Ford Government to Spend Over a Half Billion Dollars on New Schools and Major School Additions, Without Announcing Effective Measures to Ensure that These Schools Will be Fully Accessible to Students, Parents and School Staff with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Ford Government to Spend Over a Half Billion Dollars on New Schools and Major School Additions, Without Announcing Effective Measures to Ensure that These Schools Will be Fully Accessible to Students, Parents and School Staff with Disabilities

July 30, 2020

          SUMMARY

Last week, the Ford Government announced that it is investing over half a billion dollars into building new schools and expanding existing ones, without announcing any effective measures to ensure that those schools will be designed to be accessible to students, parents, teachers, or other school staff with disabilities. Public money should never be used to create new barriers against people with disabilities. If new barriers are created, it costs much more to later renovate to remove them.

For years, Ontario’s Ministry of Education has largely left it to each school board to decide what, if anything, to include in the design of a new school building to ensure it is disability-accessible. Each school board is left to decide on its own whether it will include anything in the building’s design for accessibility, beyond the inadequate accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in standards enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and under a patchwork of local municipal bylaws. The Ontario Government does not have a standard or model design for a new school or for an addition to a school, to ensure its accessibility to students, parents and school staff with disabilities.

On July 23, 2020, the Ford Government announced a major plan to build 30 new schools and to construct additions to another 15 schools, to provide both learning venues and more day care locations for students across Ontario (announcement set out below). The Ford Government has not announced any requirement that this new construction must be disability-accessible. It is wasteful, duplicative and counter-productive for the Ontario Government to leave it to 72 school boards to each re-invent the wheel when it comes to the design of a school building to ensure that it is accessible. Moreover, school boards are not assured to have the requisite expertise in accessible building design. Making this worse, too often architects are not properly trained in accessible design.

This is not a situation where each school board is best situated to assess the unique local needs of its community. A student, parent or school staff member with a disability has the very same accessibility needs, when it comes to getting into and around a school building, whether that school is in Kenora or Cornwall.

It has been well established for years that compliance with the insufficient accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act accessibility standards and local municipal bylaws do not ensure that a new building is in fact accessible and barrier-free for people with disabilities. To the contrary, the AODA Alliance has shown how new buildings and major renovations in major public projects can end up having serious accessibility problems. This is illustrated in three online videos, produced by the AODA Alliance, that have gotten thousands of views and extensive media coverage. Those videos focus on:

* the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre;

* the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre and

* several new and recently renovated Toronto area public transit stations.

Over a year and a half ago, the third Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation of the AODA, conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, found that progress in Ontario on accessibility has proceeded at a “glacial” pace. Among other things, it recommended that the Ontario Government should treat as a major priority the recurring barriers facing people with disabilities in the built environment. The Onley Report emphasized as an illustration the AODA Alliance’s video depicting serious accessibility problems at Ryerson’s new Student Learning Centre.

Strong, effective and enforceable provincial accessibility standards for the built environment are long overdue. Yet the Government has announced no plans to develop and enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Beyond this, for over two and a half years, the Ontario Government has been in direct violation of the AODA. This is because the Government has still not appointed a mandatory Standards Development Committee to review the palpably inadequate “Design of Public Spaces” Accessibility Standard, enacted under the AODA in December 2012. Under section 9(9) of the AODA, the Ontario Government was required to appoint a mandatory Standards Development Committee to review that accessibility standard by December 2017. The former Kathleen Wynne Government is on the hook for failing to appoint that Standards Development Committee for the seven months from December 2017 up to the Wynne Government being defeated in the June 2018 provincial election. The Ford Government is on the hook for violating the AODA for the subsequent two years, from the time it took office up to today.

The Ford Government should now direct all school boards receiving any of the public money that the Government announced on July 23, 2020 that all those new projects must be fully accessible. This must go further than simply meeting the inadequate accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in AODA accessibility standards enacted to date, and in local bylaws. The Ford Government should set specific accessibility requirements that must be met. A good template for this is set out in the AODA Alliance’s draft Framework for the Post-Secondary Education Accessibility Standard.

There have now been 546 days, or over a full year and a half, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has not announced any comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

For more background, check out:

* The AODA Alliance website’s Built Environment page, that documents our efforts to get the Ontario Government to enact strong accessibility standards for the built environment.

* The AODA Alliance website’s Education page, documenting the AODA Alliance’s efforts to tear down the many barriers in Ontario’s education system facing students with disabilities.

          MORE DETAILS

 July 23, 2020 Ontario Government News Release

Originally posted at https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2020/07/ontario-building-and-expanding-schools-across-the-province-1.html

Ontario Newsroom

News Release

Ontario Building and Expanding Schools across the Province

July 23, 2020

Modern Facilities Will Strengthen Student Learning and Increase Access to Child Care

BRAMPTON — The Ontario government is investing over $500 million to build 30 new schools and make permanent additions to 15 existing facilities, supporting over 25,000 student spaces across the province. These new, modern schools will create the foundation for a 21st century learning environment for thousands of students across the province. This investment will also generate nearly 900 new licensed child care spaces to ensure families across the province are able to access child care in their communities.

Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

“Our government is making a significant capital investment in our school system,” said Premier Ford. “By making these smart investments today, we will ensure our students and teachers have access to modern facilities to learn with features like high-speed Internet, accessible ramps and elevators, and air conditioning, while providing parents with access to more licensed child care spaces.”

The government is investing over $12 billion in capital grants over 10 years, including over $500 million invested in this year alone to build critical new school capital projects and permanent additions. Today’s announcement continues to build upon the government’s commitment to invest up to $1 billion over five years to create up to 30,000 licensed child care spaces in schools, including 10,000 spaces in new schools. These new projects will also result in the creation of new jobs in the skilled trades as over $500 million of major infrastructure projects break ground in short order.

“It is unacceptable that too many schools in our province continue to lack the investment that our students deserve,” said Minister Lecce. “That is why this government is making a significant investment to build new schools, to extensively renovate existing schools, and expand access to licensed child care spaces in our province. Our government is modernizing our schools, our curriculum, and the delivery of learning, to ensure students are set up to succeed in an increasingly changing world.”

QUICK FACTS

list of 4 items

  • The Ministry of Education reviews all Capital Priorities submissions for eligibility and merit prior to announcing successful projects.
  • The Ministry is working in partnership with school boards to deliver high-speed Internet to all schools in Ontario, with all high schools having access to broadband by September 2020, and all elementary schools having access by September 2021. As of March 31, 2020, broadband modernization has been completed at 1,983 schools, including 403 Northern schools. Installation is currently in progress at 2,954 schools, including 99 northern schools.
  • The Ministry is investing $1.4 billion in renewal funding, which continues to meet the recommended funding level by the Auditor General of Ontario to preserve the condition of Ontario’s school facilities.
  • To find out more about projects in your community, visit the Ontario Builds map.

list end

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

list of 1 items

  • Learn more about Ontario’s commitment to modernizing schools and child care spaces.

list end

CONTACTS

Ivana Yelich

Premier’s Office

[email protected]

Alexandra Adamo

Minister Lecce’s Office

[email protected]

Ingrid Anderson

Communications Branch

437 225-0321

[email protected]

Office of the Premier

http://www.ontario.ca/premier



Source link

Ford Government to Spend Over a Half Billion Dollars on New Schools and Major School Additions, Without Announcing Effective Measures to Ensure that These Schools Will be Fully Accessible to Students, Parents and School Staff with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

July 30, 2020

SUMMARY

Last week, the Ford Government announced that it is investing over half a billion dollars into building new schools and expanding existing ones, without announcing any effective measures to ensure that those schools will be designed to be accessible to students, parents, teachers, or other school staff with disabilities. Public money should never be used to create new barriers against people with disabilities. If new barriers are created, it costs much more to later renovate to remove them.

For years, Ontarios Ministry of Education has largely left it to each school board to decide what, if anything, to include in the design of a new school building to ensure it is disability-accessible. Each school board is left to decide on its own whether it will include anything in the buildings design for accessibility, beyond the inadequate accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in standards enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and under a patchwork of local municipal bylaws. The Ontario Government does not have a standard or model design for a new school or for an addition to a school, to ensure its accessibility to students, parents and school staff with disabilities.

On July 23, 2020, the Ford Government announced a major plan to build 30 new schools and to construct additions to another 15 schools, to provide both learning venues and more day care locations for students across Ontario (announcement set out below). The Ford Government has not announced any requirement that this new construction must be disability-accessible. It is wasteful, duplicative and counter-productive for the Ontario Government to leave it to 72 school boards to each re-invent the wheel when it comes to the design of a school building to ensure that it is accessible. Moreover, school boards are not assured to have the requisite expertise in accessible building design. Making this worse, too often architects are not properly trained in accessible design.

This is not a situation where each school board is best situated to assess the unique local needs of its community. A student, parent or school staff member with a disability has the very same accessibility needs, when it comes to getting into and around a school building, whether that school is in Kenora or Cornwall.

It has been well established for years that compliance with the insufficient accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act accessibility standards and local municipal bylaws do not ensure that a new building is in fact accessible and barrier-free for people with disabilities. To the contrary, the AODA Alliance has shown how new buildings and major renovations in major public projects can end up having serious accessibility problems. This is illustrated in three online videos, produced by the AODA Alliance, that have gotten thousands of views and extensive media coverage. Those videos focus on:

* the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre;

* the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre and

* several new and recently renovated Toronto area public transit stations.

Over a year and a half ago, the third Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation of the AODA, conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, found that progress in Ontario on accessibility has proceeded at a glacial pace. Among other things, it recommended that the Ontario Government should treat as a major priority the recurring barriers facing people with disabilities in the built environment. The Onley Report emphasized as an illustration the AODA Alliances video depicting serious accessibility problems at Ryersons new Student Learning Centre.

Strong, effective and enforceable provincial accessibility standards for the built environment are long overdue. Yet the Government has announced no plans to develop and enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Beyond this, for over two and a half years, the Ontario Government has been in direct violation of the AODA. This is because the Government has still not appointed a mandatory Standards Development Committee to review the palpably inadequate Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard, enacted under the AODA in December 2012. Under section 9(9) of the AODA, the Ontario Government was required to appoint a mandatory Standards Development Committee to review that accessibility standard by December 2017. The former Kathleen Wynne Government is on the hook for failing to appoint that Standards Development Committee for the seven months from December 2017 up to the Wynne Government being defeated in the June 2018 provincial election. The Ford Government is on the hook for violating the AODA for the subsequent two years, from the time it took office up to today.

The Ford Government should now direct all school boards receiving any of the public money that the Government announced on July 23, 2020 that all those new projects must be fully accessible. This must go further than simply meeting the inadequate accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in AODA accessibility standards enacted to date, and in local bylaws. The Ford Government should set specific accessibility requirements that must be met. A good template for this is set out in the AODA Alliances draft Framework for the Post-Secondary Education Accessibility Standard.

There have now been 546 days, or over a full year and a half, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has not announced any comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

For more background, check out:

* The AODA Alliance websites Built Environment page, that documents our efforts to get the Ontario Government to enact strong accessibility standards for the built environment.

* The AODA Alliance websites Education page, documenting the AODA Alliances efforts to tear down the many barriers in Ontario’s education system facing students with disabilities.

MORE DETAILS

July 23, 2020 Ontario Government News Release

Originally posted at https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2020/07/ontario-building-and-expanding-schools-across-the-province-1.html

Ontario Newsroom

News Release

Ontario Building and Expanding Schools across the Province
July 23, 2020

Modern Facilities Will Strengthen Student Learning and Increase Access to Child Care
BRAMPTON The Ontario government is investing over $500 million to build 30 new schools and make permanent additions to 15 existing facilities, supporting over 25,000 student spaces across the province. These new, modern schools will create the foundation for a 21st century learning environment for thousands of students across the province. This investment will also generate nearly 900 new licensed child care spaces to ensure families across the province are able to access child care in their communities.
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“Our government is making a significant capital investment in our school system,” said Premier Ford. “By making these smart investments today, we will ensure our students and teachers have access to modern facilities to learn with features like high-speed Internet, accessible ramps and elevators, and air conditioning, while providing parents with access to more licensed child care spaces.”
The government is investing over $12 billion in capital grants over 10 years, including over $500million invested in this year alone to build critical new school capital projects and permanent additions. Today’s announcement continues to build upon the government’s commitment to invest up to $1 billion over five years to create up to 30,000 licensed child care spaces in schools, including 10,000 spaces in new schools. These new projects will also result in the creation of new jobs in the skilled trades as over $500 million of major infrastructure projects break ground in short order.
“It is unacceptable that too many schools in our province continue to lack the investment that our students deserve,” said Minister Lecce. “That is why this government is making a significant investment to build new schools, to extensively renovate existing schools, and expand access to licensed child care spaces in our province. Our government is modernizing our schools, our curriculum, and the delivery of learning, to ensure students are set up to succeed in an increasingly changing world.”

