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Great News from the Coalition for Inclusive Education - and just in time!

. . . to respond to the Education Minister's recent announcements

. . . for IPRC 'season'. . . transition from preschools

. . . and planning for next school year

We're still here!

You have many allies working to end segregation and to change schools so that all children can attend their own neighbourhood schools, and learn together as members of regular classrooms, no matter what extra help they require.

From 1995-1998, the Building Inclusive Schools Project helped advocacy groups to work together. We established a unique and unprecedented collaboration among people with disabilities, students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and advocates. Families know how difficult it can be to ask for help when we face new challenges, but how wonderful it is to have a network to call upon. 20 schools across Ontario did ask for help, joining us to change their schools and welcome students of all abilities.

In the past year, the Coalition's money has been running out. We have been losing touch just as there is so much more work to do. We worry about people giving up, even though we have a lot of help to offer.

So it is wonderful that our "luck" seems to be improving, our hard work is paying off.

OACL funding helps now

The Community Living Ontario has provided some funding from an estate left to assist children with intellectual disabilities. This means that the Coalition has conducted a number of activities to promote inclusive education, throughout February and March. It is so important to help students and families NOW - because this is the time when plans are made for next year in school.

Funding from the Trillium Foundation - a new project

Better yet, subject to its Board's final decision on March 24th., the Trillium Foundation will provide 2 year's funding to the Coalition for Inclusive Education for a project called Building for Inclusion - training parents to plan for a positive future.

The Trillium project will help us put the emphasis back on all students' rights to good education, by helping parents achieve better Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for their sons and daughters. Again, people with disabilities, students, parents, supportive teachers, leading administrators - that wonderful partnership of the Coalition - will work together across Ontario. All of us will train teams in 5 communities at a time, twice a year - creating a total of 20 new groups of leaders able to support others.

It is official Ministry of Education policy - and enshrined in law - that special education help should be normally available to exceptional students right in their regular classrooms. Placement decisions are supposed to respect parents' and older students' wishes. But students with disabilities are often pushed into segregated classes and schools. School boards have so much power to decide how support is provided, and how they intend to address students' needs. It is very hard for parents to know what could be available. Parents must so often assert students' rights to an effective and inclusive education. This can be very difficult, against the opposition of school officials, when it seems as if no one in the school system listens.

But it is now the law that each student must have access to support as determined in an Individual Education Plan (IEP). This plan is to be prepared in consultation with parents and older students. It is the principal's responsibility to ensure it is written within 30 days of the beginning of a school "placement". An IEP can be the key to better accountability - to ensure that support is in place, curriculum is modified as needs, equipment and resources are provided. We say that an IEP doesn't really "exist" unless parents have signed it. What a better use it is of everyone's time to work together from the start. If IEPs  "grew" with the student, transitions would be so much easier.

Everything that happens in education can enter into consideration for IEPs.

The Coalition plans to help in every way possible.

Government announcements about Special Education

Minister of Education Janet Ecker announced plans for "Improved Quality and Accountability in Special Education" on January 27th. The announcement and background information are available on the Ministry website at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/nr/00.01/improve.html. Here are some thoughts:

New Standards - IEPs and Annual Plans

government is encouraging more student/parent/advocate input into educational planning - via Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) and through School Board Annual Special Education Plans.

this is an important part of what the Coalition asked for - in several meetings and responses to the Minister

the Ministry will set standards for the process of developing and using IEPs. Its IEP Resource Guide (1998) is a reasonable start.

The Ministry will train school personnel and conduct random audits of IEPs next Fall. We do wonder how the standards will be enforced and how improvements will be encouraged, especially since the Ministry has not been able to enforce the law itself. But perhaps we can now demand that schools have the resources to meet the standards. We wonder how many IEPs will the Ministry check, and what the incentives or sanctions will be. Any such check of student information tends to make school boards nervous. Students or parents can even volunteer to show the Ministry their IEP, or offer to share it with the Coalition as a good or bad example to train others. That might encourage boards to follow the new standards.

The Minister's attention to better IEPs makes the Coalition';s Trillium project a very timely initiative. The students, families, schools and communities involved in training will also respond to the Ministry about IEP standards.

We do need to do more work to make school board's Annual Special Education Plans more accountable. Shouldn't they be the aggregate of all IEPs?

What's a Program?

We are troubled by the use of the word "program", throughout January's Ministry announcement. We sense that some school boards these days seem to equate "program" with "placement". For many of the students we know there never has been offered a "choice" of placements. We advocate for a range of supports - in other words a good IEP. The Education Act defines Special Education program as a plan containing specific objectives, relating to continuous evaluation, and outlining educational services to meet individual students' needs. Therefore, wherever the Ministry says "Program" we plan to remind people this can only mean "IEP".

Label Jars not People

The Ministry is planning to spend 2 years establishing "program standards" for each category of exceptionality. This seems to be the antithesis of IEPs. It would seem to encourage similar IEPs for students who have been given same label, although the Minister herself says she does not want a "cookie cutter approach".

