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

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 Alliances 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 Ontarios 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 groups 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 groups 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 Boards 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
1) 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:
a) 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
b) 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
c) establish a fully accessible centralized hub, and share and publicize the hub, for sharing of effective practices about supporting students with disabilities
d) 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
e) provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected.

2) 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:
a) 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.).
b) 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
c) provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected to ensure accessibility for students with disabilities.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) The Ministry of Education should direct that each school board shall establish a similar Board Command table. (See recommendation 12 for School Boards).
6) 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.).
7) 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.
8) 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)
9) 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.)
10) 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 to inform future policies and regulations and directions for school boards.
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 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/guardians 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 boards senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a regular basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized).
12) 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

13) School Boards should establish a similar Board Command/Central table as the Ministry of Educations 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 Ministrys command table.
14) 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.
15) 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.
16) 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.
17) 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 familys 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

18) 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.
19) 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.
20) 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).
21) 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.
22) The Ministry of Educations 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.
23) 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

24) 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.
25) 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.
26) 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.
27) 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).
28) 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.)
29) 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 students learning and staffs 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

30) 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)
31) 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.
32) 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

33) 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)
34) 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 persons 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 persons 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

35) The Ministry of Education should allow high school in-class instruction to operate for the 2020-2021 school year, if authorized by Ontarios Chief Medical Officer of Health.
36) 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.
37) 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.
38) The Ministry of Education should include student voice through student trustees association or other student leaders, when developing a plan for return to school.
39) 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.
40) If required by Public Health, the Ministry of Education should fund PPE for students and staff to mitigate risks of infection.
41) 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

42) 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.
43) School Boards and Schools should provide clear instruction on proper personal protection equipment (PPE) and safety measures to students, parents, and staff.
44) 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.
45) 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.
46) 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.
47) 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).
48) 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.
49) School Boards and schools seek out the voice of students, including voices of students with disabilities, when they develop return to school plan options.
50) 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.
51) School Boards should continue to offer where possible, alternate classrooms, quiet workspaces, and other special education requirements prescribed in a students Individual Education Plan (IEP).
52) School Boards should research and investigate potential online coop placements that may be available for all students; including students with disabilities.
53) 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 students 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 students 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

54) 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.
55) 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

56) 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.
57) 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.
58) 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.
59) 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.
60) School Boards shall include the student when developing their individualized Transition and IEP. All
61) When School Boards develop the Individualized Transition Plans for each student, it should be:
a) 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.)
b) 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
c) include strategies for students around social/physical distancing. Social distancing guidelines should be developed in consultation with parents/guardians and student. d) Include steps for follow up and checking in with the student
e) 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.
62) 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.
63) 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.
64) 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

65) That a designated communication lead should be assigned at the provincial and regional level for consistent messaging.
66) 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.
67) 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.
68) 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.
69) 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.
70) 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

71) For consistent messaging, that the School board should designate a communication lead for COVID-19 related issues.
72) 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.
73) 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.
74) 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.
75) 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 childs learning. Recommendations Government

76) 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.
77) 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.
78) 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

79) 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.
80) School Boards should provide administrators training and guidelines on supporting students with disabilities through transitioning and change.
81) 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.
82) 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 Educations 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

83) 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: o Measures to mitigate risk of exposure
o Procedures to be taken before a trip, during a trip and at the end of the trip o PPE guidelines
o Physical Distancing
o Shield and Enclosure system guidelines (if bus operators choose to do so)
84) 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 students 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.
85) 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.
86) 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.
87) 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.
88) School Boards and Bus Consortia should review procedures and protocols for persons responsible for putting a student with disabilitys harness on/off or supporting a student on the school bus to mitigate health risks for the student, bus driver and support person.
89) 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 parents 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.
90) Students with disabilities should be included in any training that is provide for all students on enhanced safety rules on the bus.
91) 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.
92) 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 enjoyedby persons with disabilities. The term implies conscious planning, design and/or effortto 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, its 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 institutions 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
? School Mental Health https://smho-smso.ca/ – a variety of resources for students, parents, educators
? Mental Health and Teachers https://www.tes.com/news/will-fear-coronavirus-affect-your-teaching?utm_campaign=73103_20200608%20Editorial%20Daily%20Register&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Dot_Digital&utm_content=73103_20200608%20Editorial%20Daily%20Register&dm_i=5NNY,1KEN,M10WD,5U5E,1 ? People for Education Educational reading in a Pandemic – https://peopleforeducation.ca/our-work/education-reading-in-a-pandemic/