QUICK FACTS
list of 4 items
The Ministry of Education reviews all Capital Priorities submissions for eligibility and merit prior to announcing successful projects.
The Ministry is working in partnership with school boards to deliver high-speed Internet to all schools in Ontario, with all high schools having access to broadband by September 2020, and all elementary schools having access by September 2021. As of March 31, 2020, broadband modernization has been completed at 1,983 schools, including 403 Northern schools. Installation is currently in progress at 2,954 schools, including 99 northern schools.
The Ministry is investing $1.4 billion in renewal funding, which continues to meet the recommended funding level by the Auditor General of Ontario to preserve the condition of Ontarios school facilities.
To find out more about projects in your community, visit the Ontario Builds map. list end

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
list of 1 items
Learn more about Ontarios commitment to modernizing schools and child care spaces. list end

CONTACTS
Ivana Yelich
Premiers Office
[email protected]
Alexandra Adamo
Minister Lecces Office
[email protected]
Ingrid Anderson
Communications Branch
437 225-0321
[email protected]
Office of the Premier
http://www.ontario.ca/premier




Source link

More Helpful Media Coverage and More Organizations Endorse the AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on How to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

More Helpful Media Coverage and More Organizations Endorse the AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on How to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

June 30, 2020

          SUMMARY

With the delight of summer and the ongoing terrible stress of COVID-19 both upon us, here is a grab-bag of latest news in our multi-front campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. We wish one and all a safe, happy and accessible Canada Day.

1. Support Keeps Growing for the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on Protecting Students with Disabilities During the Transition to School Re-opening

An impressive list of 12 disability-related organizations have now endorsed the 19 recommendations to the Ford Government in the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance brief on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the transition to school re-openings. Those organizations now include:

  1. March of Dimes of Canada
  2. Citizens with Disabilities Ontario
  3. Community Living Ontario
  4. Spinal Cord Injury Ontario
  5. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  6. the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University
  7. Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy
  8. Balance for Blind Adults
  9. The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network – Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford
  10. Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired)
  11. Ontario Autism Coalition
  12. Integration Action for Inclusion

As we announced on June 26,2020, our brief’s recommendations have also been endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of public high school teachers. Thus our recommendations have a broad consensus of support from a diversity of voices within the front lines of the disability community and from teachers who work at the front lines of our education system.

It is not too late for you as an individual, or for an organization with which you are connected, to write the Ministry of Education to endorse the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on school re-openings. Email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. We’d welcome the chance to add more organizations to this list.

 2. What Has TVO Done to Fix Its Website Accessibility Problems?

The Ford Government has repeatedly announced that it has partnered with TVO to deliver online learning content to students during distance learning, while schools are closed due to COVID-19. Back on May 4, 2020, we made public the fact that there are significant accessibility problems with the online learning resources offered on the website of TVO, Ontario’s publicly-owned and operated public education TV network. This was revealed during the May 4, 2020 virtual town hall that was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We are proud that since then, over 1,600 people have watched that virtual town hall. It is still available online for you to watch, and for you to share with others to watch!

Since we revealed this problem, the AODA Alliance has expressed its concerns in detail to TVO in a 30-minute phone call on May 14, 2020 between AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and the TVO vice president for digital content. The AODA Alliance followed this up with a detailed letter to TVO’s digital content vice president on May 21, 2020. We have also raised this issue at the highest levels within the Ministry of Education. The Ministry oversees TVO.

Since then, we have not heard a word from TVO. TVO has not told us of anything it has done, if it has done anything, to act on the serious accessibility problems we identified and the concrete recommendations for action that we offered.

 3. More Media on the Impact of COVID-19on People with Disabilities

For more than three months, our media has devoted most of its attention to the COVID-19 crisis. Despite that, it has been incredibly hard for the disability community to get sufficient and appropriate media attention on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people with disabilities, and on the failure of our governments to effectively address the unmet needs of people with disabilities during this pandemic. We have tried hard and will continue to try hard to get the media to properly cover these issues.

Set out below are three good media reports that have accrued over the past weeks that we’ve wanted to share with you:

  1. An article in the June 23, 2020 Mississauga News on the barriers for people with disabilities that are threatened by Mississauga’s approach to allowing restaurants to open patios to serve the public. For practical suggestions on how to ensure such patios are accessible to people with disabilities, and don’t create barriers to people with disabilities, check out a list of tips from DesignAble Environments, an accessible design consulting firm.
  2. The May 6,2020 Global News report on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, and
  3. The May 5, 2020 report in QP Briefing on the virtual town hall organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19.

 4. Delay and Delay and More Delay from the Ford Government

There have now been 516 days, or a full year and a half, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been fully 97 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

 Mississauga News June 23, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.mississauga.com/news-story/10039099–waived-all-the-red-tape-mississauga-to-allow-more-bar-and-restaurant-patios-starting-wednesday/

‘Waived all the red tape’: Mississauga to allow more bar and restaurant patios starting Wednesday

Patios could be ‘navigational nightmare,’ accessibility advocate says

NEWS Jun 23, 2020 By Steve Cornwell Mississauga News

When Ontario allows Mississauga bars and restaurants to serve customers outdoors starting Wednesday, June 24, you may see proliferation of patios in the city.

Mississauga council is moving forward with a temporary bylaw relaxing restrictions and fees on restaurant patios in strip mall parking lots, public streets and on sidewalks.

Prior to the new bylaw, restaurants patios were permitted on private property in Mississauga’s downtown area, Port Credit or where the city has allowed them through a zoning variance.

The new rules apply to the city’s five business improvement areas and wherever restaurants have their own entrances.

Restaurant patios can extend for free once establishments reopen: province

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the move is meant to help restaurants and bars revive revenues impacted by the COIVD-19 pandemic.

“We’ve waived all the red tape,” she said. “We’ve waived all the fees and we’re just telling them to get ready because as soon as they get the green light from the province to open Phase 2 they can start serving.”

Peel Region, including Mississauga, is not yet in the province’s Stage 2 reopening phase, which allows restaurants and bars to host patrons on outdoor patios. The province will allow Peel to move to that stage June 24.

Until then, the city would continue to enforce COVID-19 emergency orders forbidding restaurants and bars from having services beyond takeaway and delivery, according to Mississauga’s planning commissioner, Andrew Whittemore.

Patios on sidewalks and on public streets would still require a temporary permit. Parking lot patios in strip malls would also need to be permitted by property managers.

Crombie also said inspectors will be out ensuring that the patios meet Mississauga’s building standards.

But accessibility advocate David Lepofsky said a sudden surge of new furniture on sidewalks could be a big proplem for individuals that use mobility devices or have low vision.

“For people like me who are blind, those patios that stick out on the sidewalk are just a big navigational nightmare in the best of times,” said Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “And they can be unpredictable. It’s there one day; it’s not there the next day.”

He said problems for people with accessibility needs could be intensified during the pandemic as there are more concerns around interacting with others for help to get around obstacles.

“Ordinarily if you got something that’s a little uncertain (in your path) you could just ask a stranger,” he said.

“But that means that I take your arm. Well, I don’t want to take your arm and you don’t want me taking your arm because now we’re not two metres apart.”

City council still needs to hold a July 8 planning and development meeting to officially pass the temporary bylaw. However, it voted to relax enforcement on patios that would be allowed under the new rule — after Mississauga enters Stage 2 — in the meantime.

Toronto is moving ahead with a similar program, CaféTO, which aims to streamline the placement of temporary sidewalk and curb lane patios, once permitted.

That program requires a minimum 2.1 metres of clearance for pedestrians and for any patio installation to be cane-detectable, meaning individuals with low or no vision can use their white-cane to navigate around it.

 Global News Online May 6, 2020

Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/

‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National

BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.” Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy. Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.

“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”

But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. “The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.

“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”

One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.

David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.

A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.

“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.

Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind. When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.

March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19, people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.

“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.

Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.

Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.

The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.” Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.

Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.

“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.

Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.

The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by. “We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said. “We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”

 QP Briefing May 5, 2020

Some Ontario e-learning doesn’t work for students with disabilities

Jack Hauen

Some TVO and ministry course content isn’t accessible to people with low vision, said Karen McCall, a professor who teaches about accessible media at Mohawk College and owns an accessible design firm. She was one of several experts who spoke at a virtual town hall hosted on Monday by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a member of the province’s K-12 AODA standards committee, and Ontario Autism Coalition President Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a high school teacher.

None of the stories in the “math storytime” section worked for McCall, who has low vision herself and uses a screen reader. She couldn’t find any homework in the “homework zone.”

Teachers did a good job of describing what was going on in the videos she watched, until they didn’t, she said. For instance, one math teacher didn’t read out the main formula students were to use.

“She said this formula equates to one quarter, but if I’m a student who’s trying to learn this, I have no idea what equates to one quarter,” McCall said.

Another gap came during a science class. “Everything was fine, everything was explained, until the teacher said, ‘Watch what happens,’ and then did not describe what was happening,” she said.

But the biggest problems came with the ministry of education’s own course preview site, McCall said, where her screen reader couldn’t make heads or tails of what it said.

“If they’re going to rely on this kind of content, they’ve got to make sure it’s properly accessible,” Lepofsky said of the provincial government.

Kirby-McIntosh noted that Zoom is the most accessible streaming service, but some school boards have banned teachers from using it. More top-down direction is needed to avoid these types of errors, she said.

Other experts during the town hall provided tips for educators and parents such as making sure videos were the highest quality possible, so kids with hearing loss can better lip read; and sticking to routines as much as possible, which helps many kids on the autism spectrum.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has held two meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education (MACSE) during the pandemic, and is also consulting the K-12 standards development committee that Lepofsky sits on, said ministry of education spokesperson Ingrid Anderson.

Lepofsky confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Lecce on Wednesday.

“TVO has been working to make all their online content and resources accessible and compliant to AODA regulations. The Ministry will continue to work with the Agency to consider ways to enhance accessibility beyond the AODA requirements,” Anderson said in a statement. “School boards remain independently accountable for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.”

The minister’s advisory committee is “no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed,” the AODA Alliance wrote in an April 29 letter to Lecce. A number of positions on the committee remain vacant, the group said. “Also, MACSE is designed to focus on ‘special education’ which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Government’s unduly narrow definition of special education students.”

The town hall’s last guest was Jeff Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of student support and field services in the ministry of education. He pointed to actions the ministry has taken already, like directing school boards to consult with their special education committees and honour individual education plans; as well as working with boards to distribute assistive technology that usually lives in schools to families.

The ministry has also hosted a series of webinars for teachers to learn about special education during the pandemic. About 500 educators have attended them so far, and more are planned, he said.

Responding to McCall’s feedback about sites not working with screen readers, he said: “I absolutely am listening on that and will take that input back. It is important to us that those resources that are there are accessible for students with disabilities and students with special needs.”

He promised to continue to engage with experts, saying that their input has been “incredibly valuable.”

It’s critical for the government to carry these lessons through to when schools eventually re-open, Lepofsky said.

For instance, some students won’t be able to socially distance or wear masks due to their disabilities, if they require a close by aide or are hypersensitive to touch. “We can’t tell those kids, ‘Oh, sorry kid, you stay home, everybody else is going back to school.’”

A “surge” in education hours will be needed for some kids with disabilities, who will have fallen further behind some of their peers, Lepofsky said, giving the example of kids learning to read braille who require hand-over-hand instruction that’s impossible to conduct online.

“This is really something we can’t leave to every single school board again to try to reinvent the same wheel,” he said, calling for the provincial government to “take on leadership here.”

Kirby-McIntosh ended the stream with a message for Lecce: don’t just assemble a “spiffy webpage with a blizzard of links,” but consult with experts and provide school boards with top-down direction on best practices.

“Please learn from this town hall,” she said, and gather ideas from the front-line people teaching kids with disabilities during the pandemic.

“The premier committed at the beginning of this crisis to protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Well, surely a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities are among those most vulnerable.”



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More Helpful Media Coverage and More Organizations Endorse the AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on How to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

June 30, 2020

SUMMARY

With the delight of summer and the ongoing terrible stress of COVID-19 both upon us, here is a grab-bag of latest news in our multi-front campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. We wish one and all a safe, happy and accessible Canada Day.

1. Support Keeps Growing for the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on Protecting Students with Disabilities During the Transition to School Re-opening

An impressive list of 12 disability-related organizations have now endorsed the 19 recommendations to the Ford Government in the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance brief on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the transition to school re-openings. Those organizations now include:

1. March of Dimes of Canada
2. Citizens with Disabilities Ontario
3. Community Living Ontario
4. Spinal Cord Injury Ontario
5. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
6. the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University 7. Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy
8. Balance for Blind Adults
9. The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford
10. Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired) 11. Ontario Autism Coalition
12. Integration Action for Inclusion

As we announced on June 26,2020, our briefs recommendations have also been endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of public high school teachers. Thus our recommendations have a broad consensus of support from a diversity of voices within the front lines of the disability community and from teachers who work at the front lines of our education system.
It is not too late for you as an individual, or for an organization with which you are connected, to write the Ministry of Education to endorse the AODA Alliances June 18, 2020 brief on school re-openings. Email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. Wed welcome the chance to add more organizations to this list.

2. What Has TVO Done to Fix Its Website Accessibility Problems?

The Ford Government has repeatedly announced that it has partnered with TVO to deliver online learning content to students during distance learning, while schools are closed due to COVID-19. Back on May 4, 2020, we made public the fact that there are significant accessibility problems with the online learning resources offered on the website of TVO, Ontarios publicly-owned and operated public education TV network. This was revealed during the May 4, 2020 virtual town hall that was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We are proud that since then, over 1,600 people have watched that virtual town hall. It is still available online for you to watch, and for you to share with others to watch!
Since we revealed this problem, the AODA Alliance has expressed its concerns in detail to TVO in a 30-minute phone call on May 14, 2020 between AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and the TVO vice president for digital content. The AODA Alliance followed this up with a detailed letter to TVOs digital content vice president on May 21, 2020. We have also raised this issue at the highest levels within the Ministry of Education. The Ministry oversees TVO.

