Category Archives: “Special Education”

Spring and Special Education Changes

Spring is definitely here (for now :)) and things are jumping in the People for Education office. We’re working on the first draft of the 2012 Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools; getting ready for Telling Tales Out of School, our annual gala, on June 3rd; and answering our toll-free Parent Support Line (1-888-534-3944).

The number one issue parents call about is Special Education. And there’s news on that front!

New information from the Ministry of Education sent to Ontario’s school boards in late December appears to indicate a sea change in special education policy.

More students may qualify for special education support
The Ministry explained that “all students with demonstrable learning based needs” including conditions such as ADD/ADHD, Tourette Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, are legally entitled to appropriate special education programs and services and may qualify to be identified as “exceptional.”

This comes as a surprise, because up to now it has often taken strenuous advocacy to get a child with something like ADD/ADHD identified as “exceptional” in the legal sense. But the memo appears to say that any medical condition that affects students’ ability to learn, may qualify a student to be identified as “exceptional.”

The change is important because students with that official designation have a legal right to receive special education programs and services. There are five types of exceptionality (Behaviour, Communication, Intellectual, Physical and Multiple) that qualify students for support. Until now, school boards used the lists of conditions in the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Guide to help them decide what kinds of conditions fit under those five general types.

But the Ministry now says the guide is meant to be “interpreted broadly,” is not intended to exclude any conditions, and that many medical conditions may qualify students as exceptional under the Education Act.

To find out more about this and other education news, visit our website at


Across Ontario and across the country, schools and Ministries of Education continue to debate the best ways to serve students with special needs.

Our research shows that across the province, the number of students on special education waiting lists has declined from a high of 48,000 in 2003/04, to a low of approximately 31,000 this year. But this still represents a huge number of children waiting to be assessed or to receive appropriate identification or support.

Because assessments must be conducted by a limited number of school board psychologists, many boards and schools report they must ration their assessments or only put those students in the highest need on waiting lists.

But there’s more to the debate than the number of students waiting for support. Recent Ministry of Education consultations (which are discussed in more detail in our newsletter) raised a number of other questions:

• How can the Ministry develop a method of funding special education that reflects the actual needs of students?

• How can and should the Ministry define and measure success in special education programs? Are EQAO tests a valid way to measure effectiveness?

• How can the Ministry and school boards ensure that all students who need special education support receive it in a timely and equitable fashion?

• How can the Ministry ensure consistency from board to board, so that parents and kids don’t have to go through multiple special education processes if they move?

All of these questions need answers. And they all feed into the biggest question of all:

How should we define success overall in our education system, and how can we ensure that all students in all boards have access to the broad range of programs,   curriculum and support they need to succeed, not only in school, but in their lives?

People for Education has information and resources about Special Education.

Join our special education group in our online community.