The Coalition has always opposed the use of those categories of exceptionality. Labels tell you what's inside a jar, but they can keep you from learning what's important about a person. We discovered that the Faculties of Education also told the Ministry that there is nothing about those categories that gives teachers the functional information they need to teach their students. We know that having the label "developmentally disabled" can mean that students are taught only "life skills" and not how to read and write.

It is wrong that the Ministry plans to spend only 6 months helping establish better IEPs, and yet 2 years thinking about grouping student needs according to labels. This could mean students are not treated as individuals, after all.

What about the Money?

The Ministry says it has "sealed" the "special education funding envelope". Could this pave the way for privatization of special education? It certainly can be an obstacle to inclusive education. We advocate for less distinction in spending, for a merger of regular and special education supports and planning, for "whatever it takes" in each student's IEP. Special education money can never reduce regular class size, but only create segregated classes. It can pay for psychological assessments, but not the professional development and the planning and meeting time regular class teachers need to implement IEPs.

Boards get some of their special education money, based on the total number of students in all their schools. The $30 million added to Special Education Per Pupil Amount (SEPPA ) last year will remain available.

Ministry spokespersons cannot say what will happen to the new Special Incidence Portion (SIP) funding next year, They can't even say what happened to the $2.5 million SIP which was to have been available all this school year. As of February 1st., boards had no guarantee whatever about funding to meet their highest needs.

Intensive Support Amount (ISA) money was frozen last March. The $40 million announced in new funding is added to ISA for next school year.

Boards will get at least as much ISA money as they did last year - no less.

The Coalition has objected to the special education funding formula, over the past 2 years. Students must be described so negatively, and pre-judged so harmfully, matching the ISA Profiles - to generate a lot of extra money. Boards stand to lose the very money that helps students progress. They "poison" IEPs.  We are alarmed to learn that last year's ISA Profiles will continue to be used. Resource teachers hate them; we wish every resource teacher in Ontario would just refuse to co-operate.

The Ministry promises an easier computerized ISA application and validation, to be done this April. Again there will be no new ISA money based on the needs of students registering for kindergarten next year. There will be a way to adjust each board's ISA grant during the next school year, when students change school boards.

The Ontario Public Supervisory Officers Association insists that school boards across Ontario this year are spending $100 million more on special education than they receive for this purpose from the province. This has aroused the public to criticize the Ministry, who insist there is more money than ever. Boards expect parents like us will speak up for our exceptional children. There is also a backlash from "other" parents, unhappy that some kids get all this ISA money because they cannot learn, that teachers are still left without help, and that money is taken away from other educational programs and budgets.

We are tired of being pitted against other parents. We hate seeing our children caught in the middle of an ugly fight between school boards and the Ministry.

A few boards refuse to close their archaic segregated schools, and some have forced students into brand new segregated classes - all the while saying they have no money for less expensive, more effective regular classroom support. There are still students not attending school at all this year - while school boards pocket the ISA money - because there is not enough support, lack of supervision resulting in suspension, etc.

Previously, ISA funding depended on documenting students' needs for educational assistants. The Coalition and its Project schools know EAs provide essential support for some students, but that there are many other important ways to support and accommodate individual differences.

But now the Ministry has given in to school board pressure. It says it allows boards "the flexibility to make programming decisions". (Again, program sounds like placement.) The Ministry justifies this by saying they will release schools from "the velcro effect" of educational assistants, saying that ISA can now pay for "personal support to small groups of students" (i.e. segregation). ISA amounts will no longer depend on educational assistant schedules, Staff Support Worksheets, or IEPs specifying percentages of time student need support staff.

The ISA funding model was based on the Ministry's assumption that students with "high needs" cost more, and are not distributed equally throughout Ontario. (Most boards we know have said they are "magnets" for the most needy students, for one reason or another. Research from the U.S. National Association of State Boards of Education has showed approaches like ISA encourage boards to "over-identify" student problems. ISA validation rates do vary greatly across Ontario.) But now, as long as they spend it within special education, boards need no longer spend ISA on those students whose high needs substantiated it.

Even while it called ISA "student-designated", the Ministry has always allowed Boards to share it among students. As a result, those needing extra help were sometimes denied access to "their" money. How can the Ministry call it accountable to allow boards even more flexibility about how to spend ISA  funds in future? What they call "flexibility", we call "latitude"! Special education money need not even be spent  in any given year, but can be set aside in board reserve funds.

Now that schools have get ISA money by saying that some students cannot learn, we worry that it will not seem very important to spend money on them at all. Because they now feel artificial pressure to improve Grade 3 and Grade 6 test scores, schools might prefer to spend ISA money on "remediation".

There will be no way to check where the money goes, unless IEPs follow the funding to the students. Now no one - not the government, not the school boards, not the Coalition - will ever be able to say how much money is enough.

Accountability involves both better financial management and better educational outcomes for students. We look forward to helping families demonstrate this - one student after another - through better IEPs. The Coalition will show Minister of Education Janet Ecker that inclusive education is a better use of money, whereby students have better chances for future employment and relationships.