Since then, we have not heard a word from TVO. TVO has not told us of anything it has done, if it has done anything, to act on the serious accessibility problems we identified and the concrete recommendations for action that we offered.

3. More Media on the Impact of COVID-19on People with Disabilities

For more than three months, our media has devoted most of its attention to the COVID-19 crisis. Despite that, it has been incredibly hard for the disability community to get sufficient and appropriate media attention on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people with disabilities, and on the failure of our governments to effectively address the unmet needs of people with disabilities during this pandemic. We have tried hard and will continue to try hard to get the media to properly cover these issues.
Set out below are three good media reports that have accrued over the past weeks that weve wanted to share with you:
1. An article in the June 23, 2020 Mississauga News on the barriers for people with disabilities that are threatened by Mississaugas approach to allowing restaurants to open patios to serve the public. For practical suggestions on how to ensure such patios are accessible to people with disabilities, and dont create barriers to people with disabilities, check out a list of tips from DesignAble Environments, an accessible design consulting firm.
2. The May 6,2020 Global News report on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, and
3. The May 5, 2020 report in QP Briefing on the virtual town hall organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19.

4. Delay and Delay and More Delay from the Ford Government

There have now been 516 days, or a full year and a half, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
There have been fully 97 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premiers office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected] Please stay safe!

MORE DETAILS

Mississauga News June 23, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.mississauga.com/news-story/10039099–waived-all-the-red-tape-mississauga-to-allow-more-bar-and-restaurant-patios-starting-wednesday/ Waived all the red tape: Mississauga to allow more bar and restaurant patios starting Wednesday Patios could be navigational nightmare, accessibility advocate says NEWS Jun 23, 2020 By Steve Cornwell Mississauga News
When Ontario allows Mississauga bars and restaurants to serve customers outdoors starting Wednesday, June 24, you may see proliferation of patios in the city.
Mississauga council is moving forward with a temporary bylaw relaxing restrictions and fees on restaurant patios in strip mall parking lots, public streets and on sidewalks.
Prior to the new bylaw, restaurants patios were permitted on private property in Mississaugas downtown area, Port Credit or where the city has allowed them through a zoning variance.
The new rules apply to the citys five business improvement areas and wherever restaurants have their own entrances. Restaurant patios can extend for free once establishments reopen: province
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the move is meant to help restaurants and bars revive revenues impacted by the COIVD-19 pandemic.
We’ve waived all the red tape, she said. We’ve waived all the fees and we’re just telling them to get ready because as soon as they get the green light from the province to open Phase 2 they can start serving.
Peel Region, including Mississauga, is not yet in the provinces Stage 2 reopening phase, which allows restaurants and bars to host patrons on outdoor patios. The province will allow Peel to move to that stage June 24.

Until then, the city would continue to enforce COVID-19 emergency orders forbidding restaurants and bars from having services beyond takeaway and delivery, according to Mississaugas planning commissioner, Andrew Whittemore.
Patios on sidewalks and on public streets would still require a temporary permit. Parking lot patios in strip malls would also need to be permitted by property managers.
Crombie also said inspectors will be out ensuring that the patios meet Mississaugas building standards.
But accessibility advocate David Lepofsky said a sudden surge of new furniture on sidewalks could be a big proplem for individuals that use mobility devices or have low vision.
For people like me who are blind, those patios that stick out on the sidewalk are just a big navigational nightmare in the best of times, said Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. And they can be unpredictable. It’s there one day; it’s not there the next day.
He said problems for people with accessibility needs could be intensified during the pandemic as there are more concerns around interacting with others for help to get around obstacles.
Ordinarily if you got something that’s a little uncertain (in your path) you could just ask a stranger, he said.
But that means that I take your arm. Well, I don’t want to take your arm and you don’t want me taking your arm because now we’re not two metres apart.
City council still needs to hold a July 8 planning and development meeting to officially pass the temporary bylaw. However, it voted to relax enforcement on patios that would be allowed under the new rule after Mississauga enters Stage 2 in the meantime.
Toronto is moving ahead with a similar program, CaféTO, which aims to streamline the placement of temporary sidewalk and curb lane patios, once permitted.
That program requires a minimum 2.1 metres of clearance for pedestrians and for any patio installation to be cane-detectable, meaning individuals with low or no vision can use their white-cane to navigate around it. Global News Online May 6, 2020
Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/
I need help: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities National BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and cant see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.

Its difficult, she said. I feel like Im in jail. Disability advocates say B.C.s womans death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy. Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said shes been less physically active than usual.
Its been really making me tight, really making me feel like Im fighting with my body, she said. I cant just get up and walk. I need help.
But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. The biggest thing for me is support, she said.
I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, its great but its not the same as seeing them face-to-face.
One in four Canadians about 25 per cent of the population has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.
David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.
A person who is deaf wouldnt hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who cant see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 measures that offer little support the countrys disabled.
Its because of their disability and its because no one planned for them in the emergency, he said.
Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontarios virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isnt user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind. When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two urgent discussions with the Ministers Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students learning online.

The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures, they said.
March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19, people with disabilities were facing significant challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.
Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they needto be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time, he said.
Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said theyve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.
Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.
The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities. Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken. But some advocates dont think thats enough.
Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Womens Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said because theres a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because its too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means theyre often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.
A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that, she said.
Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because theyre unable to work.

The money doesnt go as far as it used to, she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line end up barely scraping by. Were not all equal under COVID-19, she said. We need to be looking at who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that theyre supported in what theyre doing both financially but also mentally, because its its really hard work to support people who were left alone.

QP Briefing May 5, 2020
Some Ontario e-learning doesnt work for students with disabilities Jack Hauen
Some TVO and ministry course content isn’t accessible to people with low vision, saidKaren McCall, a professor who teaches about accessible media at Mohawk College and owns an accessible design firm. She was one of several experts who spoke at a virtualtown hallhosted on Monday by AODA Alliance ChairDavidLepofsky, a member of the province’s K-12AODA standards committee,and Ontario Autism Coalition PresidentLaura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a high school teacher.
None of the stories in the “math storytime” section worked for McCall, who has low vision herself and uses a screen reader. She couldn’t find any homework in the “homework zone.”
Teachers did a good job of describing what was going on in the videos she watched, until they didn’t, she said. For instance, one math teacher didn’t read out the main formula students were to use.
She said this formula equates to one quarter, but if Im a student whos trying to learn this, I have no idea what equates to one quarter, McCall said.
Another gap came during a science class. Everything was fine, everything was explained, until the teacher said, Watch what happens, and then did not describe what was happening, she said.
But the biggest problems came with the ministry of education’s own coursepreview site, McCall said, where her screen reader couldn’t make heads or tails of what it said.
If theyre going to rely on this kind of content, theyve got to make sure its properly accessible, Lepofsky said of the provincial government.
Kirby-McIntosh noted that Zoom is the most accessible streaming service, but some school boards have banned teachers from using it. More top-down direction is needed to avoid these types of errors, she said.
Other experts during the town hall provided tips for educators and parents such as making sure videos were the highest quality possible, so kids with hearing loss can better lip read; and sticking to routines as much as possible, which helps many kids on the autism spectrum.

Education MinisterStephen Leccehas held two meetings with the Ministers Advisory Council on Special Education (MACSE) during the pandemic, and is also consulting the K-12 standards development committee that Lepofsky sits on, said ministry of education spokespersonIngrid Anderson. Lepofsky confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Lecce on Wednesday.
“TVO has been working to make all their online content and resources accessible and compliant to AODA regulations. The Ministry will continue to work with the Agency to consider ways to enhance accessibility beyond the AODA requirements,” Anderson said in a statement. “School boards remain independently accountable for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students learning online.”
The minister’s advisory committee is “no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed,” the AODA Alliance wrote in an April 29letterto Lecce. A number of positions on the committee remain vacant, the group said. “Also, MACSE is designed to focus on ‘special education’ which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Governments unduly narrow definition of special education students.”
The town hall’s last guest wasJeff Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of student support and field services in the ministry of education. He pointed to actions the ministry has taken already, like directing school boards to consult with their special education committees and honour individual education plans; as well as working with boards to distribute assistive technology that usually lives in schools to families.
The ministry has also hosted a series of webinars for teachers to learn about special education during the pandemic. About 500 educators have attended them so far, and more are planned, he said.
Responding to McCall’s feedback about sites not working with screen readers, he said: I absolutely am listening on that and will take that input back. It is important to us that those resources that are there are accessible for students with disabilities and students with special needs.
He promised to continue to engage with experts, saying that their input has been “incredibly valuable.”
It’s critical for the government to carry these lessons through to when schools eventually re-open, Lepofsky said.
For instance, some students won’t be able to socially distance or wear masks due to their disabilities, if they require a close by aide or are hypersensitive to touch. We cant tell those kids, Oh, sorry kid, you stay home, everybody else is going back to school.
A “surge” in education hours will be needed for some kids with disabilities, who will have fallen further behind some of their peers, Lepofsky said, giving the example of kids learning to read braille who require hand-over-hand instruction that’s impossible to conduct online.
This is really something we cant leave to every single school board again to try to reinvent the same wheel,” he said, calling for the provincial government to “take on leadership here.”

Kirby-McIntosh ended the stream with a message for Lecce: don’t just assemble a spiffy webpage with a blizzard of links, but consult with experts and provide school boards with top-down direction on best practices.
Please learn from this town hall, she said, and gather ideas from the front-line people teaching kids with disabilities during the pandemic.
The premier committed at the beginning of this crisis to protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Well, surely a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities are among those most vulnerable.




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The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

June 26, 2020

SUMMARY

Last week, the AODA Alliance made public a detailed brief showing the Ontario Government what it must now do to address the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools during the transition to schools eventually re-opening, hopefully this fall. This brief draws on grassroots feedback we have received from many sources both before and during the COVID-19 crisis.

We are delighted that in just over one week since we submitted it to the Ontario Government, the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on what should be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis has already won important endorsements. As an important step forward, our brief’s 19 recommendations, set out below, were just endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of secondary school teachers who work at the front lines in Ontario’s public schools. OSSTF’s June 26, 2020 public statement, sent to the AODA Alliance, says:

“Supporting students with disabilities A statement from OSSTF/FEESO

June 26, 2020 – Over the past four months, educators have done their best to work with students in this unprecedented environment of emergency remote learning. The start of the new school year in September will come quickly, and it is critical that the Ontario government prepare a plan for reopening schools that meets the learning needs of all students.

It is essential for the government to ensure that they meet the learning needs of the thousands of students with disabilities in our school system now, and during the transition to school reopening.

OSSTF/FEESO supports the 19 recommendations of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance as outlined in its June 18, 2020 brief on this topic. These recommendations effectively speak to the needs of students with disabilities, their families, and those of us committed to providing those students and all students with an excellent education.”

Seven years ago, when we were in the midst of our multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tackle the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system, We were fortified and helped in our efforts when the OSSTF wrote , the Ontario Government to support our call for an Education Accessibility Standard. Several other teachers unions supported our efforts back then.

As well, we have been notified that ten key organizations in the disability community have endorsed our brief’s recommendations, including March of Dimes of Canada, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, Community Living Ontario, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University, Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy, Balance for Blind Adults, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford Network), and Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired).

We commend all those who have already supported our brief. We urge other organizations and individuals, whether within the disability community or not, to email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. Both individuals and organizations can write the Ontario Government to voice this support. Please help us get more individuals and organizations to do so.

There have been 512 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 93 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected] Please stay safe!

MORE DETAILS

List of Recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 Brief to the Ontario Government

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.

b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.

c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central 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.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and

b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.




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The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools

June 26, 2020

          SUMMARY

Last week, the AODA Alliance made public a detailed brief showing the Ontario Government what it must now do to address the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools during the transition to schools eventually re-opening, hopefully this fall. This brief draws on grassroots feedback we have received from many sources both before and during the COVID-19 crisis.

We are delighted that in just over one week since we submitted it to the Ontario Government, the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on what should be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis has already won important endorsements. As an important step forward, our brief’s 19 recommendations, set out below, were just endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of secondary school teachers who work at the front lines in Ontario’s public schools. OSSTF’s June 26, 2020 public statement, sent to the AODA Alliance, says:

“Supporting students with disabilities – A statement from OSSTF/FEESO

June 26, 2020 – Over the past four months, educators have done their best to work with students in this unprecedented environment of emergency remote learning. The start of the new school year in September will come quickly, and it is critical that the Ontario government prepare a plan for reopening schools that meets the learning needs of all students.

It is essential for the government to ensure that they meet the learning needs of the thousands of students with disabilities in our school system now, and during the transition to school reopening.

OSSTF/FEESO supports the 19 recommendations of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance as outlined in its June 18, 2020 brief on this topic. These recommendations effectively speak to the needs of students with disabilities, their families, and those of us committed to providing those students and all students with an excellent education.”

Seven years ago, when we were in the midst of our multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tackle the many barriers that impede students with disabilities  in Ontario’s education system, We were fortified and helped in our efforts when the OSSTF wrote the Ontario Government to support our call for an Education Accessibility Standard. Several other teachers unions supported our efforts back then.