Public Health Guidance and Safety

? Alberta Public Health guidance for schools –
https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=72576418BE34F-D428-6986-0F85E17B91BA2A40#toc-0
? Centre for Disease Control – Case Investigation and Contact Tracing : Part of a Multipronged Approach to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic –https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/principles-contact-tracing.html
? Canada Public Health -Updated: Public health management of cases and contacts associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) = https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/interim-guidance-cases-contacts.html#co ? UNICEF- a framework to reopening schools –
https://www.unicef.org/documents/framework-reopening-schools ? Government of Canada resources for parents –
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/resources-parents-children.html ? SickKids Recommendations for School Reopenings –
https://www.sickkids.ca/PDFs/About-SickKids/81407-COVID19-Recommendations-for-School-Reopening-SickKids.pdf ? Federal Guidance for School Bus Operations during the COVID-19 Pandemic –
https://www2.tc.gc.ca/en/services/road/federal-guidance-school-bus-operations-during-covid-19-pandemic.html).
? National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Guidelines – https://www.napt.org/covid ? Considerations for Wearing Cloth Face Coverings, Centre for Disease Control –
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html#feasibility-adaptations

Tools/Best Practices

? York Catholic District School Board https://sites.google.com/ycdsb.ca/ycdsb-ssd-distance-learning/home – learning from home resource
? Durham District School Board https://www.ddsb.ca/en/programs-and-learning/distance-learning.aspx distance learning resources
? Durham District School Board https://www.ddsb.ca/en/programs-and-learning/resources/Documents/Distance-Learning/IEPs-Documenting-Accommodation-and-Programming-During-Distance-Learning-05-2020.pdf IEPs documenting accommodations and programing during distance learning ? Durham District School Board –
https://www.ddsb.ca/en/programs-and-learning/resources/Documents/Distance-Learning/Distance-Learning–Identification-Placement-and-Review-Committee-IPRC-Process.pdf IPRC process during distance learning ? Thames Valley District School Board –
https://www.tvdsb.ca/en/our-board/learning-at-a-distance.aspx distance learning resources and more ? Ottawa-Carleton District School Board –
https://ocdsb.ca/cms/one.aspx?portalId=55478&pageId=32163119 learning at home resources
? York Region District School Board has a variety of learning resources, resources for parents etc. –
http://www.yrdsb.ca/schools/Repository/NewsEvents/Pages/BoardNews/Coronavirus.aspx
? Toronto District School Board https://sites.google.com/tcdsb.ca/tcdsb-parents-at/home – a guide to assistive technology for parents
? University of Toronto Accessibility formats and communication supports http://aoda.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/communications/ ? Best Practices for Collecting Data on Disabilities, Education Links – https://www.edu-links.org/learning/best-practices-collecting-data-disabilities
? Accessibility for Ontario Disabilities Act, Integrated Guide, Section 12: Accessible Formats and Communication Supports –
https://www.aoda.ca/a-guide-to-the-integrated-accessibility-standards-regulation/#sect12 ? Ontario Human Rights Code Policies and Guidelines on Duty to Accommodate –
http://www3.ohrc.on.ca/sites/default/files/policy%20and%20guidelines%20on%20disability%20and%20the%20duty%20to%20accommodate.pdf
? Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School in Fall 2020, Centre for Disease Control –
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/prepare-safe-return.html

