‘Inclusive’ must include listening to students with special needs
Every child deserves and is entitled to receive appropriate educational services through the public education system. For some kids, however, standard educational approaches are not able to meet their unique needs. Fortunately, resources are available to assist these children and their families so they can achieve their full potential. Parents play a vital role in this process. By becoming familiar with the special education process, learning about the available services, and being aware of your child’s rights, you will be able to better advocate for your child’s needs and make informed decisions that benefit your child and your family as a whole.
While the impact of a public health crisis, and the associated two years of intermittent school closures and educational instability isn’t yet known, we do know that the virtual and hybrid classroom models are not effective learning environments for many students, especially those with various learning needs that may require specific and individualized accommodations.
Two years of interrupted learning and the lack of needed tailored supports and therapies for students has caused widely felt upheaval for all students and their families. In Ontario, families of students receiving Special Education (SE) programs and services report their children are regressing, losing skills, and suffering mental health declines. The loss is not just to core curriculum learning, but to life and social skills and well-being.
We know throughout Ontario that the actual number of students in need of additional support is growing and many are waiting to go through the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) process – the process that decides whether a student falls within the scope of an Ontario Ministry of Education recognized exceptionality and requires special education programs and services.
With the (perpetual under)funding of Special Education regardless of government, we know we are not spending enough in SE to meet the academic and well-being needs of students. We KNOW we need more Educational Assistants, specialized program/service support professionals, and paraprofessionals.
Clearly, school boards and trustees need to advocate for changes to the provincial funding model for Special Education. This is so that ACTUAL local student needs can be met and students are provided with the opportunities they need to succeed. Opportunities that haven’t existed for the last 3 years – and beyond – for many.
A large number of students in receipt of SE programs and services were just barely meeting the provincial standard before COVID. Add two school years of severe learning disruptions, students finding themselves without the consistent educational support they need, no data when it comes to their well-being, and decades of under-funding and we have a ‘perfect storm’ in place for students in receipt of SE.
A storm is a dangerous place for any student to find themselves, especially for often excluded students. We need to do more to truly make it an “inclusive learning environment”. Being present in a classroom doesn’t always mean being “included” – unless we work collectively to amplify the voices of those most in need of it.