As well, we have been notified that ten key organizations in the disability community have endorsed our brief’s recommendations, including March of Dimes of Canada, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, Community Living Ontario, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University, Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy, Balance for Blind Adults, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford Network), and Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired).

We commend all those who have already supported our brief. We urge other organizations and individuals, whether within the disability community or not, to email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. Both individuals and organizations can write the Ontario Government to voice this support. Please help us get more individuals and organizations to do so.

There have been 512 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 93 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

List of Recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 Brief to the Ontario Government

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

  1. a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.
  1. b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  1. c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

  1. a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
  1. b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central 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.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

  1. a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
  1. b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  1. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.



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Download in MS Word format the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 finalized brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the transition to school re-opening



Download in MS Word format the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 finalized brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the transition to school re-opening



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Please Email the Ontario Government to Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief on Measures Needed to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities Now and During the Transition to Schools Re-Opening


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Please Email the Ontario Government to Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief on Measures Needed to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities Now and During the Transition to Schools Re-Opening

June 18, 2020

          SUMMARY

Working at warp speed, the AODA Alliance has finalized and submitted its brief to the Ontario Government on what must be done to meet the needs of at least one third of a million students with disabilities in kindergarten to Grade 12 now and during the eventual transition to schools re-opening. We set out that 23-page brief below.

We invite and encourage you to email the Ontario Government right away to support our brief’s 19 recommendations. Those recommendations are set out and described throughout the brief. To make it easier for you, at the end of the brief is an appendix that lists all the recommendations together in one place.

You can support us by emailing the Government at this address: [email protected] If you are part of a disability community organization, please get your organization to write the Government to support our recommendations. Of course, we encourage you to add any thoughts, experiences or recommendations that you wish.

It is good if you can use your own words when you write the Government. If you don’t have time, you might just wish to say something like this:

“I support the recommendations made in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities now and during the transition to re-opened schools.”

We thank everyone who took the time to read over the draft of this brief that we circulated for comment on June 11, 2020. We got fantastic feedback. We drew heavily on that feedback as we finalized this brief.

This finalized brief makes all the 17 recommendations that were in our draft brief (with some minor improvements) with one exception. Based on feedback we received, we removed our draft recommendation 13(b) in the draft brief. It had recommended that schools re-open for vulnerable students first. Our finalized brief replaced that recommendation with this, in #13(b):

“The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.”

This finalized brief adds two new recommendations, 18 and 19. These propose that the Government and school boards across the board make more use during the COVID-19 pandemic of the Special Education Advisory Committee that each Ontario school board is required to have, if they are not doing so now.

In addition to writing the Government to support our recommendations, we encourage you to send this brief to your local school board and school trustees. Encourage them to take the actions we recommend in this brief.

For more background on these issues, please visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page and our education web page.

Stay safe, and let us know what you do to help us press for these reforms. Email us at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

A Brief to the Ontario Government on Key Measures Needed to Address the Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities in Ontario During the COVID-19 Crisis Both During Distance Learning and During The Transition to the Eventual Re-Opening of Schools

Submitted by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

To: The Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

Via email [email protected]

June 18, 2020

 Introduction

The AODA Alliance submits this brief to the Minister of Education for Ontario, in response to the Ministry of Education’s public consultation on the transition to school re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations. Our mission is:

“To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.”

To learn about us, visit: https://www.aodaalliance.org.

Our coalition is the successor to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee advocated more than ten years for the enactment of strong, effective disability accessibility legislation. Our coalition builds on the ODA Committee’s work. We draw our membership from the ODA Committee’s broad, grassroots base. To learn about the ODA Committee’s history, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net.

We have been widely recognized by the Ontario Government, by all political parties in the Ontario Legislature, within the disability community and by the media, as a key voice leading the non-partisan campaign for accessibility in Ontario. In every provincial election since 2005, parties that made election commitments on accessibility did so in letters to the AODA Alliance.

Among our many activities, we led a multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA to tear down the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. Our years of efforts to advocate for accessibility for students with disabilities are documented on our website’s education page.

Our efforts and expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities have been recognized in MPPs’ speeches in the Ontario Legislature, and beyond. Our website and Twitter feed are widely consulted as helpful sources of information on accessibility efforts in Ontario and elsewhere. We have achieved this as an unfunded volunteer community coalition.

The Government must pay special heed to the input it receives from the disability community including parents of students with disabilities . Input to the Government from other organizations can fail to effectively address the specific experience and needs of students with disabilities . The recommendations in this brief are gathered together in a list in the appendix appearing at the end of this brief. Our position in this brief is summarized as follows:

  1. a) The COVID-19 crisis has imposed disproportionate added hardships on people with disabilities. As part of this, it has led to disproportionate, serious hardships being inflicted on students with disabilities in Ontario schools. These hardships are exacerbated by no small part by serious pre-existing problems and disability barriers that have faced students with disabilities for years in Ontario’s education system, which have been made even worse for too many students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. b) In this brief we address the needs of all students with disabilities, using the inclusive definition of “disability” in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . We do not limit our recommendations to the narrower group of students whose disability falls in the narrower definitions of “special education “ or “exceptionality” that the Ministry of Education uses.
  1. c) To date, the provincial response to the problems facing students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantially insufficient. The AODA Alliance offers 19 recommendations in this brief, to effectively address this, starting now and into the fall. Our fuller recommendations for comprehensive and long term reforms in the form of a strong and effective Education Accessibility Standard are set out in the AODA Alliance’s October 10, 20-19 Framework for the promised Education Accessibility Standard.
  1. d) While students are not able to go to school this spring due to the COVID-19 crisis, students with disabilities are experiencing wildly different learning experiences. Some are making good progress. Some are making much less progress. Some are making no progress or are losing ground. Some are getting extensive educational supports from their school board. Some are getting much less support. Some are getting little if any support. Conditions and supports can vary widely, even within the same school board and by students with the same disability.
  1. e) There is a pressing need for a comprehensive Ministry of Education plan of action to address the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
  1. f) There is a need for a provincial “Students with Disabilities Command Table” at the Ministry of Education.
  1. g) The Ministry must prevent a rash of principals refusing to admit some students with disabilities to school when schools re-open.
  1. h) There is a need for specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for individual students with disabilities before and during the transition to return to school.
  1. i) There is a need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to be established to address recurring urgent needs of students with disabilities.
  1. j) A surge of specialized supports for students with disabilities is needed when schools re-open.
  1. k) School boards must plan for the needs of students with disabilities who cannot themselves ensure social distancing.
  1. l) The Ministry must ensure the full accessibility of digital platforms used for remote classes or “synchronous learning”.
  1. m) The Ontario Government must immediately ensure the digital accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO online learning resources.
  1. n) The Ministry of Education and school boards must stop making some learning resources available only in PDF format as this creates accessibility barriers.
  1. o) One size fits all does not fit for return to school.
  1. p) There is a need for a rapid method to spread the word to teachers and parents about effective teaching strategies for students with disabilities during COVID-19.
  1. q) Distance learning must be effectively provided for students who cannot return to school right away when schools re-open.
  1. r) The Ministry of Education should now create provincial resources for parents to prepare their students for the return to school.
  1. s) New protocols are needed for safe school bussing for students with disabilities.
  1. t) The Ministry should ensure the very active engagement of each school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee.

This brief builds on extensive involvement of the AODA Alliance during the COVID-19 crisis, advocating for the needs of people with disabilities across society. On June 11, 2020, we made public a draft of this brief, and solicited public input on it. We were very gratified by the supportive and helpful feedback we received. We have drawn heavily on that feedback to produce this finalized brief. We are urging one and all to share their own advice and recommendations with the Ontario Government during this important consultation.

 1. Pressing Need for A Comprehensive Ministry of Education Plan of Action to Address Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the AODA Alliance has repeatedly urged the Ontario Government to develop and announce a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This has been needed so over 70 school boards don’t have to each re-invent the wheel in deciding what the needs of students with disabilities are and how best to meet them. To date, the Ontario Government has not done what we have urged.

The need for this comprehensive provincial plan remains pressing during the period of distance learning due to school closures. It is also needed to ensure that students with disabilities’ needs are met across Ontario when schools eventually re-open. Ontario needs to also be prepared in the event of the realistic possibility that distance learning will have to continue in the fall, either because school re-opening is further delayed, or because a second wave of COVID-19 would require another round of school closures.

To date, the Ontario Government has primarily focused its education strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic on students without disabilities. Almost as an afterthought, it then reminded school boards that they should also accommodate students with special education needs.

The plan for students with disabilities should, to the extent possible, be included in the Ministry’s overall plan for school re-opening.

We therefore recommend that:

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

 2. Need for a Provincial “Students with Disabilities Command Table”

To deal with the need for rapid planning during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has commendably set up its own “command tables” to deal with critical areas, like health care planning and planning for the safe operation of the economy during this crisis. This enables the Government to have critical expertise at the table to make rapid and key decisions.

There is a pressing need for a “students with disabilities command table” within the Government to plan for the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. No such table or concentrated expertise centre exists now within Ontario’s Ministry of Education. We have been pressing for this for three months. That table needs to be staffed by professionals with focused expertise on providing education to students with disabilities.

This is not meant to be an advisory or consultative table. It needs to be a planning and implementation table that can quickly and nimbly make decisions and effectively connect with the frontlines in the education system, where the action is.

This need is not fulfilled by the Minister of Education having had some consultative meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Special Education (MACSE), which still has vacancies, or with the AODA K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Those bodies are only advisory. They do not have the capacity of a Ministry command table. Of course, it is good that they have been consulted.

We therefore recommend that:

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

 3. Preventing a Rash of Refusals to Admit Students with Disabilities to School When Schools Re-Open

Ontario’s Education Act lets a school principal refuse to admit to school any “person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils…”. Disability advocates have repeatedly criticized this as an excessive, arbitrary and unfair power. The Education Act and the Ministry of Education leave to school boards and individual principals an extremely wide discretion over when, how and why to exclude a student from school under this power. The Education Act does not even require principals to give a parent their reasons for excluding a student from school. It does not cap the duration of the student’s exclusion from school. It does not require a school board or the Ministry to keep track of how often or why students are excluded from school under this power.

Disproportionately, this excessive power has been used against students with disabilities, leading them too often to be excluded from school altogether or allowing them to attend school only for reduced hours. Long before the COVID-19 crisis, parents’ and students’ advocates have called for this power to be reduced and regulated. See for example the January 30, 2019 joint news release by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. To date, the Ontario Government has not made any significant reform of this power.

In September 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released an updated policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a serious risk that some principals will feel at liberty to use this power to exclude some students with disabilities from school during school re-openings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially before any effective vaccine is invented and widely available. This is especially so if school boards do not now effectively plan for the inclusion and accommodation of students with disabilities at school during the transition to school re-opening. They may do so either because they don’t know how to accommodate some students with disabilities during social distancing, or because the Ontario Government and/or their school board has not given them the staffing, directions and resources they need to be able to effectively include and accommodate those students at school for part or all of the school day. Such exclusions from school raise serious human rights concerns and are contrary to the student’s right to an education.

With all the uncertainties and pressures anticipated during the transition back to school, a principal can be expected to feel a real temptation to use the power to refuse to admit such students to school during a COVID-19 school re-opening. This is so because it would seem to solve the problem of having to plan for those students’ needs at school.

The need to reform practices regarding a school principal’s power to refuse to admit a student to school for part or all of the school day has therefore become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AODA Alliance considers this a major priority. It is essential that school re-openings this fall do not lead to a rash of principals’ refusals to admit any number of students with disabilities to school. Such a rash of exclusions would thereby create two classes of students, those allowed to return to school and those who are excluded from school, especially if this disproportionately divides along disability lines.

The Ontario Government has commendably been willing to give directions to a school board about the use of its power to refuse to admit students to school in other contexts. It can and should do so here as well. The Ontario Ministry of Education has very recently given directions to the Peel District School Board to keep and report data on exclusions of students from school by race. In directive number 9, the Ministry stipulated that:

“The Board shall centrally track disaggregated race-based data on suspensions (in-school and out-of-school), expulsions and exclusions, and report publicly through the Annual Equity Accountability Report Card.”

We therefore recommend that:

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

  1. a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.
  1. b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  1. c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

 4. Need for Specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for Individual Students with Disabilities Before and During Transition to Return to School

For each student with disabilities, distance learning during COVID-19 will have created different deficits and challenges. The transition back to school will present challenges and needs that will vary from student to student.

Students’ IEPs were all written earlier this past school year while students were in school. They were written with no contemplation of the COVID-19 crisis or the challenges and hardships of distance learning and then of a later transition back to school. All students with disabilities will need their IEP modified to address these unforeseen needs.

As an immediate measure, students with disabilities each now need a customized COVID-19 –specific IEP to be created and implemented. This should not be limited to students whose disability fits within the narrow and incomplete definition of “exceptionality” in Ontario, which leaves out some disabilities. It should be provided to any student that has a disability within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It should not be limited to students whose disability has been formally “identified” at an Identification and Placement Review Committee.

This COVID-19 IEP would not replace the student’s existing IEP. It would not replace the usual IEP development process when school is back in usual operation. This COVID-19 IEP is meant as an immediate, temporary or interim measure to address these hitherto-unanticipated events and related learning needs. IEPs are supported to deal, among other things, with transition needs. Both the transition to distance learning and the later transition to school re-opening fit well within that rubric.