It was discouraging to see a full page article in the Globe and Mail Friday, February 4th. asking - not HOW - but WHETHER - all children with physical and developmental disabilities should be integrated into the regular school system. Featuring a close-up picture of a little boy who has Down syndrome, the headline stated "Boris, 7, isn't welcome at local school". Part of a series called Family Matters, it tells about a Montreal family's frustration because the school system says it cannot afford to provide extra help in their neighbourhood school. It does not assess the higher costs of segregated placements. It provides neither examples of successful inclusion nor any professional support or pedagogical rationale, although it refers to student rights, full integration in New Brunswick and a recent announcement increasing regular class support in Quebec. The smaller headline is "Segregation is not such a dirty word", quoting parents whose children appear to have been segregated because support was lacking. Having been told their children are too disabled or too disruptive, they compare integration to "throwing him into the deep end to see if he can swim". We know how vulnerable parents feel when they are outsiders in an unresponsive school system. We keep hearing that there is no money, but why should it always be the students who have disabilities who lose out?

You can access the article on a website at www.globeandmail.com. Click on "FORUMS", on the webpage, and then find the "ARCHIVE" for this topic. Read the articles and the opinions of people who have responded. The site will stay open so you can tell your side of this story too. Appropriate support will be found only if we stop debating who belongs, and demonstrate that inclusive education is both preferable and achievable. Tell people how angry you feel that parents must fight and beg for their children's education. Ask a teacher, a neighbour, an ally to write in too. As fellow citizens, we all must expect schools to accommodate all individual differences.


Since 1991, the Ontario government has been saying that it should be "the normal practice" for students to get special education help in regular classrooms. It is now the law in Ontario to plan ways for every exceptional student to get the help he or she needs - in regular class. But is this really happening?

The government asks school boards to tell them where students go to get special education help. Analysis of the  October 31, 1998 enrolment statistics of the Ministry of Education, considering "placement" according to "area of exceptionality", reveals:

61,829 Ontario students were segregated that year - in elementary or secondary school, hospital-based or provincial schools, and care and treatment centres.

756 students appear to have been segregated without having been identified as exceptional at an IPRC. It is unlikely their parents knew their rights.

"Regular class" placement used to mean only "51% or more of the time in regular class". A truer definition of inclusive education would reveal much higher rates of segregation. Even so, the Ministry's measure reveals great variation in opportunities available to students given different labels.

students labeled "developmentally disabled" have the least opportunity of all groups to spend even part of their time in regular classrooms - a mere 24%. Three out of four are totally segregated.

sometimes people say that deaf students benefit from segregation, developing a separate "deaf culture", but 42% of "deaf" students, 36% of the "deaf blind", and 68% of the "hard-of-hearing" are in regular class.

a lot of money is available to send them away to residential schools, but 52% of the "blind" and 68% of the "visually impaired" still stay home in regular classrooms.

sometimes people worry it will cost too much to make schools wheelchair accessible but 76% of Ontario's "physically disabled" students attend regular class.

43% of students with "multiple exceptionalities" (any 2 or more) attend regular class.

69% of students with "autism" are in regular class - 503 at the secondary level.

10,987 students labeled "gifted" are completely segregated

55% of students labeled "mildly developmentally disabled" are in regular classrooms.

Why do such huge barriers still block people - especially those with intellectual disabilities - from effective education? They are not given a "choice". It is not about money. Attitudes need to change. We must counteract the prevailing impression that people with disabilities are so different. We must say it is wrong for "community" schools to refuse some of their children. In some regular classrooms, students of all abilities are learning well - why not more? Students, parents and teachers must work together - to provide examples of strategies for curriculum modification, to promote co-operative learning, and to show how improved outcomes for economic and social participation are attainable.

More good news - more partners - "ALL TEACHERS - ALL STUDENTS"

The international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's 1999 research shows the benefits of inclusion to students with and without disabilities. It states that there is no organizational, curriculum or pedagogical reason for segregation to continue - but it does, especially because teachers are not being prepared to teach in inclusive settings.

The Coalition has been meeting with people in various Faculties of Education in Ontario. We have now been selected to receive federal government Community Inclusion funds (from OACL's It Takes a Village project) for a joint project with York University Faculty of Education. York has begun to explore ways to modify the ways it trains undergraduates, special educators, and principals. It will help us develop presentations and visit all other universities Faculties. People with disabilities, students, parents, and educators will tell the universities our stories - why inclusive education is so important and achievable. We want all future teachers to be prepared to teach the students of all abilities who will be members of regular classrooms in neighbourhood schools - for a better future.

This project will begin June 1st. and we invite volunteers to assist with the training and visits.


Please tell us about your experience with IEPs.

We can help communicate your constructive ideas to help others

keep up the fight for effective inclusive education.

Others will help you, and we hope someday it will not involve such a battle.

Let us know if you have access to email - and we'll send regular updates.

Email Marilyn Dolmage at inclusion@encode.com

Phone a Board member, a local network contact or (705)329-3316


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