Burlington’s RBG receives $1.7 million in federal, provincial funding to improve access


Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ont., is the recipient of the latest local funding announcement by the federal and provincial governments.

RBG is receiving almost $1.7 million towards improvements and repairs to its properties.

CEO Nancy Rowland says the work will include reconstruction of a boathouse, a viewing platform and a boardwalk as well as repairs to nature trails and garden paths, all part of the RBG’s 25-year master plan.

Read more:
Cootes Paradise cleanup strategies include in-water aeration, floating wetland

RBG will also be updating wayfinding signage and installing audio units at major entrances to adhere to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

“As Ontarians turn to nature for both physical and mental health wellbeing during these challenging times,” Rowland said, “this initiative will provide Royal Botanical Gardens with the tools to significantly improve access” to its properties.

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“We are very much committed at RBG to providing a safe destination for people from all walks of life,” she added, “and this investment will help even more people experience RBG.”

The Government of Canada is investing more than $908,000 in the project through the Community, Culture and Recreation Infrastructure Stream of the Investing in Canada plan.

The Government of Ontario is providing more than $756,000, and the Royal Botanical Gardens is contributing more than $605,000.

The installation of an entry gate for the Hendrie Valley Trails and an expansion of the Rock Trail parking lot are also included in the project.

Read more:
Hamilton’s active COVID-19 cases below 1,000, researcher says life without masks ‘far away’

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Burlington MP Karina Gould said the result will be “a more enjoyable visitor experience.”

MPP Jane McKenna, the city’s provincial representative, said she’s “delighted that visitors to the Royal Botanical Gardens will benefit from our joint investments.”




© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.





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Nova Scotia adds $5 million to sports budgets to increase access, diversity – Halifax


Nova Scotia’s Liberal government is funding $5 million in measures aimed at making sports more inclusive, as well as more accessible to people with disabilities.

Premier Iain Rankin announced on Saturday the funding includes $2 million in added funding for KidSport, a program that provides grants to help cover the costs of sport registration and equipment fees.

There is also $2 million to increase access to recreation facilities and improve the availability of accessible equipment across the province, along with $500,000 for Sport Nova Scotia’s ParaSport program.


Paul Tingley, five-time Paralympian and ParaSport NS coordinator, is seen on March 20, 2021.


Alexa MacLean / Global News

Read more:
Nova Scotia government to fund a new satellite campus of the Gaelic College

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The province says the investments “focus on removing barriers for those who want to participate in community and competitive sport but haven’t been able to because of ability, limited equipment, funding or programming.”

The funding will also provide $500,000 to improve equity in coaching, with new programs for women, Mi’kmaq, African Nova Scotians and those who coach people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The province estimates almost 150,000 Nova Scotians are currently members of an organized sports programs, and there are about 1,200 coaches supporting those programs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2021.


Click to play video: 'Lacrosse N.S. introducing sport to African Nova Scotian youth'







Lacrosse N.S. introducing sport to African Nova Scotian youth


Lacrosse N.S. introducing sport to African Nova Scotian youth – Nov 15, 2020




© 2021 The Canadian Press





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For over 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Sunday January 31, 2021 Will Be The Ford Government’s Sad Two Year Anniversary of Inaction On Disability Accessibility


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

January 29, 2021

SUMMARY

Ontario is on the verge of a deeply troubling anniversary of Ontario Government inaction. This Sunday, January 31, 2021 marks the two year anniversary since the Ford Government received the blistering final report of the Independent Review of the Implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This report was written by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley.

In the two years since it received this report, the Ford Government has announced no strong, comprehensive plan to implement its recommendations. Most of its recommendations have not been implemented at all. This is so even though Ontario’s Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho said in the Legislature on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a marvelous job and that Ontario is only 30 percent along the way towards the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities.

It is a wrenching irony that this anniversary of inaction comes right after we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Canada’s Parliament deciding to include equality for people with disabilities in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That momentous breakthrough took place on January 28, 1981, 40 years ago yesterday. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in no small part to implement that constitutional right to equality for people with disabilities.

Over the past two years, the AODA Alliance has spearheaded grassroots efforts to get the Ford Government to come forward with a strong and comprehensive plan to implement the Onley Report. We have offered many constructive recommendations. We have also offered the Government our help. On Twitter and in our AODA Alliance Updates, we have maintained an ongoing count of the number of days that had passed since the Government received the Onley Report, keeping the spotlight on this issue. As of today, it has been 729 days.

The Government has taken a few new actions on accessibility since it took office in June 2018, the most important of which are summarized below. But these have been slow, halting and inadequate.

MORE DETAILS

1. What the Onley Report Found About the Plight of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities

In February 2018, the Ontario Government appointed David Onley to conduct a mandatory Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. He was mandated to recommend reforms needed to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible by 2025, the goal which the AODA requires. Based on public feedback he received, the Onley report found that the pace of change since 2005 for people with disabilities has been “glacial.” With under six years then left before 2025 (now less than four years), the Onley report found that “the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.” Onley concluded that progress on accessibility for people with disabilities under this law has been “highly selective and barely detectable.”

David Onley also found “this province is mostly inaccessible.” The Onley Report accurately concluded:

“For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

The Onley Report said damning things about years of the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. He in effect found that there has been a protracted, troubling lack of Government leadership on this issue, even though two prior Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews called for renewed, strengthened leadership:

“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this.”

The Onley Report made concrete, practical recommendations to substantially strengthen the Government’s weak, flagging AODA implementation and enforcement. Set out below is the Onley Report’s summary of its recommendations. Many if not most of them echo the findings and recommendations that the AODA Alliance submitted in its detailed January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley Review. Among other things, David Onley called for the Government to substantially strengthen AODA enforcement, create new accessibility standards including for barriers in the built environment, strengthen the existing AODA accessibility standards, and reform the Government’s use of public money to ensure it is never used to create disability barriers.

2. What New Has the Ford Government Done on Accessibility Since the Onley Report?

It was good, but long overdue, that when releasing the Onley report back in March 2019, the Ford Government at last lifted its inexcusable 258 day-long freeze on the important work of three Government-appointed advisory committees. These committees were mandated under the AODA to recommend what regulations should be enacted to tear down disability barriers in Ontario’s education system impeding students with disabilities, and in Ontario’s health care system obstructing patients with disabilities. The AODA Alliance led the fight for the previous nine months to get the Ford Government to lift that freeze. Because of those delays, the Government delayed progress on accessibility for people with disabilities in health care and education. We are feeling the harmful effects of those delays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ford Government’s main focus of its efforts on accessibility for people with disabilities has been on educating the public on the benefits of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities. That is work that the previous Government had been doing for over a decade. That alone will not bring about significant progress.

Since releasing the Onley Report, the Ford Government has held a couple of staged ministerial events, on January 28, 2019 and on October 29, 2019 (for which an inaccessible email invitation was sent), supposedly to announce a framework to implement the Onley Report. However they announced little, if anything, new. To the contrary, they focused on re-announcing things the Government had been doing for years, including at least one measure dating back to the Bob Rae NDP Government that was in power over a quarter century ago.

The Government has announced no plans to implement any of the recommendations for reform of accessibility standards from the Transportation Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report to the Ontario Government in the spring of 2018, almost three years ago) or the final report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report some ten or eleven months ago).

The Government has had in hand for at least a month, if not more, the initial report of the Health Care Standards Development Committee. It must be posted for public comment. The Government has not posted it, or announced when it will do so. In the midst of this pandemic, swift action in the area of health care accessibility is desperately needed for people with disabilities and all Ontarians.

In the meantime, the one major new strategy on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in its over two and a half years in office has been an action that David Onley never recommended and has, to our knowledge, never publicly endorsed. The Government diverted 1.3 million public dollars to the seriously problematic Rick Hansen Foundation’s private building accessibility certification program. We have made public serious concerns about that plan. The Government never acted on those concerns. Almost two years later, there is no proof that that misuse of public money led to the removal of any barriers in an Ontario building.

Despite announcing that the Government will take an all of Government approach to accessibility in response to the Onley Report, we have seen the opposite take place. TVO has not fixed the serious accessibility problems with its online learning resources, much needed during distance learning in this pandemic. The Government is building a new courthouse in downtown Toronto with serious accessibility problems about which disability advocates forewarned. During the pandemic, the Government has had circulated two successive critical care triage protocols which direct hospitals to use an approach to triage that would discriminate against some patients with disabilities and has refused to directly speak to us about these concerns. Over our objection, the Government has unleashed electric scooters on Ontarians, exposing people with disabilities to dangers to their safety and accessibility. This is all amply documented on the AODA Alliance’s website.

Over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.

3. The Onley Report’s Summary of Its Recommendations

1. Renew government leadership in implementing the AODA.
Take an all-of-government approach by making accessibility the responsibility of every ministry.
Ensure that public money is never used to create or maintain accessibility barriers. Lead by example.
Coordinate Ontario’s accessibility efforts with those of the federal government and other provinces.

2. Reduce the uncertainty surrounding basic concepts in the AODA. Define accessibility.
Clarify the AODA’s relationship with the Human Rights Code.
Update the definition of disability.

3. Foster cultural change to instill accessibility into the everyday thinking of Ontarians.
Conduct a sustained multi-faceted public education campaign on accessibility with a focus on its economic and social benefits in an aging society.
Build accessibility into the curriculum at every level of the educational system, from elementary school through college and university.
Include accessibility in professional training for architects and other design fields.

4. Direct the standards development committees for K-12 and Post-Secondary Education and for Health Care to resume work as soon as possible.

5. Revamp the Information and Communications standards to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

6. Assess the need for further standards and review the general provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.

7. Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.

8. Develop new comprehensive Built Environment accessibility standards through a process to:
Review and revise the 2013 Building Code amendments for new construction and major renovations Review and revise the Design of Public Spaces standards
Create new standards for retrofitting buildings.

9. Provide tax incentives for accessibility retrofits to buildings.

10. Introduce financial incentives to improve accessibility in residential housing.
Offer substantial grants for home renovations to improve accessibility and make similar funds available to improve rental units. Offer tax breaks to boost accessibility in new residential housing.

11. Reform the way public sector infrastructure projects are managed by Infrastructure Ontario to promote accessibility and prevent new barriers.

12. Enforce the AODA.
Establish a complaint mechanism for reporting AODA violations. Raise the profile of AODA enforcement.

13. Deliver more responsive, authoritative and comprehensive support for AODA implementation. Issue clear, in-depth guidelines interpreting accessibility standards.
Establish a provincewide centre or network of regional centres offering information, guidance, training and specialized advice on accessibility.
Create a comprehensive website that organizes and provides links to trusted resources on accessibility.

14. Confirm that expanded employment opportunities for people with disabilities remains a top government priority and take action to support this goal.

15. Fix a series of everyday problems that offend the dignity of people with disabilities or obstruct their participation in society.




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For over 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Sunday January 31, 2021 Will Be The Ford Government’s Sad Two Year Anniversary of Inaction On Disability Accessibility


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/

For over 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Sunday January 31, 2021 Will Be The Ford Government’s Sad Two Year Anniversary of Inaction On Disability Accessibility

January 29, 2021

            SUMMARY

Ontario is on the verge of a deeply troubling anniversary of Ontario Government inaction. This Sunday, January 31, 2021 marks the two year anniversary since the Ford Government received the blistering  final report of the Independent Review of the Implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This report was written by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley.

In the two years since it received this report, the Ford Government has announced no strong, comprehensive plan to implement its recommendations. Most of its recommendations have not been implemented at all. This is so even though Ontario’s Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho said in the Legislature on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a “marvelous job” and that Ontario is only 30 percent along the way towards the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities.

It is a wrenching irony that this anniversary of inaction comes right after we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Canada’s Parliament deciding to include equality for people with disabilities in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That momentous breakthrough took place on January 28, 1981, 40 years ago yesterday. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in no small part to implement that constitutional right to equality for people with disabilities.

Over the past two years, the AODA Alliance has spearheaded grassroots efforts to get the Ford Government to come forward with a strong and comprehensive plan to implement the Onley Report. We have offered many constructive recommendations. We have also offered the Government our help. On Twitter and in our AODA Alliance Updates, we have maintained an ongoing count of the number of days that had passed since the Government received the Onley Report, keeping the spotlight on this issue. As of today, it has been 729 days.

