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


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

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

July 30, 2020

          SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

* the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre;

* the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre and

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

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

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

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

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

For more background, check out:

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

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

          MORE DETAILS

 July 23, 2020 Ontario Government News Release

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

Ontario Newsroom

News Release

Ontario Building and Expanding Schools across the Province

July 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUICK FACTS

list of 4 items

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

list end

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

list of 1 items

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

list end

CONTACTS

Ivana Yelich

Premier’s Office

[email protected]

Alexandra Adamo

Minister Lecce’s Office

[email protected]

Ingrid Anderson

Communications Branch

437 225-0321

[email protected]

Office of the Premier

http://www.ontario.ca/premier



Source link

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


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

July 30, 2020

SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

* the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre;

* the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre and

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

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

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

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

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

For more background, check out:

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

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

MORE DETAILS

July 23, 2020 Ontario Government News Release

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

Ontario Newsroom

News Release

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

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

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

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

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




Source link

New Report Reveals that At Majority of Ontarios School Boards, Each School Principal Is a Law Unto Themselves, With Arbitrary Power to Exclude a Student From School ? Real Risk of a Rash of Exclusion of Some Students with Disabilities When Schools Re-Open


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 23, 2020 Toronto: Parents of a third of a million Ontario K-12 students with disabilities have much to fear when schools re-open. A ground-breaking report by the non-partisan AODA Alliance (unveiled today, summary below) shows that for much of Ontario, each school principal is a law unto themselves, armed with a sweeping, arbitrary power to refuse to allow a student to come to school. If schools re-open this fall, there is a real risk of a rash of principals excluding some students with disabilities from school, because well-intentioned, overburdened principals wont know how to accommodate them during COVID-19.

The Education Act gives each school principal the drastic power to refuse to admit to school any person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principals judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. A survey of Ontarios 72 school boards, unveiled today, shows that a majority of school boards have no policy reining in their principals sweeping power. Ontarios Ministry of Education gives principals precious little direction. Principals need not keep track of how many students they exclude, or for how long, or for what reason, nor need they report this information to anyone. School Boards are left largely free to do as little as they wish to monitor for and prevent abuse of this power.

This is especially worrisome for students with disabilities. Disproportionately, its students with disabilities who are at risk of being excluded from school.

Todays report details how the most vulnerable students can unjustifiably be treated very differently from one part of Ontario to the next. Of Ontarios 72 School Boards, only 33 Boards have been found to have any policy on this. Only 36 School Boards even responded to the AODA Alliance survey. Only 11 Boards gave the AODA Alliance a policy. A web search revealed that another 22 Boards have a policy on this.

As for the minority of 33 boards that have any policy on point, this report documented wild and arbitrary differences from Board to Board. Some Board policies have commendable and helpful ingredients that all boards should have. Some Board policies contain unfair and inappropriate ingredients that should be forbidden. For example, no Board should impose on a student or their family an arbitrary time limit for presenting an appeal from their exclusion to school.

Every student facing the trauma of an exclusion from school deserves full and equally fair procedures and safeguards, said AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. The current arbitrary pattern of patchwork injustice cries out for new leadership now by the Ford Government.

COVID-19 escalates this issues urgency. The Ministry of Education should head off a rash of new exclusions from school this fall before it happens, by immediately directing School Boards to implement common sense restrictions on a principal, outlined in the report, on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school.

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

Download the entire AODA Alliance report on Refusals to Admit A Student to School by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/july-23-2020-AODA-Alliance-finalized-refusals-to-admit-brief.docx

The AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page details its efforts to ensure that the urgent needs of people with disabilities are met during the COVID-19 crisis.
The AODA Alliance’s Education web page details its ongoing efforts over the past decade to tear down the many barriers impeding students with disabilities in Ontarios education system.

Introduction and Summary of the AODA Alliances Report on the Power of Ontario School Principals to Refuse to Admit a Student to School

I. Introduction and Summary
(a) Whats the Problem?
For years, Ontarios Education Act has given every Ontario school principal the drastic power to refuse to admit to school any person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principals judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. A student can be excluded from school for part or all of the school day. This report uses the terms refusal to admit and exclusion from school or simply exclusion to mean the same thing.

