The People for Education report on special education in Ontario is timely. It is a call to action long overdue.
A message Gordon L. Porter, Director of Inclusive Education Canada:
Children in Canada have the right to go to public schools. It is a simple fact for most kids – but not all of them. We frequently hear from parents of children with special needs that they are told to take their kids home. Sometimes it is for part of the day and sometimes they are told their child can’t stay in the school at all.
Some parents are offered an alternative program “designed for kids like theirs” – but perhaps in another school out of their neighbourhood or community. Sometimes they are offered a few hours of tutoring – that comes far short of the impact of full-time attendance in a school, 5 days a week, 10 months a year.
Why does this happen? Is the school principal who delivers the message at fault? If not, who is?
First, let me say I do not think this is a matter of adequate funding from our provincial Education Ministries. We are spending enough money in Canada, in every province, to make this unnecessary. It is not about having enough money. It is about how the money available is used.
Maintaining a separate – and not equal – special education system, with special education officers at the board level who preside over large establishments of teachers, teacher assistants, psychologists, therapists and more is absorbing far too much of the money available. If we believe that children should attend local community schools with their brothers and sisters and heir age peers in the neighbourhood, we need to spend the money avail be to make that happen.
That means money to provide support teachers who support classroom teachers to meet the needs of individual students. It means building capacity in the school so classroom teachers – with support – can provide a full day of instruction to all the kids in the class.
That’s what is needed. Of course some students may need a specialized program from time-to-time for some reason that is reasonable. But those are the exceptions, not the typical practice.
Making our system work this way requires bold leadership – particularly in systems that have remained stuck in traditional special education practice for decades. That means change, and we all know change can be a challenge.
However, the truth is, many school boards in Canada have never seriously tried to transform their system of educating children with special needs. They have made changes around the edges. They talk about how many children are served in regular classes, but in many cases those numbers represent children with mild learning disabilities or who are deemed eligible for speech/language services. Little evidence exists to suggest they have invested major proportions of their money to support children like the ones sent home by the school principal.
I have been a school principal. I know how challenging the job is. Principals receive their staffing from school board managers. They do not control that resource themselves. While school principals can make a difference and many do, the most important changes need to be led by school board leaders with the support of the Ministry of Education. It has not been happening. It’s time it did.
Gordon L. Porter
Director of Inclusive Education Canada
Related media coverage on this story:
Special needs kids often told to stay home from school
Lack of funds pushes Ontario schools to send special education students home
Special needs students falling through cracks?
Why Ont. students with special education needs are being told to stay home