Stakeholder Reports and Information

? OHRC Letter to the Minister of Education about convening a return-to-school partnership table –
http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/letter-minister-education-about-convening-return-school-partnership-table
? OHC Letter to the Minister of Education, school leaders on respecting the rights of students with disabilities –
http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/letter-minister-education-school-leaders-respecting-rights-students-disabilities
? OHRC Letter to Ministers re: accessible education for students with disabilities –
http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/letter-ministers-re-accessible-education-students-disabilities
? Report of The Third Review Of The Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 By The Honourable David C. Onley – https://files.ontario.ca/seniors-accessibility-third-review-of-aoda-en-2019.pdf
? AFT, American Federation of Teachers https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/guide_reopen-america-schools.pdf – a guide to safely open schools
? AODA Alliance Final Brief to Ontario Government on Urgent needs of K-12 Students with Disabilities during COVID-19 Crisis –
https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/download-in-ms-word-format-the-aoda-alliances-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-trans/
? AODA Alliance – New Report Reveals that Majority of Ontarios School Boards, Each School Principal can Exclude a Student From School Real Risk of a Rash of Exclusion of Some Students with Disabilities When Schools Re-Open –
https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/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-exclusio/
? Wisconsin DPI releases guidelines for reopening schools this fall: Proactive approach –
https://fox6now.com/2020/06/22/wisconsin-department-of-public-instruction-releases-guidelines-for-reopening-schools-this-fall/
? ASCD http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/may20/vol62/num05/7-Ways-Educators-Can-Help-Students-Cope-in-a-Pandemic.aspx
? Easter Seals https://education.easterseals.org/supporting-learning-at-home-through-the-covid-19-crisis/ – online learning resources ? [email protected] resources for parents – https://www.ldathome.ca/
? [email protected] resources for teachers – https://www.ldatschool.ca/ ? People for Education Effective e-learning need structures and supports –
https://peopleforeducation.ca/our-work/technology-in-schools-a-tool-and-a-strategy/ ? Accessibility Digital Office Project – https://adod.idrc.ocadu.ca/ ? People for Education Educational reading in a Pandemic – https://peopleforeducation.ca/our-work/education-reading-in-a-pandemic

Additional Reading

? How brain research help retool our school schedule for remote learning –
https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-06-10-how-brain-research-helped-retool-our-school-schedule-for-remote-learning
? Ontario Developmental Services https://www.dsontario.ca/resources/webcasts-podcasts – podcast to Passport Funding
? Survey Place resources https://www.surreyplace.ca/resources-publications/coronavirus-updates-resources/#parents ? Statistics Canada Survey parenting during pandemic –
https://surveys-enquetes.statcan.gc.ca/form-formulaire/q/en/eqgs4b1d8328edfa4922aa915b5436328916/p0 ? Globe & Mail -Children being rendered invisible https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-children-being-rendered-invisible-by-province-former-ontario-child/
? CTV News – Parents should ‘respect custody arrangements’ during COVID-19 pandemic –
https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/parents-should-respect-custody-arrangements-during-covid-19-pandemic-1.4874720?cache=wcoseppn%3FautoPlay%3Dtrue%3FclipId%3D89680
? Top 10 – A New New Deal For Education: Top 10 Policy Moves For States In The COVID 2.0 Era –
https://www.forbes.com/sites/lindadarlinghammond/2020/05/19/a-new-new-deal-for-education-top-10-policy-moves-for-states-in-the-covid-20-era/#203440f16266
? UNESCO MGIEP Essential SEL Resources: COVID-19 – https://mgiep.unesco.org/covid
? Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies https://inee.org/resources/inee-minimum-standards Minimum Standards Handbook: Preparedness, Emergency, Recovery
? George Lucas Foundation https://www.edutopia.org/article/schools-are-opening-worldwide-providing-model-us?utm_source=Edutopia+Newsletter&utm_campaign=9f50493399-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_052720_enews_schoolsare&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f72e8cc8c4-9f50493399-78670447 article on school opening around the world ? Teacher Magazine- How teachers can help students transition back to school –
https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/covid-19-how-teachers-can-help-students-transition-back-to-school ? Tes What 1 week after returning to school looks like –
https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-reopening-schools-one-week-back-what-has-return-school-been ? How brain research help retool our school schedule for remote learning –
https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-06-10-how-brain-research-helped-retool-our-school-schedule-for-remote-learning




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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



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


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

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

June 18, 2020

          SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          MORE DETAILS

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

Submitted by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

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

To: The Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

Via email [email protected]

June 18, 2020

 Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

 6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

 15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

Appendix – List of Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

June 18, 2020

SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

2. Need for a Provincial Students with Disabilities Command Table

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We therefore recommend that:

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

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

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

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

Appendix List of Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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