When a principal refuses to admit a student to school, that violates that students right to go to school to get an education. Under the Education Act as interpreted or applied by the Ontario Government and school boards, a student can be excluded from school for days, weeks or even months.

Ontarios Ministry of Education has given School Boards and principals very little direction on how this sweeping power may be used. School Boards are therefore left largely free to do as much or as little as they wish to ensure that this power is not abused by an individual school principal.

A School Board can develop a policy on how a principal can use the power to refuse to admit a student to school; however, a School Board does not have to do so. If it does adopt a policy, it does not have to be a good policy. (b) Taking Stock The AODA Alliance Surveys Ontario School Boards
The AODA Alliance therefore conducted a survey of Ontarios major School Boards to find out what their policies and practices are regarding the exclusion of students from school. The non-partisan grassroots AODA Alliance advocates for accessibility for people with disabilities, including for students with disabilities. See its websites Education page.

This report makes public the results of the AODA Alliance’s survey and investigation. It reveals an arbitrary patchwork of different policies around Ontario, unjustifiably treating the most vulnerable students differently from one part of Ontario to the next. There is a pressing need for the Ontario Government to step into the gap, to protect students, and especially students with disabilities.
In an error which the AODA Alliance regrets, the survey was inadvertently not earlier sent to one board, the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, before this report was written. It has just done so, and will make public an addendum to this report if a response is received that alters the results expressed in this report. This error does not diminish this reports findings or recommendations.

School Boards were asked (i) if it has a policy on when-and-how its school principals can refuse to admit a student to school, (ii) whether the Board tracks its principals use of this power, and (iii) how many students have been excluded from school. The AODA Alliance sent its survey to School Boards twice, once in 2019, and once in 2020. The Council of Directors of Education retained private legal counsel to get legal advice before responding to this survey.
(c) The Survey Revealed an Arbitrary Patchwork of Wildly Varying Local Requirements
Of Ontarios 72 School Boards, only 33 Boards have been found to have a written policy or procedure on refusals to admit a student to school. Only 36 School Boards responded to the AODA Alliances survey. Of those, only 11 Boards gave the AODA Alliance their policy or procedure on refusals to admit.

Six School Boards told the AODA Alliance that they have no policy on refusals to admit. An extensive web search by the AODA Alliance revealed that another 22 School Boards have a written policy or procedure on this topic. In a number of cases, these were not easy to find. Taken together, a large number of Ontario School Boards revealed a troubling lack of openness and accountability on this subject.

This reports analysis of the 33 policies or procedures on refusals to admit, as obtained by the AODA Alliance, revealed that there are wild variations between the written policies of School Boards across Ontario on excluding a student from school. Some are very short and say very little. Others are far more extensive and detailed.

As for safeguards for vulnerable students and their parents in the face of an exclusion from school, there are arbitrary and unjustified differences from Board to Board. Some Board policies have commendable and helpful ingredients that should be required of all School Boards. Some Board policies contain unfair and inappropriate ingredients that should be forbidden. For example, no Board should use a refusal to admit to facilitate a police investigation, or set an arbitrary time limit in advance for an appeal hearing from a refusal to admit, or give a student or their family an arbitrary time limit for presenting such an appeal.

There is no justification for such wild variations from Board to Board, from no policy, to policies that say very little, to substantially better policies. Every student facing an exclusion from school deserves fair procedures and effective safeguards. Every School Board should meet basic requirements of transparency and accountability in their use of this drastic power. No compelling policy objective is served by leaving each School Board to reinvent the wheel here. (d) The Urgently Needed Solution: Action Now by the Ontario Government
This situation cries out for leadership on this issue by Ontarios Ministry of Education. The failure of so many School Boards to even have a policy in this area, the unwillingness of so many School Boards to even answer questions about their policy on this issue, and the fact that policies are so hard to find on line combine to create a disturbing picture. For too much of Ontario, well-intentioned school principals are left to be a law unto themselves. The AODA Alliance expects that these hard-working and dedicated principals neither asked for this nor would like this situation to remain as is.

