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The Ford Government’s Announced Measures for Students with Disabilities Largely Leaves it to Each of 72 School Boards to Figure Out What to Do to Fully and Safely Include Them in School Re-opening

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
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August 20, 2020


Earlier this week, we asked this important question: What is the Ford Government’s plan to ensure that over 340,000 students with disabilities are fully and safely included in Ontario’s schools when they open next month? It is now clear that the Ford Government has no comprehensive plan.

At the start of this week, the August 17, 2020 AODA Alliance Update made public the fact that back on August 4, 2020 we had emailed the Ontario Ministry of Education to ask what measures the Government had announced for students with disabilities in connection with school re-opening, and that we had received no answer. Two days later, on August 19, the Ministry responded.

The list of measures that the Government provided is set out below. These include no comprehensive plan of action to ensure that students with disabilities are fully and safely included in school re-opening. These measures do not ensure that the barriers that faced students with disabilities last spring during distance learning are removed and that no new ones are created. The Government has once again left it to each of Ontario’s 72 school boards to figure out what to do for students with disabilities , floundering as they scramble to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A month ago, on July 24, 2020, the Government received a strong report identifying key actions the Government needs to take to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are met during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These came from the COVID-19 subcommittee of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Among other things, that report recommended the following, which the Government has not included in its list of actions for students with disabilities :

“1) The Ministry of Education should establish a Central Education Leadership Command Table with responsibilities for ensuring that students with disabilities have access to all accommodations and supports they require during the present COVID-19 pandemic. The responsibilities of the Command Table shall include:
a) immediately develop a comprehensive plan to meet the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19 pandemic quickly and resolve issues for students with disabilities as they arise. The comprehensive plan should be shared for implementation by school boards. This plan should include and incorporate the three options for education: * normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols
* modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and, * at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery
b) collect and share data on existing and emerging issues as a result of COVID-19, the effective responses of other jurisdictions in supporting students with disabilities during the current emergency, using evidence-based data collection methods for people with disabilities
c) establish a fully accessible centralized hub, and share and publicize the hub, for sharing of effective practices about supporting students with disabilities
d) develop a rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards
e) provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected.”

On August 19, 2020, the Ontario New Democratic Party wrote Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce about this subject. We set that letter out below. That letter calls on the Government to take action now to plan for the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening.

What are parents of students with disabilities to do now, in this situation? Tune in to the Ontario Autism Coalition’s Youtube channel tomorrow, Friday at 11 am for the new virtual Town Hall to be convened by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, which will be entitled: “Preparing for School Re-Opening — Action Tips for Parents of Students with Disabilities.” This event will have American Sign Language interpretation and captioning. Check out the AODA Alliance’s announcement of this event for more details. Encourage others to log on to this event.

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August 19, 2020 Information Provided to the AODA Alliance from the Ontario Ministry of Education

School Re-Opening Initiatives for Students with Disabilities and Students with Special Education Needs

* As announced July 30, based on the best medical advice available, the province is implementing additional public health protocols to keep students and staff safe when they return to school in September. To support the implementation of these protocols, the government is providing over $300 million in targeted, immediate, and evidence-informed investments, including: * $10 million to support special needs students in the classroom; and * $10 million to support student mental health.

This funding is in addition to a $25 million investment in mental health and technology, which will see an additional $10 million dedicated to mental health staff, resources, and programs, as well as $15 million in technology funding to support the procurement of over 35,000 devices for Ontario’s students to support their synchronous learning in-school and beyond.

* As part of the plan the government is providing additional supports to enable a successful return to school. For students with a high-level of special education needs, the government is directing school boards to facilitate full-time in-school instruction, regardless of whether a secondary school begins the instructional year using an adapted model. The Ministry of Education will work with designated school boards to achieve this goal and will review and approve requests by designated school boards to open small or specialized secondary schools or programs with full-time attendance. Additionally, the government is directing boards to consider changing the school environment and remote learning needs in reviewing and updating Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to best-serve students.