The COVID-19 IEP should be developed now and over the summer, not in the fall when students are already back in school. This may well require new resources to enable this to be developed over the summer.

As noted earlier, there is a real possibility that distance learning will continue in September, or may have to later resume due to a resurgence or a second wave of COVID-19. These COVID-19 IEPs need to now anticipate and effectively address each of these possible eventualities.

The development of each student’s COVID-19 IEP should start with a direct phone conversation as soon as possible between the student’s teacher and the family. They should discuss where the gains and gaps have been, the concerns for the fall that are anticipated and how best to address them. The COVID-19 IEP should be developed in close consultation with the family and, where appropriate, the student.

We therefore recommend that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

  1. a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
  1. b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

 5. Need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to Be Established to Address Recurring Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities

During the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario’s education system continues to try to navigate uncharted territory. No matter how much planning for the needs of students with disabilities takes place as we here recommend, unexpected surprises will crop up. School boards and the Ministry of Education each need to be able to quickly detect these, and to nimbly respond to them. Traditionally, large organizations are not always the best at rapid and nimble adaptations in the midst of great uncertainty.

Parents, teachers and principals need a central point in the school board to report difficult challenges. Each school board needs to quickly feed this information to a single point at the Ministry that is staying on top of things, for rapid responses to recurring issues around the province.

We therefore recommend that:

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central 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.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

 6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

All students will have fallen behind to varying extents during the months when schools were closed. This hardship falls especially on students with disabilities who have additional specialized curriculum to learn, related to their disabilities, or who need specialized supports to learn which are unavailable during distance learning.

When students return to school, students with disabilities who need those supports will need a surge in the hours of support provided to them to help them catch up and adjust to the return to school. School boards cannot simply pull those resources out of the air. School boards will need added funding to hire those staff. They will need provincial help in finding them where there are shortages.

For example, students with vision loss are unable to get the full benefit of teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) teaching hands-on braille reading when schools are closed. When schools re-open, school boards will need to engage additional TVIs to help ramp up the surge in TVI hours to be provided to students. There is now a shortage of TVIs in Ontario. The Ministry will need to lead a concerted effort to create a surge of TVIs to help school boards fill this gap during the return to school. Comparable needs can similarly be identified for students with other disabilities where such specialized educational support is needed.

We therefore recommend that:

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

 7. Planning for Needs of Students with Disabilities Who Cannot Themselves Ensure Social Distancing

As an illustration of the last issue discussed, any return to school while COVID-19 continues to exist in our community will require students to engage in social distancing. If schools re-open, they will be doing so mindful of the fact that many students will not be able to consistently and reliably engage in social distancing, frequent hand washing and other important protective activities. Many are too young to ensure that they can fully understand the need to do so and comply. For some older children, it may seem cool to periodically break the rules. For many, it will be impossible to remain attentive to these precautions all the time.

For any number of students with disabilities, social distancing and related safe practices may pose additional challenges. For some, wearing a mask may not be possible due to such things as sensory integration or behavioural issues.

Some students with disabilities require an education assistant (EA) or special needs assistant (SNA) for all or part of the day to fully take part in school activities. For some of these students, it will not be possible to remain two meters away while providing the support or assistance that the student needs. Some will require close assistance for eating, hand-washing and other personal needs.

Pre-COVID-19 staffing levels for EAs and SNAs were too often inadequate. They did not account for these important additional requirements. EAs and SNAs were not experienced with or trained for this before COVID-19. It is not sufficient to now send them an email with instructions, or a link to a training video, and thereafter to assume that they will be fully equipped to consistently and reliably handle these duties. In addition to new in-person training, they will need to have constant access to good quality personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks.

It is also important to employ enough EAs and SNAs so that they don’t have to split their time among multiple schools or venues, lest they pose a greater risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus from place to place among vulnerable students.

We therefore recommend that:

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

 8. Ensuring Full Accessibility of Digital Platforms Used for Remote Classes or “Synchronous Learning”

We do not here wade into the dispute between the Ford Government and some teachers’ unions about whether or when a teacher should conduct online classes for their students in real time over the internet, sometimes called “synchronous learning”. We insist, however, that whenever an online real time class or synchronous learning takes place, or any other online meeting involving students with disabilities or their parents in connection with their education, it must be conducted via a fully accessible digital meeting platform.

When the Ontario Government moved our education system from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom in late March, it should have ensured from the start that the choice of digital meeting platforms was fully accessible. The Ontario Government did not do so, nor did it monitor school boards to see what platforms they were using. The Ontario Government dropped the ball on this critical accessibility concern, to the detriment of students, teachers and parents with disabilities. The Ministry of Education took the erroneous position that it was up to each school board to decide which online virtual meeting platform to use, based on the board’s assessment of its local needs. Yet these disability accessibility needs do not vary from school board to school board. They are the same across Ontario. The Ministry wastefully leaves it to each school board to investigate the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms.

As a belated partial attempt to address this problem, the Minister of Education wrote school boards on or around May 26, 2020 about several issues regarding distance learning. That memo stated, among other things:

“Boards must ensure that the platforms they use for connecting with students and families are fully accessible for persons with disabilities.”

However, that direction provides no assistance to school boards on which platforms to use or avoid, or how to figure this out. It still leaves it to each school board to investigate this as much or as little as they wish, and then to duplicate the same investigations of this issue over and over across Ontario. We have seen no indication that the Minister’s direction led any school boards to change what they were doing in this regard.

This issue remains a live one and will continue into the fall. It is not clear when schools will re-open. Our education system may still be running on 100% distance learning at the start of the fall school term. Even when schools re-open, there is a real likelihood that some distance learning will continue in some blended model of in-school and distance education. As noted earlier, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits, as has happened elsewhere, requiring another round of school closures, Ontario will have to return to 100% distance learning.

At least one school board has improperly prohibited the use of Zoom, even though it is at least as accessible as, or more accessible than, other platforms. The Ministry of the Attorney General did its own comparison of digital meeting platforms, for use by the courts. The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has decided to use Zoom as its platform for virtual court proceedings. If Zoom is safe enough for the Superior Court of Justice, there is no reason why a school board should prohibit its use.

Canada’s largest school board, TDSB, has announced that it is using Webex for parent-teacher meetings. This is so even though Webex has real accessibility problems. Such a practice should not be allowed.

We have heard examples of quite inaccurate information on this topic from some in the school board sector. Parents should not have to fight about this, one school board at a time, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

This topic requires ongoing effort and leadership by the Ministry. By August, there could well have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. School boards need to operate based on current information.

We therefore recommend that:

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

 9. Ensuring Digital Accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO Online Learning Resources

Over three months into the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has still not ensured that the online content that it provides to school boards, teachers, parents and students meets accessibility requirements for computer-users with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has been raising concerns with the Government about this since early in the pandemic. We have seen no public commitment to the needed corrective action. We have raised our concerns at senior levels within TVO and the Ministry of Education. The Government and TVO were required to comply with these accessibility requirements well before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We therefore recommend that:

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

 10. Stop Making Some Learning Resources Available Only in PDF Format

Throughout this pandemic, as well as beforehand, the Ministry of Education and too many school boards have continued to make important digital information available to the public, including to parents, teachers and students, only in pdf format. That format can present accessibility problems for people with disabilities. When a document is made public in PDF format, it should also be made public in an accessible format, such as MS Word. This is an important time to start this long-overdue practice.

We therefore recommend that:

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

 11. One Size Fits All Does Not Fit for Return to School

To avoid chaos, a return to school should not be done all at once using a one-size-fits-all approach. Because we are in uncharted waters, it makes sense to go about this gradually and to try different approaches at different locations to see what works. We must avoid students with disabilities being again treated as after-thoughts who have to try to fit into a chaotic situation that was not designed with their needs in mind.

One suggestion that some have raised is to enable students with disabilities to return to school first, and for teaching staff to ensure their needs are met, before trying to also cope with an onslaught of all other students. Some have raised with us a concern that this might turn out to be a form of segregation, and could be detrimental for some of those students.

We therefore recommend that:

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

  1. a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
  1. b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

 12. Need for A Rapid Method to Spread the Word to Teachers and Parents About Effective Teaching Strategies for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

Teachers and parents of students with disabilities are struggling around Ontario to cope with distance learning and the barriers it can create for many students with disabilities. Teachers and parents are creating novel work-arounds to address this.

Yet the Ontario Government has not been effectively canvassing the frontlines of teachers and parents to gather these up and share them around the province, so all can benefit without having to re-invent the wheel in the midst of a traumatic pandemic. We have called on the Ontario Government for the past three months to do this without success. We modelled one way of doing this by our successful May 4, 2020 online virtual town hall on teaching students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis (jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition). As far as we have been able to learn, the Ontario Government has neither taken up that idea nor has it shared with school boards the link to our May 4, 2020 virtual town hall so that they can all benefit from it. We have repeatedly asked the Ministry of Education to share that link with school boards.

In the meantime, to fill this gap, several school boards have commendably been trying to address this need themselves. They have themselves been compiling good ideas and sharing them within their own board.

This is a huge and wasteful duplication of effort. The Ontario Government should be centrally accumulating and compiling all these resources, as well as researching what other jurisdictions have compiled from their own experience. These should be rapidly made available to frontline teachers and parents in a way that is easy to access, not by a blizzard of endless links that few if anyone will have the time to explore.

This effort should have been done weeks ago. Nevertheless, it is still not too late, since distance learning will remain part of our lives in whole or in part until a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and widely administered.

It is important that any such resources be themselves fully accessible to teacher, school staff, students and family members with disabilities. We regret that we have no assurance of this. On June 15, 2020, the Ontario Government announced in a news release that it was now making available new teaching materials during the COVID-19 crisis, under the headline: “Ontario Develops Additional Learning Materials for Students and Teachers”. The AODA Alliance promptly wrote senior officials at the Ministry of Education to ask what steps were taken to ensure that these new educational materials are accessible to people with disabilities, and asking what was done to include tips for teaching students with disabilities. The Ministry has not answered as of the time this brief was submitted.

We therefore recommend that:

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

 13. Distance Learning Must Be Effectively Provided for Students Who Cannot Return to School

When schools re-open, each school board will have a duty to accommodate its students with disabilities in school unless the school board can prove that it is impossible to do so without undue hardship. There may be some students who cannot return to school when others do. Their disability may make it impossible to accommodate them in school under the restrictions that apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students may not be able to return to school because their parents or other family members with whom they live are so medically vulnerable or immuno-compromised that the family must take heightened precautions to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

In those cases, even if other students are learning at school, the school board must provide effective and accessible distance learning for those students who must remain at home. This may include home visits from teaching staff. In this, students with disabilities must be more effectively and consistently served during distance learning than was the case in the spring.

We therefore recommend that:

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

 14. Creating Provincial Resources for Parents to Prepare Their Students for Return to School

Some students with disabilities will need extensive preparation at home for their eventual return to school, including learning about social distancing and other new school practices due to COVID-19. Some parents will need a great deal of time to deal with this. Each school board or teacher and family should not have to duplicate these efforts by inventing their own curriculum, social stories or other resources.

We therefore recommend that:

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

 15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

There were ample problems with bussing of students with disabilities to school before the COVID-19 crisis. In any return to school, heightened safeguards will be needed, including frequent sanitization of busses, ensuring students are seated more than 2 meters from each other and ensuring that the driver has PPE and doesn’t risk spreading COVID-19. It is not realistic to expect that this will all simply happen with private sector bussing companies who employ casual and part time drivers working at low wages.

We therefore recommend that:

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

 16. Ensure Very Active Engagement of Each School Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee

Each Ontario school board is required to have a Special Education Advisory Committee to advise it on special education issues. We understand that some have met regularly during the school closures, using conference calls or virtual online meeting platforms. Others have not met regularly, from what we have heard.

SEACs have a great deal to offer in this area. In making our recommendations about SEACs, we note that SEACs are not required to include representation regarding students with all kinds of disabilities. They are instead required only to have members that represent families whose students whose disability falls within the more limited definition of “exceptionality” that the Ministry of Education uses. Of course, it is open to a school board to have its SEAC have a more inclusive membership. It is also open to SEAC members to speak to any needs of any students with disabilities . School boards and the Ontario Government must ensure that they get input regarding students with any and all kinds of disabilities.

It is essential that each school board ensures that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) is meeting at least once per month, if not more, during the COVID-19pandemic, including during the transition to re-opening. While they usually don’t meet during the summer, they should meet if possible during the 2020 summer. They should be fully engaged in planning for the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period.

Their volunteer efforts would have more impact if the Ministry of Education took two easy steps. First, the Minister should create a virtual network or listserv to enable SEACs to share their work with each other. No such network now exists. As well, the Ministry should collect input from all Ontario’s SEACs on their concerns and advice given during the COVID-19 era, as this is a readily-available avenue to more front-line experience of students with disabilities.

We therefore recommend that:

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  1. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.

Appendix – List of Recommendations

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school. including directions that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

  1. a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
  1. b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central 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.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

  1. a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
  1. b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee(SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  1. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.



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Please Email the Ontario Government to Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief on Measures Needed to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities Now and During the Transition to Schools Re-Opening


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

June 18, 2020

SUMMARY

Working at warp speed, the AODA Alliance has finalized and submitted its brief to the Ontario Government on what must be done to meet the needs of at least one third of a million students with disabilities in kindergarten to Grade 12 now and during the eventual transition to schools re-opening. We set out that 23-page brief below.