This issue has serious implications for students with disabilities. Refusals to admit a student to school disproportionately burden some students with disabilities.

The COVID-19 crisis escalates the urgency of this issue. When schools re-open this fall, there is a real risk that there could be a rash of more refusals to admit some students with disabilities to school. This threatens to be the way some overwhelmed and overburdened principals will cope with the stressful uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education should head off this problem before it happens, by immediately directing School Boards to implement some basic and overdue requirements for refusals to admit a student to school. The Ministry should then develop a comprehensive and broader set of mandatory requirements for all School Boards when exercising the power to refuse to admit a student to school.

Examples of helpful requirements that the Ministry of Education should require, and that this report documents as now in place in one or more School Boards include the following:
1. Refusals to admit should be recognized as an infringement of the students right to go to school to get an education, and as raising potential human rights issues, especially for students with disabilities. The Ontario Human Rights Code has primacy over the Education Act and the power to refuse to admit a student to school.
2. A refusal to admit should only be imposed for a proper safety purpose. A student cannot be refused admission to school for purposes of discipline.
3. Maximum time limits should be set for a refusal to admit, with a process for considering how to extend it if necessary and justified.
4. A refusal to admit a student to school should only be permitted in very rare, extreme cases, as a last resort, after considering or trying all less intrusive alternatives. A principal should be required to take a step-by-step tiered approach to deciding whether to refuse to admit a student to school, first exhausting all less restrictive alternatives, and first ensuring that the students disability-related needs have been accommodated as required under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
5. It should not be left to an individual principal to unilaterally decide on their own to refuse to admit a student to school. Prior approval of a higher authority with the School Board should be required, supported by sufficient documentation of the deliberations.
6. A principal should be required to work with a student and their family on issues well before it degenerates to the point of considering a refusal to admit. The School Board should be required to have a mandatory meeting with the family before a refusal to admit is imposed.
7. A principal should be required to immediately send a letter to the parents of a student whom they are refusing to admit to school, setting out the facts and specifics that are the reasons for the exclusion from school. A senior Board supervisor that approved the decision should be required to co-sign the letter. The letter should also be signed by the Director of Education if the student is to be excluded from all schools in the Board.
8. A School Board that excludes a student from school should be required to put in place a plan for delivering an effective educational program to that student while excluded from school, including the option of face-to-face engagement with a teacher off of school property. This plan should be monitored to ensure it is sufficient.
9. If a student is excluded from school, the School Board should be under a strong duty to work with the student and family to get them back to school as soon as possible.
10. A School Board that excludes a student from school should be required to hold a re-entry meeting with the student and family to transition to the return to school.
11. Any appeals to the Board of Trustees for the School Board from a refusal to admit should assure fair procedures to the student and their family. An excluded student should at least have all the safeguards in the appeal process as does a student who is subjected to discipline.
12. The appeal should be heard by the entire Board of Trustees, and not just a sub-committee of some trustees. An appeal hearing should be held and decided quickly, since the student is languishing at home.
13. A Board of Trustees, hearing an appeal from a refusal to admit, should consider whether the School Board has justified the students initial exclusion from school and its continuation. The burden should be on the School Board to justify the exclusion from school, and not on the student trying to go back to school. At an appeal hearing, the principal should first present why the exclusion from school is justified and should continue, before the student or parents are asked to show why the student should be allowed to return to school.
14. When an appeal is launched, the School Board should be required to first try to resolve the issue short of a full appeal hearing.
15. A students record of a refusal to admit to school should not stain the students official school record.
16. If a School Board directs that a student can only come to school for part of the school day), the same safeguards for the student should be required as for a student who is excluded for the entire day. 17. Any policy in this area should be periodically reviewed and updated.