The Government has taken a few new actions on accessibility since it took office in June 2018, the most important of which are summarized below. But these have been slow, halting and inadequate.

            MORE DETAILS

 1. What the Onley Report Found About the Plight of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities

In February 2018, the Ontario Government appointed David Onley to conduct a mandatory Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. He was mandated to recommend reforms needed to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible by 2025, the goal which the AODA requires. Based on public feedback he received, the Onley report found that the pace of change since 2005 for people with disabilities has been “glacial.” With under six years then left before 2025 (now less than four years), the Onley report found that “…the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.” Onley concluded that progress on accessibility for people with disabilities under this law has been “highly selective and barely detectable.”

David Onley also found “…this province is mostly inaccessible.” The Onley Report accurately concluded:

“For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

The Onley Report said damning things about years of the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. He in effect found that there has been a protracted, troubling lack of Government leadership on this issue, even though two prior Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews called for renewed, strengthened leadership:

“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this.”

The Onley Report made concrete, practical recommendations to substantially strengthen the Government’s weak, flagging AODA implementation and enforcement. Set out below is the Onley Report’s summary of its recommendations. Many if not most of them echo the findings and recommendations that the AODA Alliance submitted in its detailed January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley Review. Among other things, David Onley called for the Government to substantially strengthen AODA enforcement, create new accessibility standards including for barriers in the built environment, strengthen the existing AODA accessibility standards, and reform the Government’s use of public money to ensure it is never used to create disability barriers.

 2. What New Has the Ford Government Done on Accessibility Since the Onley Report?

It was good, but long overdue, that when releasing the Onley report back in March 2019, the Ford Government at last lifted its inexcusable 258 day-long freeze on the important work of three Government-appointed advisory committees. These committees were mandated under the AODA to recommend what regulations should be enacted to tear down disability barriers in Ontario’s education system impeding students with disabilities, and in Ontario’s health care system obstructing patients with disabilities. The AODA Alliance led the fight for the previous nine months to get the Ford Government to lift that freeze. Because of those delays, the Government delayed progress on accessibility for people with disabilities in health care and education. We are feeling the harmful effects of those delays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ford Government’s main focus of its efforts on accessibility for people with disabilities has been on educating the public on the benefits of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities. That is work that the previous Government had been doing for over a decade. That alone will not bring about significant progress.

Since releasing the Onley Report, the Ford Government has held a couple of staged ministerial events, on January 28, 2019 and on October 29, 2019 (for which an inaccessible email invitation was sent), supposedly to announce a framework to implement the Onley Report. However they announced little, if anything, new. To the contrary, they focused on re-announcing things the Government had been doing for years, including at least one measure dating back to the Bob Rae NDP Government that was in power over a quarter century ago.

The Government has announced no plans to implement any of the recommendations for reform of accessibility standards from the Transportation Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report to the Ontario Government in the spring of 2018, almost three years ago) or the final report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report some ten or eleven months ago).

The Government has had in hand for at least a month, if not more, the initial report of the Health Care Standards Development Committee. It must be posted for public comment. The Government has not posted it, or announced when it will do so. In the midst of this pandemic, swift action in the area of health care accessibility is desperately needed for people with disabilities and all Ontarians.

In the meantime, the one major new strategy on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in its over two and a half years in office has been an action that David Onley never recommended and has, to our knowledge, never publicly endorsed. The Government diverted 1.3 million public dollars to the seriously problematic Rick Hansen Foundation’s private building accessibility “certification” program. We have made public serious concerns about that plan. The Government never acted on those concerns. Almost two years later, there is no proof that that misuse of public money led to the removal of any barriers in an Ontario building.

Despite announcing that the Government will take an “all of Government” approach to accessibility in response to the Onley Report, we have seen the opposite take place. TVO has not fixed the serious accessibility problems with its online learning resources, much needed during distance learning in this pandemic. The Government is building a new courthouse in downtown Toronto with serious accessibility problems about which disability advocates forewarned. During the pandemic, the Government has had circulated two successive critical care triage protocols which direct hospitals to use an approach to triage that would discriminate against some patients with disabilities and has refused to directly speak to us about these concerns. Over our objection, the Government has unleashed electric scooters on Ontarians, exposing people with disabilities to dangers to their safety and accessibility. This is all amply documented on the AODA Alliance’s website.

Over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.

 3. The Onley Report’s Summary of Its Recommendations

  1. Renew government leadership in implementing the AODA.

Take an all-of-government approach by making accessibility the responsibility of every ministry.

Ensure that public money is never used to create or maintain accessibility barriers.

Lead by example.

Coordinate Ontario’s accessibility efforts with those of the federal government and other provinces.

  1. Reduce the uncertainty surrounding basic concepts in the AODA.

Define “accessibility”.

Clarify the AODA’s relationship with the Human Rights Code.

Update the definition of “disability”.

  1. Foster cultural change to instill accessibility into the everyday thinking of Ontarians.

Conduct a sustained multi-faceted public education campaign on accessibility with a focus on its economic and social benefits in an aging society.

Build accessibility into the curriculum at every level of the educational system, from elementary school through college and university.

Include accessibility in professional training for architects and other design fields.

  1. Direct the standards development committees for K-12 and Post-Secondary Education and for Health Care to resume work as soon as possible.
  1. Revamp the Information and Communications standards to keep up with rapidly changing technology.
  1. Assess the need for further standards and review the general provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.
  1. Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.
  1. Develop new comprehensive Built Environment accessibility standards through a process to:

Review and revise the 2013 Building Code amendments for new construction and major renovations

Review and revise the Design of Public Spaces standards

Create new standards for retrofitting buildings.

  1. Provide tax incentives for accessibility retrofits to buildings.
  1. Introduce financial incentives to improve accessibility in residential housing.

Offer substantial grants for home renovations to improve accessibility and make similar funds available to improve rental units.

Offer tax breaks to boost accessibility in new residential housing.

  1. Reform the way public sector infrastructure projects are managed by Infrastructure Ontario to promote accessibility and prevent new barriers.
  1. Enforce the AODA.

Establish a complaint mechanism for reporting AODA violations.

Raise the profile of AODA enforcement.

  1. Deliver more responsive, authoritative and comprehensive support for AODA implementation.

Issue clear, in-depth guidelines interpreting accessibility standards.

Establish a provincewide centre or network of regional centres offering information, guidance, training and specialized advice on accessibility.

Create a comprehensive website that organizes and provides links to trusted resources on accessibility.

  1. Confirm that expanded employment opportunities for people with disabilities remains a top government priority and take action to support this goal.
  1. Fix a series of everyday problems that offend the dignity of people with disabilities or obstruct their participation in society.



Source link

11am Eastern Today, Grassroots Virtual Town Hall Will Give Anxious Parents of One Third of a Million Ontario Students with Disabilities Practical Tips to Prepare for School Re-Openings


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
ONTARIO AUTISM COALITION

News Release For Immediate Release

August 21, 2020 Toronto: Today at 11am Eastern, a grassroots Virtual Town Hall will be held online to give deeply worried parents of one third of a million students with disabilities practical tips on what to do to prepare for and cope with the impending re-opening of Ontario schools, in the absence of a much-needed comprehensive provincial plan to ensure that students with disabilities are fully and safely included in re-opened schools. This event will have simultaneous captioning and American Sign Language interpretation.

COVID-19 hardships disproportionately fell on students with disabilities and their families while schools were closed last spring. What can parents of students with disabilities do now to prepare for the fast-approaching school re-opening? What should they be asking their school boards? What should they be telling their school boards? What can they do if their child is not being fully and safely included in school programming, whether in-person in the classroom or distance learning?

We’ll tackle these questions today from 11 am to noon. Log in to https://www.youtube.com/c/OntarioAutismCoalition and wait for the event’s live link to appear. The media is free to broadcast any clips from this town hall.

Speaking will be three experts with extensive experience advocating for students with disabilities :

1. Laura Kirby-McIntosh, high school teacher and president of the Ontario Autism Coalition. Among her many advocacy activities, last year she sat on the Ontario Government’s panel giving advice on reforming the Ontario Autism Program.

2. David Lepofsky, retired lawyer, part-time visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School, and chair of the AODA Alliance. He is also a member and past chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board. He is a member of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, and a member of its COVID-19 subcommittee.

3. Robert Lattanzio, lawyer and executive director of the ARCH Disability Law Centre. He and ARCH have done extensive work providing legal advice and representation to students with disabilities and their families.

“All parents are worried about school re-opening, but parents of students with disabilities are especially anxious about whether their children’s needs will get lost in the chaos that we’re expecting,” Said Laura Kirby-McIntosh.

“The Ford Government has announced no comprehensive plan for ensuring that one third of a million students with disabilities one out of every six students, will be fully and safely included in school this fall, even though we’ve been asking the Government for months to come up with a plan and have been offering constructive suggestions. The Ford Government can’t once again just leave it to each school board to try to figure this out, while scrambling in the midst of a global pandemic,” said David Lepofsky.

This is the third OAC/ AODA Alliance virtual town hall to address the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Taken together, the first two virtual town halls have been viewed thousands of times.

For further information, please contact:
David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
Laura Kirby-McIntosh President Ontario Autism Coalition [email protected] 416-315-7939 www.ontarioautismcoalition.com Twitter @OntAutism

For more background check out:
The first OAC/ AODA Alliance virtual town hall, held on April 7, 2020 surveying the major issues facing people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The second OAC/AODA Alliance virtual town hall, held on May 4, 2020, exploring strategies for teaching students with disabilities during distance learning.

The Ontario Autism Coalition web page, setting out its advocacy efforts for people with autism.

The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, describing its advocacy efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ARCH Disability Law Centre’s website.




Source link

11am Eastern Today, Grassroots Virtual Town Hall Will Give Anxious Parents of One Third of a Million Ontario Students with Disabilities Practical Tips to Prepare for School Re-Openings


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

ONTARIO AUTISM COALITION

 

News Release  For Immediate Release

11am Eastern Today, Grassroots Virtual Town Hall Will Give Anxious Parents of One Third of a Million Ontario Students with Disabilities Practical Tips to Prepare for School Re-Openings

August 21, 2020 Toronto: Today at 11am Eastern, a grassroots Virtual Town Hall will be held online to give deeply worried parents of one third of a million students with disabilities practical tips on what to do to prepare for and cope with the impending re-opening of Ontario schools, in the absence of a much-needed comprehensive provincial plan to ensure that students with disabilities are fully and safely included in re-opened schools. This event will have simultaneous captioning and American Sign Language interpretation.

COVID-19 hardships disproportionately fell on students with disabilities and their families while schools were closed last spring. What can parents of students with disabilities do now to prepare for the fast-approaching school re-opening? What should they be asking their school boards? What should they be telling their school boards? What can they do if their child is not being fully and safely included in school programming, whether in-person in the classroom or distance learning?

We’ll tackle these questions today from 11 am to noon. Log in to https://www.youtube.com/c/OntarioAutismCoalition and wait for the event’s live link to appear. The media is free to broadcast any clips from this town hall.

Speaking will be three experts with extensive experience advocating for students with disabilities :

  1. Laura Kirby-McIntosh, high school teacher and president of the Ontario Autism Coalition. Among her many advocacy activities, last year she sat on the Ontario Government’s panel giving advice on reforming the Ontario Autism Program.
  1. David Lepofsky, retired lawyer, part-time visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School, and chair of the AODA Alliance. He is also a member and past chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board. He is a member of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, and a member of its COVID-19 subcommittee.
  1. Robert Lattanzio, lawyer and executive director of the ARCH Disability Law Centre. He and ARCH have done extensive work providing legal advice and representation to students with disabilities and their families.

“All parents are worried about school re-opening, but parents of students with disabilities are especially anxious about whether their children’s needs will get lost in the chaos that we’re expecting,” Said Laura Kirby-McIntosh.

“The Ford Government has announced no comprehensive plan for ensuring that one third of a million students with disabilities one out of every six students, will be fully and safely included in school this fall, even though we’ve been asking the Government for months to come up with a plan and have been offering constructive suggestions. The Ford Government can’t once again just leave it to each school board to try to figure this out, while scrambling in the midst of a global pandemic,” said David Lepofsky.

