied or limited appropriate accommodations for Emily to have meaningful access to education.
Under the Code, education providers in both the publicly funded system and in private schools have a legal duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.
Ontario Human Rights Commission – Elementary and Secondary Education
Note: Words are important. When legislation uses verbs like “can” or “could” the statement is optional. When the regulation uses verbs like “shall” or “must” whatever the regulation states is mandatory.
It would be rare that a child like Emily would be denied access to a school and/or at least some level of programs and services. However, schools could conceivably respond in a variety of less productive ways including:
• Providing for no support.
• Providing a limited support.
• Allowing for unsafe situations to occur.
• Denying entry/registration until some future meeting.
• Denying entry into the school
We will explore strategies based on regulations and law to encourage schools to comply with their obligations later on.