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New Report Reveals that At Majority of Ontario’s School Boards, Each School Principal Is a Law Unto Themselves, With Arbitrary Power to Exclude a Student From School – Real Risk of a Rash of Exclusion of Some Students with Disabilities When Schools Re-Open


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Report Reveals that At Majority of Ontario’s School Boards, Each School Principal Is a Law Unto Themselves, With Arbitrary Power to Exclude a Student From School – Real Risk of a Rash of Exclusion of Some Students with Disabilities When Schools Re-Open

July 23, 2020 Toronto: Parents of a third of a million Ontario K-12 students with disabilities have much to fear when schools re-open. A ground-breaking report by the non-partisan AODA Alliance (unveiled today, summary below) shows that for much of Ontario, each school principal is a law unto themselves, armed with a sweeping, arbitrary power to refuse to allow a student to come to school. If schools re-open this fall, there is a real risk of a rash of principals excluding some students with disabilities from school, because well-intentioned, overburdened principals won’t know how to accommodate them during COVID-19.

The Education Act gives each school principal the drastic power to refuse to admit to school any “person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils…”. A survey of Ontario’s 72 school boards, unveiled today, shows that a majority of school boards have no policy reining in their principals’ sweeping power. Ontario’s Ministry of Education gives principals precious little direction. Principals need not keep track of how many students they exclude, or for how long, or for what reason, nor need they report this information to anyone. School Boards are left largely free to do as little as they wish to monitor for and prevent abuse of this power.

This is especially worrisome for students with disabilities. Disproportionately, it’s students with disabilities who are at risk of being excluded from school.

Today’s report details how the most vulnerable students can unjustifiably be treated very differently from one part of Ontario to the next. Of Ontario’s 72 School Boards, only 33 Boards have been found to have any policy on this. Only 36 School Boards even responded to the AODA Alliance survey. Only 11 Boards gave the AODA Alliance a policy. A web search revealed that another 22 Boards have a policy on this.

As for the minority of 33 boards that have any policy on point, this report documented wild and arbitrary differences from Board to Board. Some Board policies have commendable and helpful ingredients that all boards should have. Some Board policies contain unfair and inappropriate ingredients that should be forbidden. For example, no Board should impose on a student or their family an arbitrary time limit for presenting an appeal from their exclusion to school.

“Every student facing the trauma of an exclusion from school deserves full and equally fair procedures and safeguards,” said AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. “The current arbitrary pattern of patchwork injustice cries out for new leadership now by the Ford Government.”

COVID-19 escalates this issue’s urgency. The Ministry of Education should head off a rash of new exclusions from school this fall before it happens, by immediately directing School Boards to implement common sense restrictions on a principal, outlined in the report, on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school.

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

Download the entire AODA Alliance report on Refusals to Admit A Student to School by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/july-23-2020-AODA-Alliance-finalized-refusals-to-admit-brief.docx

The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page details its efforts to ensure that the urgent needs of people with disabilities are met during the COVID-19 crisis.

The AODA Alliance‘s Education web page details its ongoing efforts over the past decade to tear down the many barriers impeding students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system.

Introduction and Summary of the AODA Alliance’s Report on the Power of Ontario School Principals to Refuse to Admit a Student to School

I. Introduction and Summary

(a) What’s the Problem?

For years, Ontario’s Education Act has given every Ontario school principal the drastic power to refuse to admit to school any “person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils…”. A student can be excluded from school for part or all of the school day. This report uses the terms “refusal to admit” and “exclusion from school” or simply “exclusion” to mean the same thing.

When a principal refuses to admit a student to school, that violates that student’s right to go to school to get an education. Under the Education Act as interpreted or applied by the Ontario Government and school boards, a student can be excluded from school for days, weeks or even months.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education has given School Boards and principals very little direction on how this sweeping power may be used. School Boards are therefore left largely free to do as much or as little as they wish to ensure that this power is not abused by an individual school principal.

A School Board can develop a policy on how a principal can use the power to refuse to admit a student to school; however, a School Board does not have to do so. If it does adopt a policy, it does not have to be a good policy.

(b) Taking Stock – The AODA Alliance Surveys Ontario School Boards

The AODA Alliance therefore conducted a survey of Ontario’s major School Boards to find out what their policies and practices are regarding the exclusion of students from school. The non-partisan grassroots AODA Alliance advocates for accessibility for people with disabilities, including for students with disabilities. See its website’s Education page.

This report makes public the results of the AODA Alliance‘s survey and investigation. It reveals an arbitrary patchwork of different policies around Ontario, unjustifiably treating the most vulnerable students differently from one part of Ontario to the next. There is a pressing need for the Ontario Government to step into the gap, to protect students, and especially students with disabilities.