This is the third OAC/ AODA Alliance virtual town hall to address the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Taken together, the first two virtual town halls have been viewed thousands of times.

For further information, please contact:

David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Laura Kirby-McIntosh President Ontario Autism Coalition [email protected]ail.com

416-315-7939 www.ontarioautismcoalition.com Twitter @OntAutism

For more background check out:

The first OAC/ AODA Alliance virtual town hall, held on April 7, 2020 surveying the major issues facing people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The second OAC/AODA Alliance virtual town hall, held on May 4, 2020, exploring strategies for teaching students with disabilities during distance learning.

The Ontario Autism Coalition web page, setting out its advocacy efforts for people with autism.

The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, describing its advocacy efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ARCH Disability Law Centre’s website.



Source link

What are the Ford Government’s Plans for Ensuring that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Fully and Safely Included During School Re-Opening Next Month?


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/

August 17, 2020

SUMMARY

With just two weeks left in August, what are the Ford Government’s plans to ensure that one third of a million students with disabilities will be fully and safely included in Ontario schools when they re-open next month? The Ford Government has received excellent advice on what it needs to do. We are still waiting for it to unveil a comprehensive plan of action, so that 72 school boards are not left to flounder, reinventing the wheel, with the serious risk that they may get it wrong. The Ford Government has had five months to plan for this issue.

On August 4, 2020, we asked senior Ministry of Education officials in writing for any announcements on this topic. The Government has not provided anything in response.

This issue bears on the needs of at least one out of every six students in Ontario-funded schools. The Ford Government’s recently announced plan for school re-opening allocated an additional $10 million to school boards for meeting the needs of students with special education needs. This boils down to a total of $34 for each such student. That will fund very little for each student.

Over three weeks ago, on July 24, 2020, the Ford Government received a comprehensive and excellent set of recommendations on what the Ontario Government and school boards need to do to fully and safely include students with disabilities during school re-opening. That report came from the COVID-19 subcommittee of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. The Government knew that this report was coming and had seen earlier drafts.

Moreover, in June, the Government received detailed recommendations on this important subject from the public, including the 19 recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 19, 2020 brief on school re-opening. The AODA Alliance ‘s brief was endorsed by several important disability community organizations and by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. The July 24, 2020 recommendations to The Government from the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s COVID-19 Subcommittee commendably include, expand upon and add to the 19 recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 19, 2020 brief to The Government.

The Government knows what happens when it does not announce a timely plan of action to meet the needs of students with disabilities during this COVID-19 pandemic. Last spring, the Ford Government announced no comprehensive plan of action to ensure that the learning needs of students with disabilities were met during distance learning while schools were closed due to COVID-19.

Throughout the spring, each school board, each teacher and parent were all left struggling as they tried to figure out what to do to meet the needs of students with disabilities during distance learning. Last spring, we and many others urged the Government to announce such a plan of action and offered our help and advice.

Here are several illustrations of this issue as school re-opening rapidly approaches. As a first illustration, back on July 8, 2020, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce commendably stated in the Ontario legislature that on the AODA Alliance’s advice, he is directing all school boards as follows regarding parents of students with disabilities:

“We’ve asked for a check-in of every parent by the school board to ensure that they’ve got the tools they will need to succeed. ”

However, we have not yet seen that direction being given to school boards. We have not heard that all school boards have been following this direction in the weeks leading up to school re-opening. We set out below the relevant excerpt from the transcript of that day’s Question Period proceeding in the Legislature.

As a second illustration, we have still seen no plan of action from the Ontario Government or its public education TV network, TVO, to make the Government’s and TVO’s online educational content and teaching tools accessible for students, parents and teachers with disabilities. Over three months ago, at the May 4, 2020 online town hall on teaching students with disabilities, which was organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, we made public the fact that there are serious accessibility problems with the Ministry of Education’s online materials for teachers, parents and students during distance learning and with the distance learning resources on TVO’s website. The Ford Government had repeatedly proclaimed that TVO was its major partner during the COVID-19 pandemic for delivering online courses to students while schools were closed.

On May 21, 2020, the AODA Alliance wrote TVO’s vice president of digital content. We reiterated these concerns and called for TVO to adopt and implement a plan of action to fix this. Our letter confirmed the content of an earlier phone call between the TVO vice president and AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. Since then, we have not heard a word from TVO and have not seen any plan of action from TVO or the Ford Government to solve this. This fall, when school re-opens, Ontario’s education program will still need to deliver online education. This will be needed for students who opt not to attend school in person, for students whose in-class programs will be delivered in part through distance learning, and for all students if a second COVID-19 wave requires schools to again close.

The Ministry of Education and TVO have now had ample time to address this problem one that should never have occurred in the first place. The Ministry’s and TVO’s duties to ensure the accessibility of their online content has existed for years. The Ford Government claims to be “leading by example” on accessibility for people with disabilities. These are illustrations of their leading by a very poor example.

As a third example, the Ford Government has not announced any concrete measures to prevent a rash of school principals sending some students with disabilities home when schools re-open, using their arbitrary power to refuse to admit some students or others to school at all. On July 23, 2020, the AODA Alliance made public its extensive and detailed report that shows that for much of Ontario, school principals are a law unto themselves when it comes to their sweeping power under section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act to refuse to admit a student or others to school. The AODA Alliance ‘s concerns about this have been covered several times in the media. For example, we set out below the excellent August 10, 2020 article on the AODA Alliance’s report in “QP Briefing” a very influential publication about important events at Queen’s Park.

Among its many compelling July 24, 2020 recommendations, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s COVID-19 Subcommittee urged the Government to take action on this issue. That report recommends:

“11) To promote transparency, accountability and identify trends, the Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction for boards to create an exclusion policy, that imposes restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

a) Does not impede, create barrier, or disproportionally increase burdens for students with disabilities the right to attend school for the entire 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) Tracks exclusions and provides a transparent procedure and practice to parents/guardians, by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process to immediately give the student and their parent/guardian 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 parent/guardian’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.

c) Tracks exclusions, increases accountability and informs policies by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day 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 regular basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized).”

In the weeks since the AODA Alliance made public its detailed July 23, 2020 report on principals’ power to refuse to admit a student to school, the Government has issued no detailed policy direction to school boards to rein in the power to refuse to admit a student to school. no public servants from Ontario’s Ministry of Education have contacted the AODA Alliance to discuss its report or to seek any further information about our research and revelations on this important topic.

The final illustration reflects a broader difficulty with the Ford Government’s overall approach to accessibility for people with disabilities, including in Ontario’s education system. Earlier this summer, the Ford Government announced that it was spending over a half billion dollars on building new schools and expanding existing ones. Yet it announced no new measures to ensure that those new building projects will be accessible to students, parents and school staff with disabilities. Since we made this concern public, we have seen no Government announcement fixing this problem.

For more background on these issues, visit

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page and our education accessibility web page.

* The July 24, 2020 report on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening by the COVID-19 subcommittee of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.

* The AODA Alliance’s July 23, 2020 report on the need to rein in the power of school principals to refuse to admit a student to school.

* The AODA Alliance’s June 19, 2020 brief to the Ford Government on how to meet the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening.

* The widely viewed online video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, co-organized by the Ontario Autism Coalition and the AODA Alliance.

MORE DETAILS

Ontario Hansard July 8, 2020

Question Period

Mr. Joel Harden:My question is for the Premier. Speaker, students with disabilities and their families are wondering when this government will announce somethinganythingto make sure that their learning needs are going to be supported this fall. COVID-19 has hit people with disabilities particularly hard in many ways, including the move to distanced learning. Online platforms are not always accessible for all students, and in-class resources are more difficult or even impossible to access from home.
Without new supports, Speaker, there’s a real risk that students who were already struggling before COVID and during COVID will continue to struggle this fall when schools reopen, in whatever form the government decides they can. Premier, will you release a plan to ensure that all learners, particularly those with disabilities, will be supported? The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott):The Minister of Education.

Hon. Stephen Lecce:I want to thank the member opposite for the question. We do agree that these particular children will need continued support and heightened levels of support, given the challenges that they would have faced over the past months while being at home.

What I’ve directed school boards to do for this summer is to continue to provide a continuity of access to special education and mental health supports that normally would end at the end of school in June. We’ve asked them to continue funding those to create continuity. We’ve asked them, for September, for their IEPs and IPRCs to continue unimpeded. We’ve asked for a check-in of every parent by the school board to ensure that they’ve got the tools they will need to succeed. We’ve added additional funding in special education this year in the GSNthe highest contribution ever made. We’ve also added an additional $10 million to hire more psychologists and more psychotherapists, as well as other important social workers to assist these students.

We know that there is more to do in this respect. We’ve added additional funding in the Support for Students Fund. There’s more support specifically tailored for spec ed educators because we know they’re going to be important to the restart and to the success of these young people in September.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott):The supplementary question?

Mr. Joel Harden:I heard earlier the minister talking about a four-year math plan. I have a simple proposition to the government: Given this phone that the people of Ontario have given to methey pay for itwhy not a four-minute phone plan, Minister? Why not pick up the phone and call David Lepofsky from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which has given your government a brief to which they’ve heard no response yet about how they can help students with disabilities this fall? They’ve made appeals to this government, Speaker; their appeals have not been answered. Their brief is supported by 10 disability rights organizations and a major teachers’ union.
Speaker, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. All this government and all this minister needs to do is answer the voice mails, answer the multiple emails, answer the appeals.
In all sincerity, Speaker, after the break of question period, I’m happy to sanitize my phone, walk across the aisle, and give the minister

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott):I overlooked it the first time, but you can’t use props during question period or in the House. Response?

Hon. Stephen Lecce:You know, Speaker, I actually speak to Mr. Lepofsky quite often. I spoke to him just two weeks ago in advance of our reopening plan. I’ve spoken to the AODA Alliance, and likewise I’ve spoken to the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education on a biweekly basis throughout this pandemic. So you don’t need to share your phone; I am in contact with him, and I care deeply about it.

In fact, it was his opinion and his recommendation to me that there be a check-in of every student by the school boards before September. We adopted that recommendation; I thought that was prudent.

Speaker, in addition, what he has also called for is additional access to support and funding. What we’ve done is increased the GSN, the largest investment in special education, because we recognize, most especially with those families, that they face challenges. We’re going to continue to invest in them.

We’re going to continue to provide mandatory professional development for all educators in the area of mental health, and we’re going to continue to ensure that there is staffing in place to help these kids succeed in September.

QP Briefing August 10, 2020

ADVOCATES FEAR ‘RASH OF EXCLUSIONS’ OF SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS WHEN SCHOOLS REOPEN 10.08.2020 By Sneh Duggal, Queen’s Park Briefing

Disability and autism advocates are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic could result in principals keeping more students with disabilities out of classrooms this fall and are calling on the government to create a “consistent exclusion policy” for the province.

“We’re concerned about the real risk of a rash of exclusions and part of the problem is that principals aren’t getting enough direction and support from the province for COVID for working for students with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance advocacy group. “We are worried because we know that this power has been arbitrarily used before COVID, there’s nothing about COVID that will make that risk reduce.”

The power Lepofsky said school administrators have is outlined in the Ontario Education Act, which gives principals the right “to refuse to admit to the school or classroom a 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.”
The issue, Lepofsky said, is that there isn’t one single policy across the province, with research from his group showing that while some school boards have policies around exclusions, others don’t. With increased pressure and uncertainty around the reopening of schools during a global pandemic, Lepofsky fears “some principals could well use their power to tell some of those students with disabilities to just stay home, to refuse to admit them to school.”

Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and a high school teacher, noted that exclusions, which she described as the removal of a student from school for an indefinite period of time, can take different forms. Kirby-McIntosh, who raised the issue of exclusions with Lepofsky at Queen’s Park in early 2019, has previously spoken of her autistic son who she said had “one meltdown” and was kept out of school for six months.
While some exclusions might be more formalized with a letter being sent to the parent, others might be less so, she said.

“It’s that phone call you get at 10 o’clock in the morning saying ‘Johnny’s got here, but he’s not coping well, can you come and pick him up?’ It’s the call you get from the principal saying, ‘you know what, we need to start Suzy on half days, I’m not sure we’ve got enough to support her for a full day, so we’re just going to bring her in for half a day, or an hour a day.’
“Those are soft exclusions and they happen all of the time, and our kids lose hundreds of hours of instructional time to soft exclusions,” she said. “It’s a very arbitrary power; where suspensions and expulsions have very strict rules around them, exclusions are still very fuzzy and very much up to the individual discretion of the principal, and therein lies the problem.”