We invite and encourage you to email the Ontario Government right away to support our briefs 19 recommendations. Those recommendations are set out and described throughout the brief. To make it easier for you, at the end of the brief is an appendix that lists all the recommendations together in one place.

You can support us by emailing the Government at this address: [email protected] If you are part of a disability community organization, please get your organization to write the Government to support our recommendations. Of course, we encourage you to add any thoughts, experiences or recommendations that you wish.

It is good if you can use your own words when you write the Government. If you dont have time, you might just wish to say something like this:

I support the recommendations made in the AODA Alliances June 18, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities now and during the transition to re-opened schools.

We thank everyone who took the time to read over the draft of this brief that we circulated for comment on June 11, 2020. We got fantastic feedback. We drew heavily on that feedback as we finalized this brief.

This finalized brief makes all the 17 recommendations that were in our draft brief (with some minor improvements) with one exception. Based on feedback we received, we removed our draft recommendation 13(b) in the draft brief. It had recommended that schools re-open for vulnerable students first. Our finalized brief replaced that recommendation with this, in #13(b):

The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

This finalized brief adds two new recommendations, 18 and 19. These propose that the Government and school boards across the board make more use during the COVID-19 pandemic of the Special Education Advisory Committee that each Ontario school board is required to have, if they are not doing so now.

In addition to writing the Government to support our recommendations, we encourage you to send this brief to your local school board and school trustees. Encourage them to take the actions we recommend in this brief.

For more background on these issues, please visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page and our education web page.

Stay safe, and let us know what you do to help us press for these reforms. Email us at [email protected]

MORE DETAILS
A Brief to the Ontario Government on Key Measures Needed to Address the Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities in Ontario During the COVID-19 Crisis Both During Distance Learning and During The Transition to the Eventual Re-Opening of Schools

Submitted by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

To: The Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education
Via email [email protected]
June 18, 2020

Introduction

The AODA Alliance submits this brief to the Minister of Education for Ontario, in response to the Ministry of Educations public consultation on the transition to school re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations. Our mission is:

To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. To learn about us, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org.

Our coalition is the successor to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee advocated more than ten years for the enactment of strong, effective disability accessibility legislation. Our coalition builds on the ODA Committees work. We draw our membership from the ODA Committee’s broad, grassroots base. To learn about the ODA Committees history, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net.

We have been widely recognized by the Ontario Government, by all political parties in the Ontario Legislature, within the disability community and by the media, as a key voice leading the non-partisan campaign for accessibility in Ontario. In every provincial election since 2005, parties that made election commitments on accessibility did so in letters to the AODA Alliance.

Among our many activities, we led a multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA to tear down the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. Our years of efforts to advocate for accessibility for students with disabilities are documented on our websites education page.

Our efforts and expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities have been recognized in MPPs speeches in the Ontario Legislature, and beyond. Our website and Twitter feed are widely consulted as helpful sources of information on accessibility efforts in Ontario and elsewhere. We have achieved this as an unfunded volunteer community coalition.

The Government must pay special heed to the input it receives from the disability community including parents of students with disabilities . Input to the Government from other organizations can fail to effectively address the specific experience and needs of students with disabilities . The recommendations in this brief are gathered together in a list in the appendix appearing at the end of this brief. Our position in this brief is summarized as follows:

a) The COVID-19 crisis has imposed disproportionate added hardships on people with disabilities. As part of this, it has led to disproportionate, serious hardships being inflicted on students with disabilities in Ontario schools. These hardships are exacerbated by no small part by serious pre-existing problems and disability barriers that have faced students with disabilities for years in Ontario’s education system, which have been made even worse for too many students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

b) In this brief we address the needs of all students with disabilities, using the inclusive definition of disability in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . We do not limit our recommendations to the narrower group of students whose disability falls in the narrower definitions of special education or exceptionality that the Ministry of Education uses.

c) To date, the provincial response to the problems facing students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantially insufficient. The AODA Alliance offers 19 recommendations in this brief, to effectively address this, starting now and into the fall. Our fuller recommendations for comprehensive and long term reforms in the form of a strong and effective Education Accessibility Standard are set out in the AODA Alliances October 10, 20-19 Framework for the promised Education Accessibility Standard.

d) While students are not able to go to school this spring due to the COVID-19 crisis, students with disabilities are experiencing wildly different learning experiences. Some are making good progress. Some are making much less progress. Some are making no progress or are losing ground. Some are getting extensive educational supports from their school board. Some are getting much less support. Some are getting little if any support. Conditions and supports can vary widely, even within the same school board and by students with the same disability.

e) There is a pressing need for a comprehensive Ministry of Education plan of action to address the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

f) There is a need for a provincial Students with Disabilities Command Table at the Ministry of Education.

g) The Ministry must prevent a rash of principals refusing to admit some students with disabilities to school when schools re-open.

h) There is a need for specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for individual students with disabilities before and during the transition to return to school.

i) There is a need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to be established to address recurring urgent needs of students with disabilities.

j) A surge of specialized supports for students with disabilities is needed when schools re-open.

k) School boards must plan for the needs of students with disabilities who cannot themselves ensure social distancing.

l) The Ministry must ensure the full accessibility of digital platforms used for remote classes or synchronous learning.

m) The Ontario Government must immediately ensure the digital accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO online learning resources.

n) The Ministry of Education and school boards must stop making some learning resources available only in PDF format as this creates accessibility barriers.

o) One size fits all does not fit for return to school.

p) There is a need for a rapid method to spread the word to teachers and parents about effective teaching strategies for students with disabilities during COVID-19.

q) Distance learning must be effectively provided for students who cannot return to school right away when schools re-open.

r) The Ministry of Education should now create provincial resources for parents to prepare their students for the return to school.

s) New protocols are needed for safe school bussing for students with disabilities.

t) The Ministry should ensure the very active engagement of each school boards Special Education Advisory Committee.

This brief builds on extensive involvement of the AODA Alliance during the COVID-19 crisis, advocating for the needs of people with disabilities across society. On June 11, 2020, we made public a draft of this brief, and solicited public input on it. We were very gratified by the supportive and helpful feedback we received. We have drawn heavily on that feedback to produce this finalized brief. We are urging one and all to share their own advice and recommendations with the Ontario Government during this important consultation.

1. Pressing Need for A Comprehensive Ministry of Education Plan of Action to Address Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the AODA Alliance has repeatedly urged the Ontario Government to develop and announce a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This has been needed so over 70 school boards dont have to each re-invent the wheel in deciding what the needs of students with disabilities are and how best to meet them. To date, the Ontario Government has not done what we have urged.

The need for this comprehensive provincial plan remains pressing during the period of distance learning due to school closures. It is also needed to ensure that students with disabilities needs are met across Ontario when schools eventually re-open. Ontario needs to also be prepared in the event of the realistic possibility that distance learning will have to continue in the fall, either because school re-opening is further delayed, or because a second wave of COVID-19 would require another round of school closures.

To date, the Ontario Government has primarily focused its education strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic on students without disabilities. Almost as an afterthought, it then reminded school boards that they should also accommodate students with special education needs.

The plan for students with disabilities should, to the extent possible, be included in the Ministrys overall plan for school re-opening.

We therefore recommend that:

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministrys overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

2. Need for a Provincial Students with Disabilities Command Table

To deal with the need for rapid planning during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has commendably set up its own command tables to deal with critical areas, like health care planning and planning for the safe operation of the economy during this crisis. This enables the Government to have critical expertise at the table to make rapid and key decisions.

There is a pressing need for a students with disabilities command table within the Government to plan for the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. No such table or concentrated expertise centre exists now within Ontarios Ministry of Education. We have been pressing for this for three months. That table needs to be staffed by professionals with focused expertise on providing education to students with disabilities.

This is not meant to be an advisory or consultative table. It needs to be a planning and implementation table that can quickly and nimbly make decisions and effectively connect with the frontlines in the education system, where the action is.

This need is not fulfilled by the Minister of Education having had some consultative meetings with the Ministers Advisory Committee on Special Education (MACSE), which still has vacancies, or with the AODA K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Those bodies are only advisory. They do not have the capacity of a Ministry command table. Of course, it is good that they have been consulted.

We therefore recommend that:

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a Students with Disabilities Education Command Table to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

3. Preventing a Rash of Refusals to Admit Students with Disabilities to School When Schools Re-Open

Ontarios Education Act lets a school principal refuse to admit to school any person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principals judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. Disability advocates have repeatedly criticized this as an excessive, arbitrary and unfair power. The Education Act and the Ministry of Education leave to school boards and individual principals an extremely wide discretion over when, how and why to exclude a student from school under this power. The Education Act does not even require principals to give a parent their reasons for excluding a student from school. It does not cap the duration of the students exclusion from school. It does not require a school board or the Ministry to keep track of how often or why students are excluded from school under this power.

Disproportionately, this excessive power has been used against students with disabilities, leading them too often to be excluded from school altogether or allowing them to attend school only for reduced hours. Long before the COVID-19 crisis, parents and students advocates have called for this power to be reduced and regulated. See for example the January 30, 2019 joint news release by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. To date, the Ontario Government has not made any significant reform of this power.

In September 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released an updated policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a serious risk that some principals will feel at liberty to use this power to exclude some students with disabilities from school during school re-openings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially before any effective vaccine is invented and widely available. This is especially so if school boards do not now effectively plan for the inclusion and accommodation of students with disabilities at school during the transition to school re-opening. They may do so either because they dont know how to accommodate some students with disabilities during social distancing, or because the Ontario Government and/or their school board has not given them the staffing, directions and resources they need to be able to effectively include and accommodate those students at school for part or all of the school day. Such exclusions from school raise serious human rights concerns and are contrary to the students right to an education.

With all the uncertainties and pressures anticipated during the transition back to school, a principal can be expected to feel a real temptation to use the power to refuse to admit such students to school during a COVID-19 school re-opening. This is so because it would seem to solve the problem of having to plan for those students needs at school.

The need to reform practices regarding a school principals power to refuse to admit a student to school for part or all of the school day has therefore become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AODA Alliance considers this a major priority. It is essential that school re-openings this fall do not lead to a rash of principals refusals to admit any number of students with disabilities to school. Such a rash of exclusions would thereby create two classes of students, those allowed to return to school and those who are excluded from school, especially if this disproportionately divides along disability lines.

The Ontario Government has commendably been willing to give directions to a school board about the use of its power to refuse to admit students to school in other contexts. It can and should do so here as well. The Ontario Ministry of Education has very recently given directions to the Peel District School Board to keep and report data on exclusions of students from school by race. In directive number 9, the Ministry stipulated that:

The Board shall centrally track disaggregated race-based data on suspensions (in-school and out-of-school), expulsions and exclusions, and report publicly through the Annual Equity Accountability Report Card.

We therefore recommend that:

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.

b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the familys right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.

c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school boards senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

4. Need for Specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for Individual Students with Disabilities Before and During Transition to Return to School

For each student with disabilities, distance learning during COVID-19 will have created different deficits and challenges. The transition back to school will present challenges and needs that will vary from student to student.

Students IEPs were all written earlier this past school year while students were in school. They were written with no contemplation of the COVID-19 crisis or the challenges and hardships of distance learning and then of a later transition back to school. All students with disabilities will need their IEP modified to address these unforeseen needs.

As an immediate measure, students with disabilities each now need a customized COVID-19 specific IEP to be created and implemented. This should not be limited to students whose disability fits within the narrow and incomplete definition of exceptionality in Ontario, which leaves out some disabilities. It should be provided to any student that has a disability within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It should not be limited to students whose disability has been formally identified at an Identification and Placement Review Committee.

This COVID-19 IEP would not replace the students existing IEP. It would not replace the usual IEP development process when school is back in usual operation. This COVID-19 IEP is meant as an immediate, temporary or interim measure to address these hitherto-unanticipated events and related learning needs. IEPs are supported to deal, among other things, with transition needs. Both the transition to distance learning and the later transition to school re-opening fit well within that rubric.

The COVID-19 IEP should be developed now and over the summer, not in the fall when students are already back in school. This may well require new resources to enable this to be developed over the summer.

As noted earlier, there is a real possibility that distance learning will continue in September, or may have to later resume due to a resurgence or a second wave of COVID-19. These COVID-19 IEPs need to now anticipate and effectively address each of these possible eventualities.

The development of each students COVID-19 IEP should start with a direct phone conversation as soon as possible between the students teacher and the family. They should discuss where the gains and gaps have been, the concerns for the fall that are anticipated and how best to address them. The COVID-19 IEP should be developed in close consultation with the family and, where appropriate, the student.

We therefore recommend that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the students progress during the school shutdown, the students specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the students needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

5. Need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to Be Established to Address Recurring Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities

During the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario’s education system continues to try to navigate uncharted territory. No matter how much planning for the needs of students with disabilities takes place as we here recommend, unexpected surprises will crop up. School boards and the Ministry of Education each need to be able to quickly detect these, and to nimbly respond to them. Traditionally, large organizations are not always the best at rapid and nimble adaptations in the midst of great uncertainty.

Parents, teachers and principals need a central point in the school board to report difficult challenges. Each school board needs to quickly feed this information to a single point at the Ministry that is staying on top of things, for rapid responses to recurring issues around the province.