* In addition to doubling the mental health funding in the Ministry of Education, the government has also worked with School Mental Health Ontario and will provide school boards with a professional learning framework and toolkit to support the mental health of all students. This can be tailored at the board and school levels for different audiences. The professional learning will have a strong focus on building students’ social-emotional learning skills so that they can respond to what they are facing in the COVID-19 outbreak, manage their stress and build positive relationships. Professional learning will be provided for system leaders, educators and mental health professionals to support the approach to school re-entry, as well as throughout the school year.

The re-opening plan builds the summer learning plan for Ontario students to ensure students have every opportunity to continue their learning through the summer months that included focused programming for students with special education or mental health needs, including dedicated learning supports such as access to educational assistants and existing after-school programs that could be delivered through summer school and summer programming in Provincial and Demonstration Schools to focus on continued learning for our students with specialized learning needs.

* On August 12, the ministry communicated its expectations for three Professional Activity days be implemented prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year that will focus on topics for restarting the school year, to ensure the safety of staff, students and the broader community, and delivery of high-quality education for all learners. The ministry expects that professional learning will consider and incorporate the implications for teaching students with special education needs.

* The government recently issued Policy/Program Memorandum No. 164, Requirements for Remote Learning to provide direction to school boards on remote learning requirements. It includes specific requirements to support students with special education needs:

o Where appropriate, educators should provide more opportunities than the minimum requirements for synchronous learning for students with special education needs, based on their individual strengths and needs, and provide differentiated support and instruction.
o Educators should continue to provide accommodations, modified expectations, and alternative programming to students with special education needs, as detailed in theirIEPs. If it is not possible to meet a student’s needs through synchronous learning, educators and families will work together to find solutions.
o School boards are encouraged to provide continued access to assistive technology, including Special Equipment Amount (SEA) equipment, where possible, to support students with special education needs as they participate in remote learning. In situations where access to assistive technology is not feasible, educators are expected to work with students and parents to determine workable solutions on an individual basis.

August 19, 2020 letter from the Ontario New Democratic Party to the Ford Government

Hon. Stephen Lecce
Ministry of Education
5th Floor
438 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M5G 2K8

August 19, 2020

Dear Minister Lecce,

We are writing to insist that your government adopts a comprehensive COVID-19 plan for students with disabilities, ensuring that they have the tools they need to thrive during this pandemic.

On July 8, you stated in the legislature that you’ve been in touch with disability rights leaders, but there is still no plan to support the learning requirements of 340,000 students with special education needs.

Firstly, we are concerned about the lack of any uniform guidance on the issue of school exclusions. The AODA Alliance has reported that a majority of Ontario’s 72 school boards do not even have a policy guiding the use of exclusions.

This could set the stage for exclusions to be applied by administrators when schools lack the resources to accommodate students with disabilities.

Your Ministry should issue guidelines to school boards on the use of exclusions without delay, so that no student with a disability is unfairly denied the right to learn with their peers.

Another area where some students with disabilities have been denied equal learning opportunities relates to the discrepancies in how online learning has been implemented. Depending on the school board, different platforms with wildly varying levels of accessibility are being used. It is important for the Ministry to be supporting boards to ensure their online learning systems are equitable and accessible to all students.

Finally, your government has committed only $10 million in additional funding for students with special education needs to date. This amounts to a paltry investment of $34 per disabled student. How could anyone believe that is sufficient to meet the challenges before us? Significant investment in hiring additional educational assistants

and reducing class sizes is crucial to ensuring that all students’ learning needs are supported.

Minister, people with disabilities have been among those hit the hardest by this pandemic. This includes education, where many students with special education needs have struggled with the transition to distance learning.

In order to ensure that students with disabilities can thrive in the classroom or remotely, it is crucial that your Ministry develops a plan in consultation with the disability community, and puts real resources behind it.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Joel Harden
Official Opposition Critic for Accessibility & People with Disabilities MPP for Ottawa Centre

Marit Stiles
Official Opposition Critic for Education
MPP for Davenport

Monique Taylor
Official Opposition Critic for Children & Youth Services
MPP for Hamilton Mountain