There is particular concern within the autism community about what could happen this fall, she noted. Thousands of children with autism have been out of routine and therapy for months, meaning some might have lost certain skills, Kirby-McIntosh said.
Returning to school in the middle of a global pandemic is a “very unusual school experience,” she said, noting that people will be wearing masks and be distanced.
“It’s a very tumultuous situation and transitions for kids with autism are hard at the best of times, but the type of transition that we’re asking them to prepare for now is a really unusual one,” she said. “You could have a kid go who experiences sensory overload, is scared by the masks, has been at home for six months and is not used to being around this many people and is overwhelmed by the smells and the sounds and the sights of all of it and as a result has a meltdown and acts out.”

“My fear is that the temptation for the principal is going to be to just use exclusion and to just say, ‘Sorry, it’s a global pandemic, we can’t keep you safe so you have to go home,’” she said.
Lepofsky said while not all students with disabilities are excluded from school, anecdotal feedback from parents over the years has suggested it is “disproportionately used on those kids.”

The AODA Alliance released a report in July detailing the results of a survey to school boards about exclusion policies. Lepofsky said half didn’t respond, but the group found that just 33 of 72 boards had any sort of policy on exclusions. He said they were “wild variations” from one board to the next, with the Toronto District School Board, for example, outlining that an exclusion can last five days and then be extended, while others set no time limit.

“These are entirely arbitrary and unfair differences,” said Lepofsky. “Before COVID and even more so in light of COVID, we need the province to step up to the plate now and to issue detailed directions setting firm practices across the province on when and how a refusal to admit can take place.” Some of the requirements he outlined included setting maximum time limits for exclusions or requiring that boards have a meeting with the family before a “refusal to admit is imposed.”

The Ministry of Education and Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office did not directly respond to questions about whether the government would be issuing any guidance on the use of exclusions, develop a provincewide set of requirements for exclusions or support tracking the use of them.

Ministry spokesperson Ingrid Anderson stated in an email that for students with high special education needs, the government is “directing school boards to facilitate full-time in-school instruction, regardless of whether a secondary school begins the instructional year using an adapted model.”

Anderson then pointed to the $309 million the government has announced to help with the reopening of schools during COVID-19, including $10 million to support special needs students and $30 million for additional staffing for smaller classes or “other safety-related measures.”

Lepofsky said special needs funding envelopes were “underfunded before,” but that his asks aren’t about money. Identifying a provincewide attendance code that schools can use to indicate an exclusion, for example, doesn’t come at a cost, he said.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said the organization is “aware of concerns about the practice of exclusions from our member school boards, as well as members of the public, and have requested that education stakeholders, including trustees, be part of any future consultation in this area.”

“The changes to suspensions, as a result of the recent passing of Bill 197, offers an opportunity for the government to consult with education partners to ensure that the term ‘exclusions’ be clearly defined. Should the government seek to consult on this, our association will be ready to provide expert advice based on feedback from trustees and senior school board staff,” Abraham said.

Ann Pace, president of the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC), said in an email that exclusions aren’t used to discipline students, but rather “when there are serious safety concerns, such as when a student’s actions or presence is detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of other students.”

“While it is always the goal of all educators that students attend school, there are, unfortunately, some instances in which the needs of a student cannot be met due to a lack of human or financial resources,” Pace said. “When necessary, these decisions are made by a principal, but only after consulting with board officials and supervisory officers.”

She stressed that principals should be part of any conversations related to boards implementing requirements for exclusions and that consideration should be given to things like the safety and well-being of the student, their classmates, and staff, the ability of the school
to provide the needed resources and support the student and the capacity of the parent to do the same.

The OPC did say it’s open to tracking the use of exclusions.

“As long as this is not a labour-intensive process, it could be done by school principals. Indeed, it may reveal how rarely they occur,” Pace said.

As part of plans to reopen schools, one focus is on supports for students with disabilities and special needs, she added.

“School boards have implemented a transition plan for high needs students prior to the official start of the 2020-2021 school year to mitigate the issues that would create a barrier for a successful return for those students who we believe have been most impacted by a six-month withdrawal from the structure and routine of school,” said Pace. “We recognize the stress that the closure has placed on families, and we have advocated for additional supports to promote a successful transition back to school.”




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What are the Ford Government’s Plans for Ensuring that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Fully and Safely Included During School Re-Opening Next Month?


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/

What are the Ford Government’s Plans for Ensuring that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Fully and Safely Included During School Re-Opening Next Month?

August 17, 2020

          SUMMARY

With just two weeks left in August, what are the Ford Government’s plans to ensure that one third of a million students with disabilities will be fully and safely included in Ontario schools when they re-open next month? The Ford Government has received excellent advice on what it needs to do. We are still waiting for it to unveil a comprehensive plan of action, so that 72 school boards are not left to flounder, reinventing the wheel, with the serious risk that they may get it wrong. The Ford Government has had five months to plan for this issue.

On August 4, 2020, we asked senior Ministry of Education officials in writing for any announcements on this topic. The Government has not provided anything in response.

This issue bears on the needs of at least one out of every six students in Ontario-funded schools. The Ford Government’s recently announced plan for school re-opening allocated an additional $10 million to school boards for meeting the needs of students with special education needs. This boils down to a total of $34 for each such student. That will fund very little for each student.

Over three weeks ago, on July 24, 2020, the Ford Government received a comprehensive and excellent set of recommendations on what the Ontario Government and school boards need to do to fully and safely include students with disabilities during school re-opening. That report came from the COVID-19 subcommittee of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. The Government knew that this report was coming and had seen earlier drafts.

Moreover, in June, the Government received detailed recommendations on this important subject from the public, including the 19 recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 19, 2020 brief on school re-opening. The AODA Alliance ‘s brief was endorsed by several important disability community organizations and by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. The July 24, 2020 recommendations to The Government from the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s COVID-19 Subcommittee commendably include, expand upon and add to the 19 recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 19, 2020 brief to The Government.

The Government knows what happens when it does not announce a timely plan of action to meet the needs of students with disabilities during this COVID-19 pandemic. Last spring, the Ford Government announced no comprehensive plan of action to ensure that the learning needs of students with disabilities were met during distance learning while schools were closed due to COVID-19.

Throughout the spring, each school board, each teacher and parent were all left struggling as they tried to figure out what to do to meet the needs of students with disabilities during distance learning. Last spring, we and many others urged the Government to announce such a plan of action and offered our help and advice.

Here are several illustrations of this issue as school re-opening rapidly approaches. As a first illustration, back on July 8, 2020, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce commendably stated in the Ontario legislature that on the AODA Alliance’s advice, he is directing all school boards as follows regarding parents of students with disabilities:

“We’ve asked for a check-in of every parent by the school board to ensure that they’ve got the tools they will need to succeed. “

However, we have not yet seen that direction being given to school boards. We have not heard that all school boards have been following this direction in the weeks leading up to school re-opening. We set out below the relevant excerpt from the transcript of that day’s Question Period proceeding in the Legislature.

As a second illustration, we have still seen no plan of action from the Ontario Government or its public education TV network, TVO, to make the Government’s and TVO’s online educational content and teaching tools accessible for students, parents and teachers with disabilities. Over three months ago, at the May 4, 2020 online town hall on teaching students with disabilities, which was organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, we made public the fact that there are serious accessibility problems with the Ministry of Education’s online materials for teachers, parents and students during distance learning and with the distance learning resources on TVO’s website. The Ford Government had repeatedly proclaimed that TVO was its major partner during the COVID-19 pandemic for delivering online courses to students while schools were closed.

On May 21, 2020, the AODA Alliance wrote TVO’s vice president of digital content. We reiterated these concerns and called for TVO to adopt and implement a plan of action to fix this. Our letter confirmed the content of an earlier phone call between the TVO vice president and AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. Since then, we have not heard a word from TVO and have not seen any plan of action from TVO or the Ford Government to solve this. This fall, when school re-opens, Ontario’s education program will still need to deliver online education. This will be needed for students who opt not to attend school in person, for students whose in-class programs will be delivered in part through distance learning, and for all students if a second COVID-19 wave requires schools to again close.

The Ministry of Education and TVO have now had ample time to address this problem – one that should never have occurred in the first place. The Ministry’s and TVO’s duties to ensure the accessibility of their online content has existed for years. The Ford Government claims to be “leading by example” on accessibility for people with disabilities. These are illustrations of their leading by a very poor example.

As a third example, the Ford Government has not announced any concrete measures to prevent a rash of school principals sending some students with disabilities home when schools re-open, using their arbitrary power to refuse to admit some students or others to school at all. On July 23, 2020, the AODA Alliance made public its extensive and detailed report that shows that for much of Ontario, school principals are a law unto themselves when it comes to their sweeping power under section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act to refuse to admit a student or others to school. The AODA Alliance ‘s concerns about this have been covered several times in the media. For example, we set out below the excellent August 10, 2020 article on the AODA Alliance‘s report in “QP Briefing” a very influential publication about important events at Queen’s Park.

Among its many compelling July 24, 2020 recommendations, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s COVID-19 Subcommittee urged the Government to take action on this issue. That report recommends:

“11) To promote transparency, accountability and identify trends, the Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction for boards to create an exclusion policy, that imposes restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

  1. a) Does not impede, create barrier, or disproportionally increase burdens for students with disabilities the right to attend school for the entire 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) Tracks exclusions and provides a transparent procedure and practice to parents/guardians, by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process to immediately give the student and their parent/guardian 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 parent/guardian’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  1. c) Tracks exclusions, increases accountability and informs policies by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day 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 regular basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized).”

In the weeks since the AODA Alliance made public its detailed July 23, 2020 report on principals’ power to refuse to admit a student to school, the Government has issued no detailed policy direction to school boards to rein in the power to refuse to admit a student to school. no public servants from Ontario’s Ministry of Education have contacted the AODA Alliance to discuss its report or to seek any further information about our research and revelations on this important topic.

The final illustration reflects a broader difficulty with the Ford Government’s overall approach to accessibility for people with disabilities, including in Ontario’s education system. Earlier this summer, the Ford Government announced that it was spending over a half billion dollars on building new schools and expanding existing ones. Yet it announced no new measures to ensure that those new building projects will be accessible to students, parents and school staff with disabilities. Since we made this concern public, we have seen no Government announcement fixing this problem.

For more background on these issues, visit

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page and our education accessibility web page.

* The July 24, 2020 report on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening by the COVID-19 subcommittee of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.

* The AODA Alliance‘s July 23, 2020 report on the need to rein in the power of school principals to refuse to admit a student to school.

* The AODA Alliance’s June 19, 2020 brief to the Ford Government on how to meet the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening.

* The widely viewed online video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, co-organized by the Ontario Autism Coalition and the AODA Alliance.

          MORE DETAILS

Ontario Hansard July 8, 2020

 

Question Period

 

Mr. Joel Harden: My question is for the Premier. Speaker, students with disabilities and their families are wondering when this government will announce something—anything—to make sure that their learning needs are going to be supported this fall. COVID-19 has hit people with disabilities particularly hard in many ways, including the move to distanced learning. Online platforms are not always accessible for all students, and in-class resources are more difficult or even impossible to access from home.

Without new supports, Speaker, there’s a real risk that students who were already struggling before COVID and during COVID will continue to struggle this fall when schools reopen, in whatever form the government decides they can. Premier, will you release a plan to ensure that all learners, particularly those with disabilities, will be supported?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Education.

 

Hon. Stephen Lecce: I want to thank the member opposite for the question. We do agree that these particular children will need continued support and heightened levels of support, given the challenges that they would have faced over the past months while being at home.

What I’ve directed school boards to do for this summer is to continue to provide a continuity of access to special education and mental health supports that normally would end at the end of school in June. We’ve asked them to continue funding those to create continuity. We’ve asked them, for September, for their IEPs and IPRCs to continue unimpeded. We’ve asked for a check-in of every parent by the school board to ensure that they’ve got the tools they will need to succeed. We’ve added additional funding in special education this year in the GSN—the highest contribution ever made. We’ve also added an additional $10 million to hire more psychologists and more psychotherapists, as well as other important social workers to assist these students.

