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School Placements of Students with Disabilities

Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommendations for school placements of students with disabilities.

The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the publicly-funded K-12 school system. However, students and educators with disabilities also face  barriers in other school settings, including:

  • Private schools
  • Pre-school programs, such as early literacy programs

Therefore, all these settings should comply with the forthcoming K-12 education standards.

School Placements of Students with Disabilities

In a previous article, we outlined committee recommendations to consider redesigning the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) process. More Committee recommendations outline how the IPRC process should align with human rights and reduce stigma.

School Placements Aligning with Human Rights

When a school board’s IPRC chooses a student’s school placement, their decision should align with the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code). In other words, a student’s school placement should provide them with equal access to the opportunities available for their non-disabled peers. Moreover, a student’s placement should also be free from all forms of discrimination.

Likewise, a redesigned IPRC process may also make decisions about the accommodations a student should receive from their school board. These decisions should be consistent with the student’s right to accommodation under the Code. Furthermore, school boards should provide these accommodations as soon as the student starts school, or as soon as staff recognize the student’s disability-related needs. In addition, school boards must provide these accommodations to the point of undue hardship.

School Placements Based on Individual Needs

Moreover, placement decisions should be based on students’ needs, instead of their disabilities. For example, some school boards have programs serving students with certain disabilities, such as life skills programs for students with intellectual disabilities. However, these programs may not be appropriate for every student with an intellectual disability. Therefore, students’ IPRCs should not place them in programs based on the disabilities they have. Instead, IPRCs should assess each student’s needs individually and place them in programs that meet these individual needs.

Finally, when school boards offer these disability-specific programs, enrolled students are often segregated from their non-disabled peers. The classrooms where these segregated programs take place also often have labels that identify the disabilities students have. As a result, non-disabled peers and school staff may rarely interact with these students, and know little about them. Peers and staff may make assumptions about these students based on stereotypes and stigma about their disabilities. Therefore, the Committee recommends that school boards should not label segregated classrooms based on students’ disabilities. Non-stigmatizing classroom labels could help non-disabled students get to know their peers with disabilities as individuals, without stigma.