In an error which the AODA Alliance regrets, the survey was inadvertently not earlier sent to one board, the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, before this report was written. It has just done so, and will make public an addendum to this report if a response is received that alters the results expressed in this report. This error does not diminish this report’s findings or recommendations.

School Boards were asked (i) if it has a policy on when-and-how its school principals can refuse to admit a student to school, (ii) whether the Board tracks its principal’s use of this power, and (iii) how many students have been excluded from school. The AODA Alliance sent its survey to School Boards twice, once in 2019, and once in 2020. The Council of Directors of Education retained private legal counsel to get legal advice before responding to this survey.

(c) The Survey Revealed an Arbitrary Patchwork of Wildly Varying Local Requirements

Of Ontario’s 72 School Boards, only 33 Boards have been found to have a written policy or procedure on refusals to admit a student to school. Only 36 School Boards responded to the AODA Alliance’s survey. Of those, only 11 Boards gave the AODA Alliance their policy or procedure on refusals to admit.

Six School Boards told the AODA Alliance that they have no policy on refusals to admit. An extensive web search by the AODA Alliance revealed that another 22 School Boards have a written policy or procedure on this topic. In a number of cases, these were not easy to find. Taken together, a large number of Ontario School Boards revealed a troubling lack of openness and accountability on this subject.

This report’s analysis of the 33 policies or procedures on refusals to admit, as obtained by the AODA Alliance, revealed that there are wild variations between the written policies of School Boards across Ontario on excluding a student from school. Some are very short and say very little. Others are far more extensive and detailed.

As for safeguards for vulnerable students and their parents in the face of an exclusion from school, there are arbitrary and unjustified differences from Board to Board. Some Board policies have commendable and helpful ingredients that should be required of all School Boards. Some Board policies contain unfair and inappropriate ingredients that should be forbidden. For example, no Board should use a refusal to admit to facilitate a police investigation, or set an arbitrary time limit in advance for an appeal hearing from a refusal to admit, or give a student or their family an arbitrary time limit for presenting such an appeal.

There is no justification for such wild variations from Board to Board, from no policy, to policies that say very little, to substantially better policies. Every student facing an exclusion from school deserves fair procedures and effective safeguards. Every School Board should meet basic requirements of transparency and accountability in their use of this drastic power. No compelling policy objective is served by leaving each School Board to reinvent the wheel here.

(d) The Urgently Needed Solution: Action Now by the Ontario Government

This situation cries out for leadership on this issue by Ontario’s Ministry of Education. The failure of so many School Boards to even have a policy in this area, the unwillingness of so many School Boards to even answer questions about their policy on this issue, and the fact that policies are so hard to find on line combine to create a disturbing picture. For too much of Ontario, well-intentioned school principals are left to be a law unto themselves. The AODA Alliance expects that these hard-working and dedicated principals neither asked for this nor would like this situation to remain as is.

This issue has serious implications for students with disabilities. Refusals to admit a student to school disproportionately burden some students with disabilities.

The COVID-19 crisis escalates the urgency of this issue. When schools re-open this fall, there is a real risk that there could be a rash of more refusals to admit some students with disabilities to school. This threatens to be the way some overwhelmed and overburdened principals will cope with the stressful uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education should head off this problem before it happens, by immediately directing School Boards to implement some basic and overdue requirements for refusals to admit a student to school. The Ministry should then develop a comprehensive and broader set of mandatory requirements for all School Boards when exercising the power to refuse to admit a student to school.