We know that there is more to do in this respect. We’ve added additional funding in the Support for Students Fund. There’s more support specifically tailored for spec ed educators because we know they’re going to be important to the restart and to the success of these young people in September.

 

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question?

 

Mr. Joel Harden: I heard earlier the minister talking about a four-year math plan. I have a simple proposition to the government: Given this phone that the people of Ontario have given to me—they pay for it—why not a four-minute phone plan, Minister? Why not pick up the phone and call David Lepofsky from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which has given your government a brief to which they’ve heard no response yet about how they can help students with disabilities this fall? They’ve made appeals to this government, Speaker; their appeals have not been answered. Their brief is supported by 10 disability rights organizations and a major teachers’ union.

Speaker, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. All this government and all this minister needs to do is answer the voice mails, answer the multiple emails, answer the appeals.

In all sincerity, Speaker, after the break of question period, I’m happy to sanitize my phone, walk across the aisle, and give the minister—

 

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I overlooked it the first time, but you can’t use props during question period or in the House.

Response?

 

Hon. Stephen Lecce: You know, Speaker, I actually speak to Mr. Lepofsky quite often. I spoke to him just two weeks ago in advance of our reopening plan. I’ve spoken to the AODA Alliance, and likewise I’ve spoken to the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education on a biweekly basis throughout this pandemic. So you don’t need to share your phone; I am in contact with him, and I care deeply about it.

In fact, it was his opinion and his recommendation to me that there be a check-in of every student by the school boards before September. We adopted that recommendation; I thought that was prudent.

Speaker, in addition, what he has also called for is additional access to support and funding. What we’ve done is increased the GSN, the largest investment in special education, because we recognize, most especially with those families, that they face challenges. We’re going to continue to invest in them.

We’re going to continue to provide mandatory professional development for all educators in the area of mental health, and we’re going to continue to ensure that there is staffing in place to help these kids succeed in September.

QP Briefing August 10, 2020

ADVOCATES FEAR ‘RASH OF EXCLUSIONS’ OF SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS WHEN SCHOOLS REOPEN

10.08.2020 By Sneh Duggal, Queen’s Park Briefing

Disability and autism advocates are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic could result in principals keeping more students with disabilities out of classrooms this fall and are calling on the government to create a “consistent exclusion policy” for the province.

“We’re concerned about the real risk of a rash of exclusions and part of the problem is that principals aren’t getting enough direction and support from the province for COVID for working for students with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance advocacy group. “We are worried because we know that this power has been arbitrarily used before COVID, there’s nothing about COVID that will make that risk reduce.”

The power Lepofsky said school administrators have is outlined in the Ontario Education Act, which gives principals the right “to refuse to admit to the school or classroom a 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.”

The issue, Lepofsky said, is that there isn’t one single policy across the province, with research from his group showing that while some school boards have policies around exclusions, others don’t. With increased pressure and uncertainty around the reopening of schools during a global pandemic, Lepofsky fears “some principals could well use their power to tell some of those students with disabilities to just stay home, to refuse to admit them to school.”

Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and a high school teacher, noted that exclusions, which she described as the removal of a student from school for an indefinite period of time, can take different forms. Kirby-McIntosh, who raised the issue of exclusions with Lepofsky at Queen’s Park in early 2019, has previously spoken of her autistic son who she said had “one meltdown” and was kept out of school for six months.

While some exclusions might be more formalized with a letter being sent to the parent, others might be less so, she said.

“It’s that phone call you get at 10 o’clock in the morning saying ‘Johnny’s got here, but he’s not coping well, can you come and pick him up?’ It’s the call you get from the principal saying, ‘you know what, we need to start Suzy on half days, I’m not sure we’ve got enough to support her for a full day, so we’re just going to bring her in for half a day, or an hour a day.’

“Those are soft exclusions and they happen all of the time, and our kids lose hundreds of hours of instructional time to soft exclusions,” she said. “It’s a very arbitrary power; where suspensions and expulsions have very strict rules around them, exclusions are still very fuzzy and very much up to the individual discretion of the principal, and therein lies the problem.”

There is particular concern within the autism community about what could happen this fall, she noted. Thousands of children with autism have been out of routine and therapy for months, meaning some might have lost certain skills, Kirby-McIntosh said.

Returning to school in the middle of a global pandemic is a “very unusual school experience,” she said, noting that people will be wearing masks and be distanced.

“It’s a very tumultuous situation and transitions for kids with autism are hard at the best of times, but the type of transition that we’re asking them to prepare for now is a really unusual one,” she said. “You could have a kid go who experiences sensory overload, is scared by the masks, has been at home for six months and is not used to being around this many people and is overwhelmed by the smells and the sounds and the sights of all of it and as a result has a meltdown and acts out.”

“My fear is that the temptation for the principal is going to be to just use exclusion and to just say, ‘Sorry, it’s a global pandemic, we can’t keep you safe so you have to go home,’” she said.

Lepofsky said while not all students with disabilities are excluded from school, anecdotal feedback from parents over the years has suggested it is “disproportionately used on those kids.”

The AODA Alliance released a report in July detailing the results of a survey to school boards about exclusion policies. Lepofsky said half didn’t respond, but the group found that just 33 of 72 boards had any sort of policy on exclusions. He said they were “wild variations” from one board to the next, with the Toronto District School Board, for example, outlining that an exclusion can last five days and then be extended, while others set no time limit.

“These are entirely arbitrary and unfair differences,” said Lepofsky. “Before COVID and even more so in light of COVID, we need the province to step up to the plate now and to issue detailed directions setting firm practices across the province on when and how a refusal to admit can take place.” Some of the requirements he outlined included setting maximum time limits for exclusions or requiring that boards have a meeting with the family before a “refusal to admit is imposed.”

The Ministry of Education and Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office did not directly respond to questions about whether the government would be issuing any guidance on the use of exclusions, develop a provincewide set of requirements for exclusions or support tracking the use of them.

Ministry spokesperson Ingrid Anderson stated in an email that for students with high special education needs, the government is “directing school boards to facilitate full-time in-school instruction, regardless of whether a secondary school begins the instructional year using an adapted model.”

Anderson then pointed to the $309 million the government has announced to help with the reopening of schools during COVID-19, including $10 million to support special needs students and $30 million for additional staffing for smaller classes or “other safety-related measures.”

Lepofsky said special needs funding envelopes were “underfunded before,” but that his asks aren’t about money. Identifying a provincewide attendance code that schools can use to indicate an exclusion, for example, doesn’t come at a cost, he said.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said the organization is “aware of concerns about the practice of exclusions from our member school boards, as well as members of the public, and have requested that education stakeholders, including trustees, be part of any future consultation in this area.”

“The changes to suspensions, as a result of the recent passing of Bill 197, offers an opportunity for the government to consult with education partners to ensure that the term ‘exclusions’ be clearly defined. Should the government seek to consult on this, our association will be ready to provide expert advice based on feedback from trustees and senior school board staff,” Abraham said.

Ann Pace, president of the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC), said in an email that exclusions aren’t used to discipline students, but rather “when there are serious safety concerns, such as when a student’s actions or presence is detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of other students.”

“While it is always the goal of all educators that students attend school, there are, unfortunately, some instances in which the needs of a student cannot be met due to a lack of human or financial resources,” Pace said. “When necessary, these decisions are made by a principal, but only after consulting with board officials and supervisory officers.”

She stressed that principals should be part of any conversations related to boards implementing requirements for exclusions and that consideration should be given to things like the safety and well-being of the student, their classmates, and staff, the ability of the school

to provide the needed resources and support the student and the capacity of the parent to do the same.

The OPC did say it’s open to tracking the use of exclusions.

“As long as this is not a labour-intensive process, it could be done by school principals. Indeed, it may reveal how rarely they occur,” Pace said.

As part of plans to reopen schools, one focus is on supports for students with disabilities and special needs, she added.

“School boards have implemented a transition plan for high needs students prior to the official start of the 2020-2021 school year to mitigate the issues that would create a barrier for a successful return for those students who we believe have been most impacted by a six-month withdrawal from the structure and routine of school,” said Pace. “We recognize the stress that the closure has placed on families, and we have advocated for additional supports to promote a successful transition back to school.”



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An Important New Report to the Ontario Government Calls on the Government and School Boards to Take Action Now to Ensure that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Able to Fully Participate in Ontario Schools as They Re-Open This Fall


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/

An Important New Report to the Ontario Government Calls on the Government and School Boards to Take Action Now to Ensure that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Able to Fully Participate in Ontario Schools as They Re-Open This Fall

August 14, 2020

          SUMMARY

We today share with you a very important new report that bears on the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario-funded schools, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Three weeks ago, the Ford Government received a detailed report on the steps it needs to take to meet the needs of students with disabilities now and into the fall, in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This thorough report, which we set out in full below, was written by a subcommittee of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky serves on that Standards Development Committee and was one of the members of the subcommittee that collectively developed this report. The subcommittee included representation from the disability sector and the school board community.

We are delighted that this report includes the substance of all the recommendations that the AODA Alliance put forward in its June 19, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government on how to meet the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening. It expands and enhances on the recommendations in the AODA Alliance‘s June 19, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government. This report also goes further, adding other important recommendations.

With school re-opening fast approaching, it is important for the Ford Government to now announce a plan to implement these recommendations. Until the Ford Government does so, we call on all Ontario school boards to review this report and implement its recommendations in their plans for school re-opening.

We encourage one and all to send this report to your member of the Ontario legislature, your school board trustee, and your local media. Email Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Emphasize to all of them that this report needs immediate action.

The AODA Alliance has been spearheading a campaign for over a decade to tear down the barriers facing students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. We led the multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act .

For more background on these issues, please visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page and our education web page. Check out the widely-viewed online video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, co-organized by the Ontario Autism Coalition and the AODA Alliance.

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

          MORE DETAILS

July 24, 2020 Letter to the Ontario Minister of Education and Minister for Accessibility from the Chair of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

Date: Friday, July 24, 2020

The Honourable Stephen Lecce

Minister of Education

5th Floor, 438 University Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario M7A 2A5

The Honourable Raymond Cho
Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
5th Floor, 777 Bay Street,

Toronto, Ontario M7A 1S5

Dear Minister Lecce and Minister Cho,

Re: K-12 Education Standards Development Committee: Planning for Emergencies and Safety Small Group Report

On behalf of the members of the Planning for Emergencies and Safety small group (the small group), I am pleased to submit the small group’s advice and recommendations on emergency planning and safety for students with disabilities in K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee (The Committee) formed the small group when the Ministry of Education was seeking feedback from the Committee on the barriers and issues identified through the COVID-19 pandemic. The small group’s mandate includes using experiential learning from the COVID-19 pandemic to:

  • identify new and reoccurring accessibility barriers to learning for students with disabilities in the context of remote learning; and
  • develop an emergency plan framework (that covers the phases of preparing, planning, response and recovery) for a systematic response to an emergency.

The small group members have put incredible effort, time and passion to complete this report that includes valuable advice and recommendations for government consideration. The report addresses the following 9 barriers for students with disabilities as a result of COVID-19:

  1. organizational, policy and procedural barriers
  2. mental health and well being
  3. academic (learning inequities for students with disabilities)
  4. support for secondary school students with disabilities
  5. transitions between in school and virtual learning
  6. accessible communication and technology
  7. training on the integration of digital technology into learning
  8. transportation
  9. recommendations addressing barriers for the Government and School Boards in emergency planning and safety

Thank you for your shared commitment to ensuring accessibility and inclusion for students with disabilities in Ontario. We have appreciated the discussions with Minister Lecce on Grants for Students Needs funding and the school board memos that address the current work being done to support students. The barriers in our report reflect what we have heard from various educational partners, families of student with disabilities and students within Ontario. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss these additional recommendations. The work and passion of the Committee continues, and we look forward to more opportunities to share our advice and feedback with you.

Together we can create an accessible and inclusive education system for students with disabilities during this unprecedented time.

