Great News from the Coalition for Inclusive Education
- and just in time!
. . . to respond to the Education Minister's
. . . for IPRC 'season'. . . transition
. . . 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Boards will get at least as much ISA money as they did last year - no
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
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
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
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
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
NUMBERS TELL THE STORY
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",
61,829 Ontario students were segregated that year - in elementary or
secondary school, hospital-based or provincial schools, and care and treatment
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
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
10,987 students labeled "gifted" are completely segregated
55% of students labeled "mildly developmentally disabled" are in
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
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
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.
WANT TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE FUTURE WORK OF THE
Please tell us about your experience with
We can help communicate your constructive ideas to help
keep up the fight for effective inclusive
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 email@example.com
Phone a Board member, a local network contact or