We therefore recommend that:

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central 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.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

All students will have fallen behind to varying extents during the months when schools were closed. This hardship falls especially on students with disabilities who have additional specialized curriculum to learn, related to their disabilities, or who need specialized supports to learn which are unavailable during distance learning.

When students return to school, students with disabilities who need those supports will need a surge in the hours of support provided to them to help them catch up and adjust to the return to school. School boards cannot simply pull those resources out of the air. School boards will need added funding to hire those staff. They will need provincial help in finding them where there are shortages.

For example, students with vision loss are unable to get the full benefit of teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) teaching hands-on braille reading when schools are closed. When schools re-open, school boards will need to engage additional TVIs to help ramp up the surge in TVI hours to be provided to students. There is now a shortage of TVIs in Ontario. The Ministry will need to lead a concerted effort to create a surge of TVIs to help school boards fill this gap during the return to school. Comparable needs can similarly be identified for students with other disabilities where such specialized educational support is needed.

We therefore recommend that:

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

7. Planning for Needs of Students with Disabilities Who Cannot Themselves Ensure Social Distancing

As an illustration of the last issue discussed, any return to school while COVID-19 continues to exist in our community will require students to engage in social distancing. If schools re-open, they will be doing so mindful of the fact that many students will not be able to consistently and reliably engage in social distancing, frequent hand washing and other important protective activities. Many are too young to ensure that they can fully understand the need to do so and comply. For some older children, it may seem cool to periodically break the rules. For many, it will be impossible to remain attentive to these precautions all the time.

For any number of students with disabilities, social distancing and related safe practices may pose additional challenges. For some, wearing a mask may not be possible due to such things as sensory integration or behavioural issues.

Some students with disabilities require an education assistant (EA) or special needs assistant (SNA) for all or part of the day to fully take part in school activities. For some of these students, it will not be possible to remain two meters away while providing the support or assistance that the student needs. Some will require close assistance for eating, hand-washing and other personal needs.

Pre-COVID-19 staffing levels for EAs and SNAs were too often inadequate. They did not account for these important additional requirements. EAs and SNAs were not experienced with or trained for this before COVID-19. It is not sufficient to now send them an email with instructions, or a link to a training video, and thereafter to assume that they will be fully equipped to consistently and reliably handle these duties. In addition to new in-person training, they will need to have constant access to good quality personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks.

It is also important to employ enough EAs and SNAs so that they dont have to split their time among multiple schools or venues, lest they pose a greater risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus from place to place among vulnerable students.

We therefore recommend that:

#8. The Ministry of Educations plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

8. Ensuring Full Accessibility of Digital Platforms Used for Remote Classes or Synchronous Learning

We do not here wade into the dispute between the Ford Government and some teachers unions about whether or when a teacher should conduct online classes for their students in real time over the internet, sometimes called synchronous learning. We insist, however, that whenever an online real time class or synchronous learning takes place, or any other online meeting involving students with disabilities or their parents in connection with their education, it must be conducted via a fully accessible digital meeting platform.

When the Ontario Government moved our education system from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom in late March, it should have ensured from the start that the choice of digital meeting platforms was fully accessible. The Ontario Government did not do so, nor did it monitor school boards to see what platforms they were using. The Ontario Government dropped the ball on this critical accessibility concern, to the detriment of students, teachers and parents with disabilities. The Ministry of Education took the erroneous position that it was up to each school board to decide which online virtual meeting platform to use, based on the boards assessment of its local needs. Yet these disability accessibility needs do not vary from school board to school board. They are the same across Ontario. The Ministry wastefully leaves it to each school board to investigate the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms.

As a belated partial attempt to address this problem, the Minister of Education wrote school boards on or around May 26, 2020 about several issues regarding distance learning. That memo stated, among other things:

Boards must ensure that the platforms they use for connecting with students and families are fully accessible for persons with disabilities.

However, that direction provides no assistance to school boards on which platforms to use or avoid, or how to figure this out. It still leaves it to each school board to investigate this as much or as little as they wish, and then to duplicate the same investigations of this issue over and over across Ontario. We have seen no indication that the Ministers direction led any school boards to change what they were doing in this regard.

This issue remains a live one and will continue into the fall. It is not clear when schools will re-open. Our education system may still be running on 100% distance learning at the start of the fall school term. Even when schools re-open, there is a real likelihood that some distance learning will continue in some blended model of in-school and distance education. As noted earlier, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits, as has happened elsewhere, requiring another round of school closures, Ontario will have to return to 100% distance learning.

At least one school board has improperly prohibited the use of Zoom, even though it is at least as accessible as, or more accessible than, other platforms. The Ministry of the Attorney General did its own comparison of digital meeting platforms, for use by the courts. The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has decided to use Zoom as its platform for virtual court proceedings. If Zoom is safe enough for the Superior Court of Justice, there is no reason why a school board should prohibit its use.

Canadas largest school board, TDSB, has announced that it is using Webex for parent-teacher meetings. This is so even though Webex has real accessibility problems. Such a practice should not be allowed.

We have heard examples of quite inaccurate information on this topic from some in the school board sector. Parents should not have to fight about this, one school board at a time, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

This topic requires ongoing effort and leadership by the Ministry. By August, there could well have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. School boards need to operate based on current information.

We therefore recommend that:

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

9. Ensuring Digital Accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO Online Learning Resources

Over three months into the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has still not ensured that the online content that it provides to school boards, teachers, parents and students meets accessibility requirements for computer-users with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has been raising concerns with the Government about this since early in the pandemic. We have seen no public commitment to the needed corrective action. We have raised our concerns at senior levels within TVO and the Ministry of Education. The Government and TVO were required to comply with these accessibility requirements well before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We therefore recommend that:

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

10. Stop Making Some Learning Resources Available Only in PDF Format

Throughout this pandemic, as well as beforehand, the Ministry of Education and too many school boards have continued to make important digital information available to the public, including to parents, teachers and students, only in pdf format. That format can present accessibility problems for people with disabilities. When a document is made public in PDF format, it should also be made public in an accessible format, such as MS Word. This is an important time to start this long-overdue practice.

We therefore recommend that:

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

11. One Size Fits All Does Not Fit for Return to School

To avoid chaos, a return to school should not be done all at once using a one-size-fits-all approach. Because we are in uncharted waters, it makes sense to go about this gradually and to try different approaches at different locations to see what works. We must avoid students with disabilities being again treated as after-thoughts who have to try to fit into a chaotic situation that was not designed with their needs in mind.

One suggestion that some have raised is to enable students with disabilities to return to school first, and for teaching staff to ensure their needs are met, before trying to also cope with an onslaught of all other students. Some have raised with us a concern that this might turn out to be a form of segregation, and could be detrimental for some of those students.

We therefore recommend that:

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

12. Need for A Rapid Method to Spread the Word to Teachers and Parents About Effective Teaching Strategies for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

Teachers and parents of students with disabilities are struggling around Ontario to cope with distance learning and the barriers it can create for many students with disabilities. Teachers and parents are creating novel work-arounds to address this.

Yet the Ontario Government has not been effectively canvassing the frontlines of teachers and parents to gather these up and share them around the province, so all can benefit without having to re-invent the wheel in the midst of a traumatic pandemic. We have called on the Ontario Government for the past three months to do this without success. We modelled one way of doing this by our successful May 4, 2020 online virtual town hall on teaching students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis (jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition). As far as we have been able to learn, the Ontario Government has neither taken up that idea nor has it shared with school boards the link to our May 4, 2020 virtual town hall so that they can all benefit from it. We have repeatedly asked the Ministry of Education to share that link with school boards.

In the meantime, to fill this gap, several school boards have commendably been trying to address this need themselves. They have themselves been compiling good ideas and sharing them within their own board.

This is a huge and wasteful duplication of effort. The Ontario Government should be centrally accumulating and compiling all these resources, as well as researching what other jurisdictions have compiled from their own experience. These should be rapidly made available to frontline teachers and parents in a way that is easy to access, not by a blizzard of endless links that few if anyone will have the time to explore.

This effort should have been done weeks ago. Nevertheless, it is still not too late, since distance learning will remain part of our lives in whole or in part until a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and widely administered.

It is important that any such resources be themselves fully accessible to teacher, school staff, students and family members with disabilities. We regret that we have no assurance of this. On June 15, 2020, the Ontario Government announced in a news release that it was now making available new teaching materials during the COVID-19 crisis, under the headline: Ontario Develops Additional Learning Materials for Students and Teachers. The AODA Alliance promptly wrote senior officials at the Ministry of Education to ask what steps were taken to ensure that these new educational materials are accessible to people with disabilities, and asking what was done to include tips for teaching students with disabilities. The Ministry has not answered as of the time this brief was submitted.

We therefore recommend that:

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

13. Distance Learning Must Be Effectively Provided for Students Who Cannot Return to School

When schools re-open, each school board will have a duty to accommodate its students with disabilities in school unless the school board can prove that it is impossible to do so without undue hardship. There may be some students who cannot return to school when others do. Their disability may make it impossible to accommodate them in school under the restrictions that apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students may not be able to return to school because their parents or other family members with whom they live are so medically vulnerable or immuno-compromised that the family must take heightened precautions to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

In those cases, even if other students are learning at school, the school board must provide effective and accessible distance learning for those students who must remain at home. This may include home visits from teaching staff. In this, students with disabilities must be more effectively and consistently served during distance learning than was the case in the spring.

We therefore recommend that:

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

14. Creating Provincial Resources for Parents to Prepare Their Students for Return to School

Some students with disabilities will need extensive preparation at home for their eventual return to school, including learning about social distancing and other new school practices due to COVID-19. Some parents will need a great deal of time to deal with this. Each school board or teacher and family should not have to duplicate these efforts by inventing their own curriculum, social stories or other resources.

We therefore recommend that:

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

There were ample problems with bussing of students with disabilities to school before the COVID-19 crisis. In any return to school, heightened safeguards will be needed, including frequent sanitization of busses, ensuring students are seated more than 2 meters from each other and ensuring that the driver has PPE and doesnt risk spreading COVID-19. It is not realistic to expect that this will all simply happen with private sector bussing companies who employ casual and part time drivers working at low wages.

We therefore recommend that:

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

16. Ensure Very Active Engagement of Each School Boards Special Education Advisory Committee

Each Ontario school board is required to have a Special Education Advisory Committee to advise it on special education issues. We understand that some have met regularly during the school closures, using conference calls or virtual online meeting platforms. Others have not met regularly, from what we have heard.

SEACs have a great deal to offer in this area. In making our recommendations about SEACs, we note that SEACs are not required to include representation regarding students with all kinds of disabilities. They are instead required only to have members that represent families whose students whose disability falls within the more limited definition of exceptionality that the Ministry of Education uses. Of course, it is open to a school board to have its SEAC have a more inclusive membership. It is also open to SEAC members to speak to any needs of any students with disabilities . School boards and the Ontario Government must ensure that they get input regarding students with any and all kinds of disabilities.

It is essential that each school board ensures that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) is meeting at least once per month, if not more, during the COVID-19pandemic, including during the transition to re-opening. While they usually dont meet during the summer, they should meet if possible during the 2020 summer. They should be fully engaged in planning for the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period.

Their volunteer efforts would have more impact if the Ministry of Education took two easy steps. First, the Minister should create a virtual network or listserv to enable SEACs to share their work with each other. No such network now exists. As well, the Ministry should collect input from all Ontarios SEACs on their concerns and advice given during the COVID-19 era, as this is a readily-available avenue to more front-line experience of students with disabilities.

We therefore recommend that:

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and

b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.

Appendix List of Recommendations

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministrys overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a Students with Disabilities Education Command Table to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school. including directions that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the students progress during the school shutdown, the students specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19crisis and the students needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central 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.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Educations plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee(SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and

b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.




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Send Us Your Feedback Very Quickly on Our Draft Brief to the Ontario Government on the Urgent Needs of K-12 Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

June 11, 2020

SUMMARY

We are rushing to prepare and submit a brief to the Ford Government on what it must do now and as schools eventually re-open to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We have assembled a draft brief, which we set out below. We want your feedback and ideas. We need them fast. We want to get this brief submitted to the Government as quickly as we can. We are sorry this is so rushed. Life during COVID-19 feels like an endless blitz for the AODA Alliance!

Send your feedback to us by June 16, 2020 by emailing us at [email protected] and feel free to share this draft brief with others. We welcome feedback from anyone who wants to offer it to us.

Stay safe!

MORE DETAILS

A Brief to the Ontario Government on Key Measures Needed to Address the Urgent Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities in Ontario During the COVID-19 Crisis During Distance Learning and in the Eventual Re-Opening of Schools

June 11, 2020

NOTE: This is only a draft. The AODA Alliance seeks input and additional ideas no later than June 16, 2020. Send feedback to [email protected]

1. Pressing Need for A Comprehensive Ministry of Education Plan of Action to Address Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the AODA Alliance has been urging the Ontario Government to develop and announce a comprehensive plan to meet the urgent need of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This has been needed so over 70 school boards dont have to each re-invent the wheel in deciding what the needs of students with disabilities are and how best to meet them. To date, the Ontario Government has not done what we have urged.

The need for this provincial plan remains pressing during the period of distance learning due to school closures. It is also needed to ensure that students with disabilities urgent needs are met across Ontario when schools eventually re-open. Ontario needs to also be prepared in case of the realistic possibility that distance learning will have to continue in the fall, either because school re-opening is further delayed, or because a second wave of COVID-19 would require another round of school closures.