Sincerely,

(Original signed by)

 

 

Lynn Ziraldo,
Chair, K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

Attachments:

  1. Small group report

July 24, 2020 Report to the Ontario Government from the Planning for Emergencies and Safety Subcommittee of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

July 24, 2020

Introduction

The COVID-19 Pandemic has tested emergency plans for all levels of government, businesses, agencies, education systems, communities, families, and citizens in the province of Ontario. Many risks have been identified and challenges have arisen because of the pandemic and more continue to be identified as we move through the stages of the emergency. Emergency plans, response and procedures need to be reviewed to address these risks and barriers immediately and to improve responses to emergencies in the future.

As the Ministry of Education was seeking feedback on barriers and emerging issues identified during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the K-12 Standards Development Committee formed the Planning for Emergency and Safety Working Group with a focus on students with disabilities with the following mandate:

Using experiential learning from the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Identify new and reoccurring accessibility barriers to learning for students with disabilities in the context of remote learning
  • Develop an emergency plan framework (that covers the phases of preparing, planning, response and recovery) for a systematic response to an emergency.

Methodology

The Planning for Emergencies & Safety Working Group gathered resources from experts including the Framework for Reopening Schools developed by UNICEF, SickKids recommendations to Reopening Schools, Letters to Minister Lecce from the Ontario Human Rights Commission of July 14, 2020; and various other resources and articles from educational partners within Ontario, other provinces and countries (See Resource Section). While reviewing the documents, the Working Group identified barriers and subsequently developed recommendations to address said barriers.

Organizational Challenges and Barriers during COVID-19

Through a review of resources, feedback from parents and guardians, agencies, health professionals and educational stakeholders’ opinions expressed, the Working Group found that students with disabilities have faced challenges compounded by COVID-19.  Their needs have been inconsistently addressed or not at all. These are some organizational, policy and procedural barriers identified:

  • Inconsistent or unclear messaging from varying levels of government, health agencies and school boards
  • Lack of or unable to access consistent data from all regions and school boards to support data driven decisions and implement actions quickly and effectively.
  • Policies and procedures outdated, non-existent, or inflexible to accommodate this type of emergency – COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Emergency response teams not reflecting the different subject knowledge needed to support decision making and development of a plan that reflects the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Inter-governmental, health service, service agencies and school board service agreements did not reflect the ability to provide services in a virtual learning environment
  • Service delivery models used by government, health services, service agencies and school boards not conducive to virtual service delivery.
  • The extent to which Board’s utilized or sought feedback from its SEACs in developing response or action plans to the COVID-19 pandemic varied from none to fully participated.
  • Not all school boards have an Accessibility Standards Committee or for those school boards that do have members of the community or people with disabilities who have lived experience that can help plan and implement the Public Health Guidelines to mitigate risks of COVID-19 in schools for students with disabilities
  • School board Accessibility Standards Committee can be helpful in helping to plan and implement the Public Health Guidelines to mitigate risks of COVID-19 in schools for students with disabilities. However, not all school boards have such committees, or committee membership that includes members of the community or people with disabilities who have lived experience that can inform planning and implementation.

Key Recommendations for Planning for Emergencies

It is important in planning for return to school, the opportunity is taken to review and create structures, policy and procedures that can adapt and be more flexible for a 2nd wave or future emergencies.

By learning from innovations and emergency processes, systems can adapt and scale up the more effective solutions. In doing so, they could become more effective, more agile, and more resilient” – (quoted from THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: SHOCKS TO EDUCATION AND POLICY RESPONSES, World Bank).

There are 5 known steps to Emergency Planning and Preparedness: 1) Know your risk, 2) Build your Team, 3) Make critical information accessible quickly, 4) Update alert and response procedure, 5) Test the plan and revise.

To eliminate barriers identified, that a return to school plan has input from end users, be designed through an inclusive process and not by one team or group. A team of subject expertise from across the organization is critical for developing a strong plan.

Recommendations – Government

For the above reasons, it is recommended that

  • The Ministry of Education should establish a Central Education Leadership Command Table with responsibilities for ensuring that students with disabilities have access to all accommodations and supports they require during the present COVID-19 pandemic. The responsibilities of the Command Table shall include:
    1. immediately develop a comprehensive plan to meet the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19 pandemic quickly and resolve issues for students with disabilities as they arise. The comprehensive plan should be shared for implementation by school boards. This plan should include and incorporate the three options for education:
  • normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols
  • modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and,
  • at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery
    1. collect and share data on existing and emerging issues as a result of COVID-19, the effective responses of other jurisdictions in supporting students with disabilities during the current emergency, using evidence base data collection method for people with disabilities
    2. establish a fully accessible centralized hub, and share and publicize the hub, for sharing of effective practices about supporting students with disabilities
    3. develop a 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
    4. provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected.
  • The government/Ministry of Education shall establish a cross sectorial Partnership Table at provincial and regional levels with the responsibility to integrate, coordinate and foster cross sector planning and response to emergencies. Responsibilities of this table are to:
    1. enhance an interlinked, coordinated and inter-ministerial approach in providing a seamless service delivery model to provide services and supports to students with disabilities (Psychology, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Mental Health, etc.).
    2. collect data now, from respective sectors, health services, education, service agencies, etc. to identify existing and emerging barriers, know exactly which students with disabilities and how they are impacted, their needs, and how to better direct resources to support them
    3. provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected to ensure accessibility for students with disabilities.
  • The Ministry of Education provincial and regional partnership tables should include advisors that can provide insight on the needs and challenges of students with disabilities from lived experience and the collective experience of disability support groups, as well as students with disabilities.
  • The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist the Central Educational 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.
  • The Ministry of Education should direct that each school board shall establish a similar Board Command table. (See recommendation 12 for School Boards).
  • The provincial government continue and enhance an interlinked, coordinated and inter-ministerial approach in providing a seamless service delivery model to provide services and supports to students with disabilities (Psychology, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Mental Health, etc.).
  • The Ministry of Education should collect and aggregate International data, resources and information from other countries experiences for use in planning transitions between in-school and distance education, including continuation of virtual learning at home.
  • The Ministry of Education should developed comprehensive plans for students with disabilities that addresses the surge in demand and increase capacity to provide specialized disability supports, including enhanced staffing, for the return to in-class and distance learning (increase in in-class supports, social workers, psychologists, guidance counsellors)
  • The Ministry of Education should develop guidelines that provide for alternate or enhanced childcare opportunities to be made available to families of students with a disability, for students required to stay home due to adapted model classroom scheduling. (Excludes childcare needs that are related to quarantine self-isolation for child or family due to exposure or a local outbreak of the virus.)
  • 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
  2. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis to inform future policies and regulations and directions for school boards.
  • To promote transparency, accountability and identify trends, the Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction for boards to create an exclusion policy, that imposes restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:
  1. a) Does not impede, create barrier, or disproportionally increase burdens for students with disabilities the right to attend school for the entire 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.
  2. b) Tracks exclusions and provide a transparent procedure and practice to parents/guardians, by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process to immediately give the student and their parent/guardian 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 parent/guardian’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  3. c) Tracks exclusions, increases accountability and informs policies by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day 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 regular basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized).
  • The Ministry of Education should provide clear guidelines and expectations to school boards on the implementation of Public Health Guidelines to mitigate risks of COVID-19 to ensure that school buildings and grounds be fully accessible for students with disabilities.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • School Boards should establish a similar Board Command/Central table as the Ministry of Education’s Central Education Command/Central Table, 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. The Table will quickly network with similar offices/Tables at other school boards and can report recurring issues to the Ministry’s command table.
  • School Boards should utilize the expertise of the Special Education Advisory Committee members by directly involving members in the planning for the delivery of remote learning, other emergency plans, through regular meetings and frequent communications.
  • School Boards should enhance its hub of resources with successful practices, lesson plans, resources specific to students with disabilities in a virtual learning environment for ease of access and support teachers and students in their learning.
  • School Boards should involve their Accessibility Committee, or if there is no committee to establish an Accessibility Advisory Committee which will review all plans at the school board and school level for mitigating risk of COVID-19 meet the accessibility requirements of all students or people with disabilities.
  • School Boards should assign a leadership staff member responsible for ensuring that all changes at schools in response to COVID-19 maintain accessibility for all students with disabilities.

Mental Health & Well Being

As found through the review of resources, student and family mental health & wellbeing needs have soared to due to the traumatic effects of COVID-19. Students wellbeing has suffered for a variety of barriers: effects of isolation from social distancing, increased rise in domestic violence, lack of access to school breakfast programs, lack of access to mental health & therapeutic services, and negative financial impact to family’s income to name a few.

Barriers

  • Agencies, different levels of government and school boards developing plans and working on solutions to barriers with little or no coordination
  • Support for parents with students with complex needs are insufficient
  • Health services and supports not consistently or sufficiently prepared to provide health and mental health services in a virtual setting
  • There is a flood of information and resources being presented to teachers, parents and students
  • More inter-ministerial leadership and collaboration between Ministries of Education (MOE), Community, Children & Social Services (MCCSS) and Health (MOH) is required
  • School Boards and staff must be equipped with appropriate PPE for their own health and wellbeing
  • Need to safely deliver additional supports such and as breakfast & nutrition programs provided by community agencies
  • Plans for the next phase include a return to in-class and virtual instruction, including adapted models whereby some students will be scheduled at home on an alternate day or alternate week basis. Having students at home for short or long periods (alternate day to full semester) will be a significant challenge for families and may prevent the return to work for many parents. Some parents of children with disabilities face barriers to employment, and many others are overburdened with providing 24-hour care to students with complex care needs.

Recommendations – Government

  • The government should enhance the central hub of mental health & wellbeing information resources at provincial and regional levels with key messages and links to other resources. Ensure all resources are in an accessible digital format (as per Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation), well publicised and shared with school boards.
  • Ministries should review and increase capacity of Ontario Telehealth Network (OTN) and other privacy protected health platforms to allow for boards to use (even in non-emergency times) and deliver services by regulated health care professionals that protect the privacy of the health services and IPRCs.
  • Ministries of Education, Health and Children, Community & Social Services should remove any cross-jurisdictional barriers related to the provision of health and education services to ensure students with disabilities can be provided with the mental health & wellbeing services they require to be delivered remotely. (For example, under Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) 149, Protocol for Partnerships with External Agencies for Provision of Services by Regulated Health Professionals, Regulated Social Service Professionals, and Paraprofessionals permit electric consent for services and virtual access to services for students with disabilities).
  • The Ministry of Education should provide funding and clear guidelines on use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protocols for detection and containment of COVID-19 for boards, staff and all students, including those with disabilities. Public health authorities should establish clear protocols for the detection and containment of COVID-19 (and other infectious diseases) for school boards. The guidelines and protocols should be flexible for school boards to react to local situations to mitigate risks.
  • The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures to mitigate risk for students with disabilities from COVID-19 to maintain their health and wellbeing 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 Special Needs Assistants (SNA) and Educational Assistants (EA) they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that EAs or SNAs do not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.
  • Ministries should review policies and regulations to continue to permit the virtual provision of therapy supports and services that have transitioned successfully to a virtual learning environment and where possible, permit and foster increased access to therapies and services to areas in province where a lack of services exists.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • Many students with disabilities volunteer at school events, in school daycares, kindergarten classes as part of their learning plan, IEP or fulfilling the 40 hours volunteer requirement. School Boards should develop/review guidelines for students with disabilities who volunteer in school to limits risk to health and safety but does not stop this valuable learning experience for students with disabilities.
  • Many adults with disabilities volunteer in schools and school daycares for the opportunity to exist as a valued contributing member within their community. School Boards should develop guidelines for people with disabilities who volunteer within the school that limits risk to the health and safety but continues to have the opportunity to be a contributing member of the school community.
  • School Board should provide virtual learning opportunities for volunteering and co-op courses for students with disabilities. Resources and guidelines should be developed to create the opportunity for the student to complete volunteering hours or cooperative credits successfully.
  • School Boards should develop and/or review guidelines for transitions plans for students with disabilities to outline supports and accommodations that may be offered in a virtual learning environment or enhanced by online tools and resources to support the physical and emotions wellbeing of student with disabilities when transitioning back to school. Accommodations or strategies should be reviewed and adapted to the virtual learning environment to support transitions. (An example would be for students with disabilities have access to audio described (DV) and closed-captioned (CC) virtual tours of the school facilities, so students could familiarize themselves with the school prior to the start of school. (See also Transition section).
  • In consultation with community agencies, School Boards should develop/revise procedures and protocols for volunteers and community agencies that support the health and wellbeing of students with disabilities continue to operate in the school (Example, Food nutrition programs, clothing exchanges, etc.)
  • In consultation with Public Health Regional Health, School Boards must develop clear protocols and procedures with accommodations for students with disabilities for the detection, isolation, tracing and follow up those students who develop symptoms for the virus, flu, respiratory infection, etc. For example: Ensure dedicated space to isolate students with disabilities who may need to return home is accessible and provides the accommodations required to meets the needs of any students with disabilities.