Examples of helpful requirements that the Ministry of Education should require, and that this report documents as now in place in one or more School Boards include the following:

  1. Refusals to admit should be recognized as an infringement of the student’s right to go to school to get an education, and as raising potential human rights issues, especially for students with disabilities. The Ontario Human Rights Code has primacy over the Education Act and the power to refuse to admit a student to school.
  2. A refusal to admit should only be imposed for a proper safety purpose. A student cannot be refused admission to school for purposes of discipline.
  3. Maximum time limits should be set for a refusal to admit, with a process for considering how to extend it if necessary and justified.
  4. A refusal to admit a student to school should only be permitted in very rare, extreme cases, as a last resort, after considering or trying all less intrusive alternatives. A principal should be required to take a step-by-step tiered approach to deciding whether to refuse to admit a student to school, first exhausting all less restrictive alternatives, and first ensuring that the student’s disability-related needs have been accommodated as required under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  5. It should not be left to an individual principal to unilaterally decide on their own to refuse to admit a student to school. Prior approval of a higher authority with the School Board should be required, supported by sufficient documentation of the deliberations.
  6. A principal should be required to work with a student and their family on issues well before it degenerates to the point of considering a refusal to admit. The School Board should be required to have a mandatory meeting with the family before a refusal to admit is imposed.
  7. A principal should be required to immediately send a letter to the parents of a student whom they are refusing to admit to school, setting out the facts and specifics that are the reasons for the exclusion from school. A senior Board supervisor that approved the decision should be required to co-sign the letter. The letter should also be signed by the Director of Education if the student is to be excluded from all schools in the Board.
  8. A School Board that excludes a student from school should be required to put in place a plan for delivering an effective educational program to that student while excluded from school, including the option of face-to-face engagement with a teacher off of school property. This plan should be monitored to ensure it is sufficient.
  9. If a student is excluded from school, the School Board should be under a strong duty to work with the student and family to get them back to school as soon as possible.
  10. A School Board that excludes a student from school should be required to hold a re-entry meeting with the student and family to transition to the return to school.
  11. Any appeals to the Board of Trustees for the School Board from a refusal to admit should assure fair procedures to the student and their family. An excluded student should at least have all the safeguards in the appeal process as does a student who is subjected to discipline.
  12. The appeal should be heard by the entire Board of Trustees, and not just a sub-committee of some trustees. An appeal hearing should be held and decided quickly, since the student is languishing at home.
  13. A Board of Trustees, hearing an appeal from a refusal to admit, should consider whether the School Board has justified the student’s initial exclusion from school and its continuation. The burden should be on the School Board to justify the exclusion from school, and not on the student trying to go back to school. At an appeal hearing, the principal should first present why the exclusion from school is justified and should continue, before the student or parents are asked to show why the student should be allowed to return to school.
  14. When an appeal is launched, the School Board should be required to first try to resolve the issue short of a full appeal hearing.
  15. A student’s record of a refusal to admit to school should not stain the student’s official school record.
  16. If a School Board directs that a student can only come to school for part of the school day), the same safeguards for the student should be required as for a student who is excluded for the entire day.
  17. Any policy in this area should be periodically reviewed and updated.



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


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

June 26, 2020

SUMMARY

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

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

“Supporting students with disabilities A statement from OSSTF/FEESO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE DETAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

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

June 26, 2020

          SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          MORE DETAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Accessible School Resources After the COVID-19 Pandemic


As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, organizations, from media outlets to stores, have adapted to new ways of providing information during the pandemic. Many of these adaptations are also practices that make information more accessible for viewers with disabilities. More information is being offered online, in accessible formats, or with communication supports. In the post-COVID-19 future, more people may recognize the value of adapting information to meet citizens’ diverse needs. Consequently, more educators may offer accessible school resources after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accessible School Resources After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Remote learning requirements mean that more school and library resources are now online. Teachers, school staff, and school board personnel are presenting lessons and other school information in new ways. For instance, teachers are now receiving and grading student work online, rather than in hard copies. Similarly, students may be using online learning resources more often than print textbooks.

School staff, and other producers of educational resources, are adapting to the need for school resources in new formats. In the same way, schools, school boards, and other educational institutions can learn to improve the accessibility of school resources.

Accessible Formats for School Resources

School staff may now upload lessons or handouts in formats that are not accessible. For example, many portable document format (PDF) documents are not accessible. Due to the rapid transition to online learning, some staff may think about accessibility as an afterthought. For instance, staff may post accessible versions of documents after PDFs have already been posted. Instead, staff should make these documents accessible from the start by creating the original documents in accessible formats, such as Word or HTML.