To date, the Ontario Government has primarily if not totally focused its education strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic on students without disabilities. Almost as an afterthought, it then reminded school boards that they should also accommodate students with special education needs.

We therefore recommend that:

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures.

2. Need for a Provincial Students with Disabilities Command Table

To deal with the need for rapid planning during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has commendably set up its own command tables to deal with critical areas, like health care planning and planning for the safe operation of the economy during this crisis. This enables the Government to have critical expertise at the table that makes key decisions.

There is a pressing need for a students with disabilities command table within the Government to plan for the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. No such table or concentrated expertise centre exists now within Ontarios Ministry of Education. We have been pressing for this for three months without success. That table needs to be staffed by professionals with focused expertise on providing education to students with disabilities.

This is not meant to be an advisory or consultative table. It needs to be a planning and implementation table that can quickly make decisions and effectively connect with the front lines in the education system, where the action is.

This need is not fulfilled by the Minister of Education having had some consultative meetings with the Ministers Advisory Committee on Special Education (MACSE), which still has vacancies, or with the AODA K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Those bodies are only advisory. They do not have the capacity of a Ministry command table. Of course, their input should be welcomed and valued.

We therefore recommend that:

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a Students with Disabilities Education Command Table to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

3. Preventing a Rash of Refusals to Admit Students with Disabilities to School When Schools Re-Open

Ontarios Education Act lets a school principal refuse to admit to school any person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principals judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. Disability advocates have repeatedly criticized this as an excessive, arbitrary and unfair power. The Education Act and the Ministry of Education leave to school boards and individual principals an extremely wide discretion over when, how and why to exclude a student from school under this power. The Education Act does not even require principals to give a parent their reasons for excluding a student from school, nor does it cap the duration of the students exclusion from school.

Disproportionately, this excessive power has been used against some students with disabilities. School boards have not always tracked when or why or how many students are excluded from school under this power. Long before this COVID-19 crisis, parent advocates have called for this power to be reduced and regulated. See for example the January 30, 2019 joint news release by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. To date, the Ontario Government has not agreed to any significant reform of this excessive power.

In September 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a serious risk that some principals will feel at liberty to use this power to exclude some students with disabilities from school during school re-openings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially before any effective vaccine is invented and widely available. This is especially so if school boards do not effectively plan for the inclusion and accommodation of students with disabilities at school during this school re-opening process. They may do so either because they dont know how to accommodate some students with disabilities during social distancing, or because the Ontario Government and/or their school board has not given them the directions and resources they need to be able to effectively include and accommodate those students.

The need to reform practices regarding a school principals power to refuse to admit a student to school has become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential that school re-openings this fall do not lead to the creation of two classes of students, those allowed to return to school and those who are excluded from school, especially if this disproportionately divides along disability lines. A principal can feel a real temptation to use the power to refuse to admit such students to school during a COVID-19 school re-opening because it would seem to solve the problem of having to plan for those students needs at school.

The Ontario Government has been willing to give directions to a school board about the use of its power to refuse to admit students to school in other contexts. It can do so here as well. The Ontario Ministry of Education has very recently given directions to the Peel District School Board to keep and report data on exclusions of students from school by race. In directive number 9, the Ministry stipulates that:

The Board shall centrally track disaggregated race-based data on suspensions (in-school and out-of-school), expulsions and exclusions, and report publicly through the Annual Equity Accountability Report Card.

We therefore recommend that:

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school. including directions that:

a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.

b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the familys right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.

c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to report this in writing to their school boards senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

4. Need for Specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for Individual Students with Disabilities Before and During Transitioning to Return to School

For students with disabilities the distance learning during COVID-19 will have created different deficits and challenges. The transition back to school will present challenges that will vary from student to student.

Students IEPs were all written while students were in school, with no contemplation of the COVID-19 crisis or the challenges and hardships of distance learning and then of transition back to school. All students with disabilities will need their IEP modified to address these unforeseen needs.

They each need a COVID-19 specific IEP. This should be done now and over the summer, not in the fall when students are hopefully already back in school. This will require action now. It may require new resources to enable this to be worked on over the summer.

As noted earlier, there is a real possibility that distance learning will continue in the fall or may have to resume due to a second wave of COVID-19. IEPs need to now anticipate and address these needs.

We therefore recommend that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the students progress during the shutdown, the students specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19crisis and the students needs and challenges related to eventual return to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) add to their IEP specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

5. Need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to Address Recurring Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities

During the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario’s education system continues to try to navigate uncharted territory. No matter how much planning for the needs of students with disabilities takes place as we here recommend, unexpected surprises will crop up. school boards and the Ministry of Education each need to be able to quickly detect these, and to nimbly respond to them.

Parents, teachers and principals need a central point in the school board to report difficult challenges. Each school board needs to feed this information to a single point at the Ministry that is staying on top of things, for rapid responses to recurring issues around the province.

We therefore recommend that:

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to be shared with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive feedback from teachers and principals about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that can quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

All students will have fallen behind to some extent during the months when schools were closed. This hardship falls especially on students with disabilities who have additional specialized curriculum to learn, related to their disabilities, or who need specialized supports to learn which are unavailable during distance learning.

When students return to school, students with disabilities who need those supports will need a surge in the hours of support provided to them to help them catch up and adjust to the return to school. School boards cannot simply pull those resources out of the air. School boards will need added funding to hire those staff, and provincial help finding them if there are shortages.

For example, students with vision loss are unable to get the full benefit of teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) teaching hands-on braille reading when schools are closed. School boards will need to engage additional TVIs to help ramp up the surge in TVI hours to be provided to students. There is now a shortage of TVIs in Ontario. The Ministry will need to lead the effort to provide a surge of TVIs to help school boards fill this gap during the return to school. Comparable needs can similarly be identified for students with other disabilities where such specialized educational support is needed.

We therefore recommend that:

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

7. Planning for Needs of Students with Disabilities Who Cannot Themselves Ensure Social Distancing

As an illustration of the last issue discussed, any return to school while COVID-19 continues to exist in our community will require students to engage in social distancing. If schools re-open, they will be doing so mindful of the fact that many students will not be able to consistently and reliably engage in social distancing, frequent hand washing and other important protective activities. Many are too young to ensure that they can fully understand the need to do so and comply. For some older children, it may seem cool to periodically break the rules. For many, it will be impossible to remain attentive to these precautions all the time.

For any number of students with disabilities, social distancing and related safe practices may pose additional challenges. For some, wearing a mask may not be possible due to such things as sensory integration or behavioural issues.

Some students with disabilities require an education assistant (EA) or special needs assistant (SNA) for all or part of the day to fully take part in school activities. For some of these students, it will not be possible to remain two meters away while providing the support or assistance that the student needs. Some will require close assistance for eating, hand-washing and other personal needs.

Pre-COVID-19 staffing levels for EAs and SNAs did not account for these additional requirements. EAs and SNAs were not experienced with or trained for this before COVID-19. It is not sufficient to now send them an email with instructions, or a link to a training video, and thereafter to assume that they will be fully equipped to handle these duties. In addition to new in-person training, they will need to have constant access to good quality personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks.

We therefore recommend that:

#8. The Ministry of Educations plan for school re-openings must include detailed instructions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities.

8. Ensuring Full Accessibility of Digital Platforms Used for Remote Classes or Synchronous Learning

We do not here wade into the dispute between the Ford Government and some teachers unions about whether or when a teacher should conduct online classes for their students in real time over the internet, sometimes called synchronous learning. We insist, however, that whenever an online real time class or synchronous learning takes place, or any other online meeting involving students with disabilities or their parents in connection with their education, it must be conducted via a fully accessible digital meeting platform.

When the Ontario Government moved our education system from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom in late March, it should have ensured from the start that the choice of digital classroom platforms was fully accessible. The Ontario Government did not do so, nor did it monitor school boards to see what platforms they were using. Put simply, the Ontario Government entirely dropped the ball on this critical accessibility concern to the detriment of students, teachers and parents with disabilities. It did so based on a transparently erroneous starting point. The Ministry of Education took the position that it was up to each school board to decide which online virtual meeting platform to use based on its assessment of its local needs. Yet these disability accessibility needs do not vary from school board to school board.

As a belated partial attempt to address this problem, the Minister of Education wrote school boards on or around May 26, 2020 about several issues regarding distance learning. That memo stated, among other things:

Boards must ensure that the platforms they use for connecting with students and families are fully accessible for persons with disabilities.

However, that direction provides no assistance to school boards on which platforms to use or avoid, or how to figure this out. It still leaves it to each school board to investigate this as much or as little as they wish, and then to duplicate the same investigations of this issue over and over across Ontario.

This issue remains a live one and will continue into the fall. It is not clear when schools will re-open. Our education system may still be running on 100% distance learning at the start of the fall school term. Even when schools re-open, there is a real likelihood that some distance learning will continue in some blended model of in-school and distance education. As noted earlier, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits, as has happened elsewhere, requiring another round of school closures, Ontario will have to return to 100% distance learning.

We therefore recommend that:

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

9. Ensuring Digital Accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO Online Learning Resources

Over three months into the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has still not ensured that the online content that it provides to school boards, teachers, parents and students meets accessibility requirements for computer-users with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has been raising concerns with the Government about this since early in the pandemic. We have seen no public commitment to the needed corrective action. We have raised our concerns at senior levels within TVO and the Ministry of Education. The Government and TVO were required to comply with these accessibility requirements well before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We therefore recommend that:

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and time lines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and time lines, and should report to the public on its progress.

10. Stop Making Learning Resources Available Only in PDF Format

Throughout this pandemic, as well as beforehand, the Ministry of Education and too many school boards have continued to make important digital information available to the public, including to parents, teachers and students, only in pdf format. That format can present accessibility problems for people with disabilities. When a document is made public in PDF format, it should also be made public in an accessible format, such as MS Word. This is an important time to start this long-overdue practice.

We therefore recommend that:

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

11. One Size Fits All Does Not Fit for Return to School

To avoid chaos, a return to school should not be done all at once using a one-size-fits-all approach. Because we are in uncharted waters, it makes sense to go about this gradually and try different approaches at different locations to see what works. To avoid students with disabilities from being treated as after-thoughts who have to try to fit into a chaotic situation that was not designed with their needs in mind, it can be worthwhile to enable students with disabilities to return to school first, and for teaching staff to ensure their needs are met, before trying to also cope with an onslaught of all other students.

We therefore recommend that:

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The Ontario Government should try having the most vulnerable students, including students with disabilities, return to school first to facilitate their effective accommodation and orientation before all other students return to school.

12. Need for A Rapid Method to Spread the Word to Teachers and Parents About Effective Teaching Strategies for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

Teachers and parents of students with disabilities are struggling around Ontario to cope with distance learning and the barriers it can create for many students with disabilities. Teachers and parents are creating novel work-arounds to address this.

Yet the Ontario Government has not been effectively canvassing the front lines of teachers and parents to gather these up and share them around the province, so all can benefit without having to re-invent the wheel I n the midst of a traumatic pandemic. We have called on the Ontario Government for the past three months to do this without success. We modelled one way of doing this by our successful May 4, 2020 online virtual town hall on teaching students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis (jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition). As far as we have been able to learn, the Ontario Government has neither taken up that idea nor has it shared with school boards the link to our May 4, 2020 virtual town hall so that they can all benefit from it. We have repeatedly asked the Ministry of Education to share that link with school boards.

In the meantime, to fill this gap, several school boards have commendably been trying to do this themselves. They have themselves been compiling good ideas and sharing them within their own board.

This is a huge and wasteful duplication of effort. The Ontario Government should be centrally accumulating and compiling all these resources, as well as researching what other jurisdictions have compiled from their own experience. These should be rapidly made available to front line teachers and parents in a way that is easy to access, not by a blizzard of endless links that few if anyone will have the time to explore.

This effort should have been done weeks ago. it is not too late, since distance learning will remain part of our lives in whole or in part until a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and widely administered.

We therefore recommend that:

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from front line teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the front lines on an ongoing basis. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

13. Distance Learning Must Be Maintained for Students Who Cannot Return to School

There will be students who cannot return to school when others do. Their disability may make it impossible to accommodate them in school under the restrictions that apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. The school board will have a duty to accommodate them unless the school board can prove that it is impossible to do so without undue hardship. Some students may not be able to return to school because their parents or other family members with whom they live are so medically vulnerable or immune-compromised that the family must take heightened precautions to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

In those cases, even if other students are learning at school, the school board must provide effective and accessible distance learning for those students who must remain at home. This may include home visits from teaching staff.

We therefore recommend that:

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

14. Creating Provincial Resources for Parents to Prepare Their Students for Return to School

Some students with disabilities will need extensive preparation at home for their eventual return to school, including learning about social distancing and other new school practices due to COVID-19. Some parents will need a great deal of time to deal with this. Each school board or teacher and family should not have to duplicate these efforts by inventing their own curriculum, social stories or other resources.

We therefore recommend that:

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

There were ample problems with bussing of students with disabilities to school before the COVID-19 crisis. In any return to school, heightened safeguards will be needed, including frequent sanitization of busses, ensuring students are seated more than 2 meters from each other and ensuring that the driver has PPE and doesnt risk spreading COVID-19. It is not realistic to expect that this will all simply happen with private sector bussing companies who employ casual and part time drivers working at low wages.

We therefore recommend that:

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.




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