Academic

The pandemic has had profound impacts to student’s learning and staff’s ability to provide a learning environment that promotes student success and achievement. Learning inequities for students with disabilities have increased throughout the pandemic due to barriers faced. Some of the barriers identified were:

Barriers

  • Ongoing accessibility issues with online and virtual learning resources provided for learning at home
  • Wealth of resources, tools, etc. being developed by Boards, Agencies and Associations with limited sharing of resources. Resources developed may not be accessible.
  • Virtual learning is not working for many students with disabilities
  • Many students with disabilities were not effectively engaged in virtual learning for a variety of reasons, including accessibility challenges with the internet, computer software and hardware, nature of resources provided, individual challenges related to format, capacity of family, or behaviour.
  • Closure of schools for 3 months has resulted in significant loss of learning for many students
  • Special Education Advisory Committees meetings have been cancelled and some the skills and knowledge of SEAC members has not been fully utilized.
  • Teachers, students and parents were not prepared for the sudden transition from in-class instruction to the virtual learning environment and planning for future interruptions of schools would benefit from proactive planning for education in a virtual instruction and learning environment.

Recommendations – Government

  • The Ministry of Education should develop curriculum for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to enable students to develop the skills and knowledge they need for learning in a virtual learning environment. In the interim, the Ministry should share existing, accessible resources on this topic to teachers and School Boards (Please see Training for additional recommendations)
  • The Ministry of Education should collect and make readily available resources/information on practices, effective strategies in learning environment, and alternate approaches for students struggling with online learning, etc. from School Boards, agencies and disability specific associations.
  • Ministry of Education should provide clear expectations for teacher led instruction, synchronous learning, and weekly teacher student-teacher connections for students who are participating in virtual instruction and learning. Expectations should include monitoring if students with disabilities are fully participating, learning and benefiting from these activities; and if not, action to address barriers or issues identified.

Recommendations – School Board

  • School Boards should assess and document accommodations, modifications, resources and supports for all students with disabilities to plan for transition back to school and continuation of virtual instruction and learning. (Please see Transitions Recommendations for details)
  • School Boards should develop and provide all resources for instruction and assessment materials, homework assignments in an accessible digital format (See Communications & Technology section for recommendation on accessible digital format).

Secondary School

The secondary school experience is different from elementary school. It is where students develop, time management, organizational, advocacy skills, networking and social skills, become more aware of community and identify career paths. It is for this reason, the Working Group felt it was important to identify barriers and make recommendations specific to secondary students. Many of these recommendations can benefit the entire secondary school student population.

Barriers

  • Students with disabilities have experienced little to no personal contact with their school community social network supports (classroom teachers, Educational Assistants, custodians, administrative assistants, etc.), who rely on this contact to maintain their engagement within the school community and preserve their mental health.
  • At any time, students with disabilities have very limited opportunity to fulfill the 40 hours of volunteering required for graduation and rely heavily on volunteering at their high school or local elementary school events. All opportunities for volunteering were eliminated during the pandemic.
  • Many students with disabilities take optional specialized courses such as Specialized High School Major (SHSM), cooperative credits, etc. which provide hands on and participation within the community. Hands on learning, skills in applicable to trades and life skills were significantly diminished during COVID-19.
  • Clubs, councils, sports teams and extracurricular activities are a formative and important part of the high school experience. Often these extracurricular activities are the only opportunity students with disabilities has to socialize with their peers. Not having access to extracurricular activities has impacted their mental health and well-being.
  • Many students with disabilities rely on in class instruction be it due to learning disability, anxiety, learning style, ADHD, or simply due to preference in the way they individually learn, among others. The loss of in-class instruction has significantly impacted their learning and future for success.
  • Learning at home during school closure has been challenging for students in terms of academic achievement, mental health and wellbeing
  • All four years of high school are an integral part of a young person’s development and a multitude of students require and rely on in class instruction be it for specialized courses That require specialized equipment, trained staff;
  • The experience of four years of high school are incredibly formative of a young person’s social, emotional, mental and physical relationship with society, the world around them and indeed the values they will build their life around;
  • Return to school planning must consider the impacts on minority & racialized students, students in abusive households, students with limited access to technology or broadband, students with disabilities and students with other complex learning needs;
  • Many students rely on in class instruction be it due to learning disability, anxiety, learning style, ADHD, or simply due to preference in the way they individually learn, among others;

Recommendations – Ministry

  • The Ministry of Education should allow high school in-class instruction to operate for the 2020-2021 school year, if authorized by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
  • The Minister should direct School Boards to continue courses which require specialized forms of equipment, classrooms, teaching staff and/or resources (science labs, shops, media classrooms) continue to operate, in accordance with local public health advice.
  • As per the Canadian Mental Health Association, 70% of mental health challenges have their onset in childhood or youth and the Kids Help Phone Line has seen a increase in demand, The Ministries of Education and Health should increase capacity of mental health professionals and supports for School Boards, to ensure there is no waitlist for any secondary student requiring support.
  • The Ministry of Education should include student voice through student trustees’ association or other student leaders, when developing a plan for return to school.
  • The Ministry of Education should waive the compulsory credit in Health & Physical Education for students who have entered secondary school in the 2020-21 school or whose timetable will be negatively impacted, should Physical Education classes not operate in the conventional manner.
  • If required by Public Health, the Ministry of Education should fund PPE for students and staff to mitigate risks of infection.
  • The Ministry should direct School Boards to develop a prioritization and execution plan for conducting clinical assessments (e.g., psycho–educational assessments) that students with disabilities require in order to access necessary supports and services as they transition from secondary to post-secondary destinations.

Recommendations – School Board

  • School Boards and Schools should include student voice, including students with disabilities in developing the Board return to school plan, as well as, individual school return plans respectively.
  • School Boards and Schools should provide clear instruction on proper personal protection equipment (PPE) and safety measures to students, parents, and staff.
  • School Boards should follow or mirror Public Health protocols prescribed by the local Public Health. If PPE is not required by the local Public Health, student have the choice to wear PPE. If PPE is required, that school boards are funded appropriately to provide PPE for all students and staff.
  • Where local public health advice can be adhered to, Schools should continue to offer extracurricular activities such as clubs, councils, teams using proper social distancing and general safety protocols.
  • Where applicable, School Boards should waive parking fees for students to reduce financial burdens and help mitigate health risks for students by not riding on a crowded public transit bus.
  • School Boards should make decisions pertaining to cancellation of extracurricular activities in school mirror that of activities outside of school. (Example: If soccer clubs operate locally, then soccer clubs in schools should continue to operate).
  • School Boards should develop and offer online programming for students who cannot or wish not to attend school in person, but not be considered a long-term alternative to in class instruction.
  • School Boards and schools seek out the voice of students, including voices of students with disabilities, when they develop return to school plan options.
  • School Board should develop guidelines for clubs or programs that supplement or enhance education for students with disabilities so they can continue to operate upon return to school.
  • School Boards should continue to offer where possible, alternate classrooms, quiet workspaces, and other special education requirements prescribed in a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
  • School Boards should research and investigate potential online coop placements that may be available for all students; including students with disabilities.
  • When permitted under local health advice, the School Board should review new health and safety protocols with student and the coop placement provider.

Transitions

An impact of the pandemic for students with disabilities is that learning has been lost or stagnant. Learning recovery will be important when returning to school. This will mean targeted measures to reversing learning loss or closing gaps. There will be a need for clear system wide guidance for in-class and central assessments to inform and plan for curriculum delivery, supports and service upon return to school.

Transition planning will occur at the provincial, local and student level. The Ministry of Education will need to identify barriers and gaps from all educational stakeholders to develop an informed return to school plan. School boards will need identify barriers and gaps at a system and individual student level to create an informed back to school plan as well as address the needs for students with disabilities.

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a tool for documenting student strengths and needs and the accommodations, programs and services they require to be successful. IEPs are a valuable tool in documenting the student’s current level of achievement and transition plans for planned changes in grades, schools, and life after secondary school. The IEP can also be used to plan for return to school, full time or in an adapted model, or for continued virtual learning.

Barriers

  • During the school closure gaps in student skills and knowledge related to on-line and distance learning has been evident
  • Planning for school year 2020-2021 will include in school and distance learning
  • School staff will need to assess student’s with disabilities to determine their accessibility and learning needs
  • Students with disabilities individual IEPs and transitions plans need to be reviewed to address barriers and gaps to allow for student success.
  • Student voice often forgotten in the planning process
  • Students and prospective students cannot visit the physical environments of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and do not have the opportunity to check for physical accessibility and familiarize themselves with environment

Recommendations – Government

  • The Ministry of Education should direct School Boards to develop a prioritization and execution plan for conducting clinical assessments (e.g., psycho–educational assessments) that students with disabilities require, in order to access necessary supports and services as they transition from secondary to post-secondary destinations.
  • The Ministry of Education, in partnership with MCCSS should work with school boards to identify their cohorts of students with intellectual and other disabilities who completed their school careers in June 2020 and identify and assess if barriers faced during COVID-19 did not allow for successful student transitions to their chosen pathway (Examples: to work, volunteer work, recreation/leisure programs, and post-secondary education) as outlined in their transition plans. Jointly, the Ministries and School Boards should develop plans to help this cohort of students with disabilities achieve their individual transition goals.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • School Boards should be independently collecting board wide data on gaps, barriers, emerging issues, transition challenges, technology challenges, additional students’ needs and supports arising or as a result of COVID-19 through assessment, student and parent feedback to address and plan for system wide supports and services required by students with disabilities upon return to school.
  • To help with successful transitions for student with disabilities in returning to school, School Boards shall contact parent/guardians, as soon as possible, to discuss and identify learning gaps, individual needs arising from school shutdown and distance learning, transition challenges, social and emotional needs to inform and revise/or create individualized transition plans for students with disabilities.
  • To help reduce stress and anxiety and prepare themselves for return to school, students with disabilities should be involved with discussions and decision made in developing their Transition Plan.
  • School Boards and Administrators shall ensure Individual Education Plans for students with disabilities are revised/created to reflect specific goals and activities to address the individual needs identified in Recommendation #3 to help increase academic and transition success for each student with a disability upon returning to school.
  • School Boards shall include the student when developing their individualized Transition and IEP. All
  • When School Boards develop the Individualized Transition Plans for each student, it should be:
    1. flexible to accommodate the stop and start of in class learning. All methods of instruction should be considered for learning to ensure students have access to an education (virtual instruction, in home instruction, etc.)
    2. include a flexible and hybrid model for entry needs to accommodate the varying student needs. Any model developed for return to school shall be developed in consultation with parent/guardians and student
    3. include strategies for students around social/physical distancing. Social distancing guidelines should be developed in consultation with parents/guardians and student.
    4. Include steps for follow up and checking in with the student
    5. All documentation or information be provided to the parent/guardian and student before the meeting with enough time to review. Documents should be provided in an accessible format.
  • School Boards should take more interactive approaches to collect on-going feedback from parents, students and staff (i.e. “Thought exchange”) to guide and inform changes to policies and procedures impacted by COVID-19.
  • School Boards should develop a clear system wide plan to address increased classroom and school supports and services (Educational Assistants, Education Works, social workers, psychologists, guidance councillors) identified through assessments to help mitigate issues and support learning for students with disabilities.
  • School Boards should create audio described (DV) and closed-captioned (CC) virtual tours of their school. The virtual tour must be fully accessible and thoroughly provide information on accessibility and locations at the schools. Virtual tours should be made permanently available; not just during the pandemic.