Likewise, ebooks can be an important alternative to hard-copy print books. Currently, many publishers have ebook options available, but the ebooks are not always accessible. As a result, publishers must convert an ebook into an accessible format after a school or student has bought or requested it. However, if all ebooks were accessible from the start, publishers would not need to convert them later.

Similarly, all academic publishers could create accessible-format versions of all the books or journals they publish. Therefore, accessible formats would be available for all books school libraries buy, and all journals they subscribe to. As a result, school library staff would be better prepared to meet the research needs of students with disabilities.

Schools and school boards are becoming accustomed to providing information in different ways. They can adapt just as easily to making more learning resources accessible. In this way, they can better serve students, educators, and parents with disabilities.




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



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



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Coroner Calls Inquest Into Death of Teen at Brantford School for the Blind


Michelle McQuigge
The Canadian Press, May 29, 2020

The parents of a disabled teen who died in the care of an Ontario residential school for the blind say they’re hopeful a newly called inquest into their son’s death may protect a future generation of vulnerable students.

The province’s coroner’s office has confirmed to The Canadian Press that it will hold an inquest in to the February 2018 death of 18-year-old Samuel Brown at the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont.

Brown’s parents have said their son’s death was shrouded in mystery and controversy, alleging he was in good health the weekend before he died. They also allege that only 12 hours passed between the time they received a phone call indicating their son was slightly unwell and when he was pronounced dead in hospital.

The couple began campaigning last fall for a province-led investigation into the matter, saying medical officials have reached conflicting conclusions about Brown’s cause of death.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Ontario’s Chief Coroner confirmed that an inquiry will take place, though details about a start date and location are still being determined.

The news comes as a relief to Brown’s parents, Andrea and Gladstone Brown, who said the inquest will hopefully provide answers for their family and others.

“I want to know what really transpired … because up to now we have no clue,” Andrea Brown said in a telephone interview. “We’re doing this not just for us, but for … those that cannot help themselves.”

The W. Ross Macdonald school referred questions on the pending inquest to the Ontario Ministry of Education, which referred them to the coroner’s office.

Andrea Brown said her son was born with a genetic condition that left him blind, deaf and non-verbal.

He began attending W. Ross Macdonald, the province’s only dedicated school for the blind and deafblind, starting at the age of four and experienced no problems for most of his tenure, she said.

Brown said her son was in perfect health on the weekend of Feb. 2, 2018 — the last time she saw him alive.

She heard no reports of illness until the evening of Feb. 8, when a staff member called to say her son was “a bit fussy” and unwilling to get up for dinner.

She next heard from the school at 6:30 the next morning, at which point she learned he had been rushed to a nearby hospital.

It wasn’t until she and her husband reached the hospital themselves, she said, that they learned their son was already dead by the time he was sent for medical help.

The Browns said the investigating coroner produced a report saying their son had died of natural causes.

Dissatisfied with the finding, the family requested an autopsy. The resulting report concluded he died of pneumonia, a finding that only deepened the family’s confusion.

The family began campaigning for an inquest in September and drew support from politicians, academics and others across Canada. An online petition in support of their cause drew more than 3,500 signatures.

Samuel Brown’s said a thorough inquiry into the circumstances leading to their son’s death is necessary for the sake of families of other disabled children without access to similar resources.

Their lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi, said she hopes the inquest will prompt a deeper examination of the way disabled lives are valued in the education system and beyond.

“It’s really a call for our society to put a mirror up to itself and ask some questions about … how something like this can happen and how we can prevent it in the future,” she said.

This is not the first time the school has faced allegations of student mistreatment.

A class-action lawsuit alleged students attending the school between 1951 and 2012 were subjected to psychological degradation, physical violence and sexual abuse.

The suit claimed staff members often resorted to violence, such as forcing students to drink from urinals and jumping on the backs of those as young as six years old.

The statement of claim also alleged staff preyed upon the visual impairments of students, sneaking up on them during private conversations and spinning students around to deliberately disorient them.

The plaintiffs settled the suit with the Ontario government for $8 million the day before a trial in the case was due to get underway.

Original at https://www.inthehammer.com/coroner-calls-inquest-into-death-of-teen-at-brantford-school-for-the-blind




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