Communications & Technology

For our purpose, communication includes technologies, systems, protocols and procedures that enable an organization to effectively communicate to its employees, partners and community. During an emergency, communication is essential and should ensure all relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate with each other during such crises, sharing information that will allow the organization to quickly rectify the situation, protect employees and assets, and allows the business to continue.

To relate this to Education – government, school boards, agencies, staff, students, parent/caregivers, should have the ability to communicate effectively during a crisis, while the business of providing learning continues.

Barriers

  • Ongoing accessibility issues with virtual learning environment or platform (Examples: no closed captions, compatibility issues with screen readers, lack of support or knowledge of accessibility features, no ASL interpretation)
  • Ongoing accessibility issue with information and resources provided
  • Conflicting guidelines provided by different ministries and level of government.

Recommendations – Government

  • That a designated communication lead should be assigned at the provincial and regional level for consistent messaging.
  • For efficiency and elimination of duplication of effort for School Boards, The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital learning and virtual learning environments or 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 instruction environments or platforms.
  • The Ministry of Education should provide a list of acceptable accessible, cross platform virtual learning environments and synchronous teaching systems to be used by school boards.
  • 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.
  • The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO/TFO 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. The implementation of this recommendation has become urgent since Royal Assent was given to Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 as amends to the Ontario Educational Communications Authority Act broaden the mandates of both TVO and TFO to position them to provide centralized support for online learning in the English-language and French-language publicly-funded education systems, respectively.
  • The Ministry of Education should direct its entire staff and all School Boards that whenever making information public in a Portable Document Format (PDF), it must at the same time, make available a textual format such as an accessible Microsoft Word (MSWord) or accessible HTML document. Videos must be audio described (DV) and closed captioned (CC). Templates and technical guides should be developed and provided to school boards.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • For consistent messaging, that the School board should designate a communication lead for COVID-19 related issues.
  • School Boards should develop protocols and procedures to mitigate security risks for online and virtual learning platforms to help protect privacy of students with disabilities and staff. Online and virtual learning platforms should also be accessible for all students with disabilities.
  • That School Boards should provide clear communication around protocols and return to school plans. Boards should make written communications readily available and accessible by everyone in the community, parents and students.
  • School Boards should review and revise instructional videos for parents around virtual learning tools used in the school board. Videos must be clear and accessible.
  • School Boards should provide solely dedicated or designated staff, who are available to support technology including accessibility needs to parents who are supporting the learning needs of students with disabilities at home.

Training

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the way in which education is delivered. Students, parents/guardians, teachers, staff, school boards and government had to change the way they access, support or deliver education. The pandemic highlighted gaps in digital skills, adaptation of technology to teaching and learning. It has also increased demand for technology and the need to integrate technology effectively into teaching and learning. With this increased demand in the use of technology and the gaps in digital skills identified, it is imperative to train students, parent/guardians and staff in the use and integration of technology in teaching and learning.

Barriers

  • Teachers, students and parent/guardians unprepared for learning at home and use of virtual platforms such as google classroom, Microsoft teams, Zoom for individual and synchronous learning
  • Teachers, ECEs, Staff need training in virtual online learning platforms
  • Teachers, ECEs, Staff need training in strategies to support students with disabilities around transitions between education models, including preparation for changing environments and self regulation
  • Teachers, ECEs lack training in strategies to support Public Health directed precautions, such as social distancing, sanitizing procedures and use of PPE when required to support students
  • School closures have had a significant impact on the mental health and well being of students with disabilities and teachers, ECEs, staff will require training on child development and trauma informed practice to assist them in supporting students in transitioning back to school or continuation of virtual education.
  • The expectation on parent/guardians to support students with learning at home were significant and parents need supports and training in virtual learning software and how they can effectively support their child’s learning.

Recommendations – Government

  • That Ministry of Education should model leadership to School Boards and provide accessible virtual learning webinars, templates for learning, etc. to be utilized in training administrators and teachers.
  • The Ministry of Education should direct School Boards to provide all staff training in child development, mental health and wellbeing to support the wellbeing and learning of students with disabilities.
  • The Government should provide direction to School Boards and Public Service agencies to develop a coordinated training delivery model to support parents of students with rehabilitation needs, mental health concerns or who have complex or significant medically needs, with the delivery of virtual care, including privacy protected health platforms such as OTN, ADcare.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • School Boards should provide focused, practical training for administrators and teachers to support students with disabilities’ health, wellbeing and learning in a mixed or virtual environment.
  • School Boards should provide administrators training and guidelines on supporting students with disabilities through transitioning and change.
  • School Boards should develop parent training modules and resources to enable parent/guardians to develop the skills and knowledge required to support online and virtual learning at home for students with disabilities.
  • School Boards should provide training for teachers and staff on specific tips and solutions, successful and evidence based promising practices by disability to support teachers and students with disabilities learning. These should be made available as soon as possible or at the latest, during the first days of PD before school instruction begins.

Transportation

School Bus operation and delivery of bus services is regulated and governed both federally and provincially. Transport Canada has consulted with the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide guidelines around bus operations during the pandemic. The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) has also provided general guidelines for the provision of student (pupil) transportation services.

The Ministry of Education’s Return to School Framework directs School Boards to follow these federal guidelines.

To accommodate Federal Transportation and Public health guideline that require social and physical distancing, School Boards will have to revise transportation services delivery that will impact bus routes, increase the number of buses and drivers required, increase ridership time, etc. to mitigate risks to students with disabilities while transporting to and from school.

Barriers

  • Lack of or reduced public transportation available for students with disabilities, particularly for secondary students who take public transit. Municipal governments eliminated routes or reduced schedules during COVID-19. Municipalities have not made public transportation plans for when students return to school.
  • As School Boards and Consortiums plan transportation services to meet the Transport Canada guidelines, current challenges of inadequate buses, shortage of drivers and increasing fuel costs will be a barrier to boards.
  • Changes to routine can have a significant impact to a student with disabilities’ mental health, success for the start of school day and learning. Predictable changes to transportation for students with disabilities can include, increased ridership time, bus route, bus type (72-passenger, small bus), supports or accommodations required for a successful ride, etc. while maintaining safety and mitigating risks for infection.
  • Many School Boards currently overspend the transportation grant, while still achieving a high efficiency rating from the Ministry of Education. The additional requirements defined under the Transport Canada Guidelines will increase cost pressures to provide transportation services to students with disabilities while maintaining safety and mitigating risk of infection.
  • As students with disabilities require may require specific transportation accommodations such as a safety harness, seat belt, wheelchair accessible which cannot be accommodated in all vehicle types.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • As many School Boards overspend its transportation grant while maintaining a high efficiency rating, the Ministry of Education should provide school boards with additional COVID-19 specific funding to follow the guidelines as provided by Transport Canada around:
    • Measures to mitigate risk of exposure
    • Procedures to be taken before a trip, during a trip and at the end of the trip
    • PPE guidelines
    • Physical Distancing
    • Shield and Enclosure system guidelines (if bus operators choose to do so)
  • School Boards should review transportation accommodations and requirements, in consultation with parents and student, IEPs of students with disabilities who require transportation services to identify any change/modifications to accommodations required. The student’s IEP shall be modified to reflect additional requirements to transport the student safely on the bus. The review for medically fragile students should include professionals, such as nurses, occupational therapists, as well as parents. All transportation requirements shall be relayed to the Bus Consortia and administrator of the school for implementation.
  • School Boards must create/revise a protocol for the safe gathering of all students and parent/guardians at bus stops and safety on the bus. It is important that student with disabilities be included and familiarized with these protocols with their peers.
  • School Boards and Bus Consortia should provide bus drivers with training on new health and safety protocols for students with disabilities on a regular bus, small bus and wheelchair accessible bus.
  • Bus Consortia should minimize changes to routes, vehicle type, and schedules for students with disabilities while developing changes to routes, to limit increased anxiety or behaviours as a result of the changes. When changes are considered, parents and student should be consulted about changes.
  • School Boards and Bus Consortia should review procedures and protocols for persons responsible for putting a student with disability’s harness on/off or supporting a student on the school bus to mitigate health risks for the student, bus driver and support person.
  • School Boards and Bus Consortia should revise/develop, implement and disseminate bus safety protocol Information for parents needs to help mitigate health and safety risks and assuage parent’s fears. This includes protocols around harnesses. All communications should be clear and made readily available on the Board and Bus Consortia website in an accessible digital format.
  • Students with disabilities should be included in any training that is provide for all students on enhanced safety rules on the bus.
  • As students with disabilities are statistically proven to be at a higher risk of infection, School Boards and Bus Consortia should implement enhanced student bus ridership attendance procedures to aid in tracing of COVID-19 and mitigating health risks.
  • Traffic volume, student and road safety is always a concern around schools. It is expected for vehicle traffic to increase when school returns, as parent/caregiver or a secondary student chooses to drive to school. School Boards should work collaboratively with Municipalities to develop safe arrival and departure awareness campaigns for students, parents/caregivers and buses. These campaigns could include guidelines for kiss & ride, audio described (DV) and closed captioned (CC) virtual or diagrams of vehicle traffic flows for entering and exiting school property from the street, identifying school bus only access areas, promote other methods of transportation, etc.

Conclusion

The Planning for Emergencies are please to provide its draft recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Working Group will continue to review resources and information on barriers and issues arising from COVID-19 and as students return to school. It will start work on its mandate to develop an emergency plan framework focused on students with disabilities (that covers the phases of preparing, planning, response and recovery) for a systematic response to an emergency.

Thank you to all the members of the Planning for Emergencies Working Group for their dedication in developing this draft set of recommendations. Working Group members are:

  • Donna Edwards (Chair – Working Group)
  • Stephan Andrews
  • David Lepofsky
  • Dr. Ashleigh Malloy
  • Alison Morse
  • Rana Nasrazadani
  • Ben Smith
  • Angelo Tocco
  • Dr. Lindy Zaretsky
  • Lynn Ziraldo (Chair K-12 SDC)

Glossary

Accessibility: a general term for the degree of ease that something (e.g., device, service, physical environment and information) can be accessed, used and enjoyed by persons with disabilities. The term implies conscious planning, design and/or effort to make sure something is barrier-free to persons with disabilities. Accessibility also benefits the general population, by making things more usable and practical for everyone, including older people and families with small children.

Accessible: does not have obstacles for people with disabilities – something that can be easily reached or obtained; facility that can be easily entered; information that is easy to access.

Accessible digital format: Information that is provided in digital form that is accessible such as HTML and MS Word.

Synchronous learning: is the kind of learning that happens in real time. This means that you, your classmates, and your instructor interact in a specific virtual place, through a specific online medium, at a specific time. In other words, it’s not exactly anywhere, anyhow, anytime. Methods of synchronous online learning include video conferencing, teleconferencing, live chatting, and live-streaming lectures.

Asynchronous learning: happens on your schedule. While your course of study, instructor or degree program will provide materials for reading, lectures for viewing, assignments for completing, and exams for evaluation, you have the ability to access and satisfy these requirements within a flexible time frame. Methods of asynchronous online learning include self-guided lesson modules, streaming video content, virtual libraries, posted lecture notes, and exchanges across discussion boards or social media platforms.

Distance Education Program: Programs to provide courses of study online, through correspondence, or by other means that do not require the physical attendance by the student at a school. (From Bill 197)

Special Education Services – As defined in the Education Act, “facilities and resources, including support personnel and equipment, necessary for developing and implementing a special education program”.

Virtual learning: is defined as learning that can functionally and effectively occur in the absence of traditional classroom environments (Simonson & Schlosser, 2006).

Virtual education: refers to instruction in a learning environment where teacher and student are separated by time or space, or both, and the teacher provides course content through course management applications, multimedia resources, the Internet, videoconferencing, etc. Students receive the content and communicate with the teacher via the same technologies.

Virtual learning environment: refers to a system that offers educators digitally-based solutions aimed at creating interactive, active learning environments. VLEs can help educators create, store and disseminate content, plan courses and lessons and foster communication between student and educator. Virtual learning environments are often part of an education institution’s wider learning management system (LMS).

Virtual instruction: is a method of teaching that is taught either entirely online or when elements of face-to-face courses are taught online through learning management systems and other educational tools and platforms. Virtual instruction also includes digitally transmitting course materials to student.

Resources

Mental Health

Public Health Guidance and Safety

 

Tools/Best Practices

Stakeholder Reports and Information

Additional Reading



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