Service Animals in Schools


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. Our recent articles have considered how the education standards can build on requirements from the AODA’s existing standards. Now, we will explore new mandates that the education standards could create. One issue that an education standard should address is service animals in schools. Currently, students must ask their school boards if they can bring their service animals to school. Every school board must make its own service animal policy. A new standard is needed for service animals in schools.

Service Animals

Service animals are animals, typically dogs, trained to help people with disabilities maintain independence. They help people with many disabilities and medical conditions, such as:

  • Visual impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Physical disabilities

Service animals are working animals with duties. They are not pets. Instead, they are assistants or guides and they usually wear harnesses or vests identifying them as service animals.

Moreover, service animals have specialized training to perform tasks, such as:

  • Guiding a person around obstacles
  • Warning a person about low blood sugar
  • Protecting a person during seizures
  • Calming a person in an environment with too much sensory stimulation and preventing behavioural outbursts
  • Retrieving out-of-reach objects
  • Alerting a person to sounds, such as ringing phones or fire alarms

In addition, service animals are also trained to behave appropriately in public places where non-service-animals are not allowed. For example, good service animal behaviour includes:

  • Focusing on the handler’s needs
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Never barking, growling, or jumping

Standard Needed for Service Animals in Schools

Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), service animals are welcome in all public places. However, the Human Rights Code ruled in 2017 that schools are not places that all members of the public have access to. This ruling means that students with service animals cannot automatically bring their animals to school with them. Instead, they must ask their school boards if they can bring the animal. School boards then make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

There are seventy-two school boards in Ontario. Currently, each school board must develop its own policy  outlining the process families should follow when requesting the accommodation of service animals in schools. As a result, policies may differ widely. Students’ chances to bring service animals to school may depend not on their needs, but on where they live.

When school boards do not have strong policies for students with service animals, children may not receive the classroom accommodations they need. Moreover, students should have the same chance for this accommodation, no matter where they live. A province-wide policy in the education standard could solve this problem. This policy could provide clear guidelines for allowing service animals in schools. It could also offer guidance for situations where staff and students have conflicting accommodation needs. For instance, it could include ways to balance the needs of a service-animal handler and someone with severe allergies to animals.

Our next article will outline some best practices for interacting with service animals.




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An Education Standard Could Mandate Sign Language Interpreters in Schools


In our last article, we outlined how a shortage of professional Sign language interpreters creates problems for students who Sign. Here, we consider why an education standard should mandate more Sign language interpreters in schools. We also explore what some of these mandates might be.

More Sign Language Interpreters in Schools

Other Communication Supports

Some schools may try to make up for the lack of professional interpretation by encouraging students to use other communication supports. However, similar barriers exist for other communication supports that students might use. For example, real-time captioning (RTC), also depends on the availability of trained staff. In addition, digital note-taking, in which key points in a communication are summarized, does not provide enough information for a school setting. Like non-professional interpretation, computerized note-taking provides students with only partial access to their lessons.

Alternatively, a school board with an interpreter shortage might suggest that a student should develop their skills in speechreading. Speechreading is a way students can read the speech of their teachers and peers instead of using Sign Language interpretation. However, this recommendation places responsibility on the student. Under the Information and Communications Standards, the school must consult with the student who needs a communication support to determine which support is most suitable. In other words, a school or school board should make every effort to provide the communication support that is best for each student. According to a position paper from the Canadian Association of the Deaf, Sign language interpretation is the best communication support for many students who are deaf. Therefore, schools and school boards should be able to provide Sign Language interpretation to more students.

Solutions

An education standard could provide many solutions for the shortage of Sign Language interpreters. A standard could mandate the number of interpreters that should be available for students at a given time. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more education and training programs for interpreters. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for interpreters, so that more people would follow this career path. Moreover, a standard could mandate that a certain number of educators should learn to sign. This solution would allow some educators to communicate directly with their signing students. More Sign Language interpreters in schools will ensure that each student learns in the ways best for them.




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Sign Language Interpreters in Schools


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that an education standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, educational institutions must make information available to students using communication supports. This mandate should mean an accessible education for all students. However, there is an important service gap which an education standard should fill. Sign Language interpretation helps students who sign succeed in school and in later life, but there is a shortage of professional Sign Language interpreters. As a result, educators cannot communicate with some of their students. More Sign Language interpreters in schools would give more students the education they need to succeed as adults.

Sign Language Interpreters in Schools

Students who are deaf may use a variety of communication supports. These supports include:

  • Sign Language interpretation
  • Speechreading
  • Real-Time Captioning (RTC)
  • Computerized Note-Taking

Many English-Canadians who are deaf communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). Similarly, many French-Canadian students who are deaf communicate using Langue des signes Québécoise (LSQ). When students who Sign in ASL or LSQ have access to professional Sign Language interpreters in class, they can understand the speech of their teachers and peers. However, there are not enough professional interpreters, so some students need to find a different way to communicate. Some schools try to fill this gap by employing interpreters with partial training, such as educational assistants who know some Sign language. However, non-professionals usually cannot interpret all the concepts and vocabulary students need to learn. As a result, a signing student might not learn everything their hearing peers do.

Students who rely on non-professional interpreters may have on-going trouble in school. For instance, a student could have trouble answering questions on tests if a partially-trained interpreter makes mistakes or cannot interpret a key concept. Likewise, a student could have trouble giving presentations if an interpreter cannot fully or correctly interpret the student’s signs to the teacher. Moreover, if students do not have accurate lesson interpretation in early grades, they will not have the knowledge they need to do well in later grades. In addition, students and teachers will have more and more communication difficulties as lesson topics become more complex.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore how an education standard can help to place more Sign language interpreters in schools.




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Braille Instruction in Schools Part 2


In Part 1 of this article, we explored some of the accessible formats that students with visual impairments can learn to read in school. We also discussed how eye specialists and teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) may sometimes decide that Braille should not be one of these formats. In this article, we consider why some specialists may think that students should not learn Braille. We also suggest that more Braille instruction in schools could help more students achieve greater success as adults.

Students with Visual Impairments

Why Specialists may not Choose Braille

Eye doctors may choose not to recommend Braille because they cannot read Braille and they think it is harder to learn than print. Similarly, TVIs may think that Braille is hard because they learned as adults and do not use Braille in their every-day lives. However, young children learn Braille as easily as their fully sighted peers learn print. Some children learn both writing systems at the same time. Others learn Braille after they have learned print.

Alternatively, specialists may think that students who can read some print should use it as long as they can. Specialists may hope that reading print will help students with visual impairments feel more like their fully sighted classmates. However, students who will need Braille one day will need to learn to accept their difference from sighted classmates. If they learn Braille at younger ages, they may accept their differences more easily than they would in later grades.

Audio and Computer Technology

Moreover, teachers and doctors may believe that Braille is becoming obsolete. Instead, they may recommend that children with all degrees of visual impairment learn using audio and computer technology. These methods are useful and students can easily learn them at the same time as Braille. However, if students always use them instead of Braille, they may have trouble in school. For instance, they may have trouble hearing a teacher if they are trying to find a textbook page by listening. Likewise, they may have trouble hearing the teacher and taking notes with a screen reader. In contrast, students can easily keep up when they can hear the teacher and feel their book or notes.

Similarly, students who always use audio or computers rely on their technology more than sighted print readers. When this technology breaks down, these students have no other way to learn. In contrast, students who read Braille can continue learning when technology breaks down. When students read Braille, they read letter-by-letter on a page or screen the way fully sighted people read print. Teachers do not tell fully sighted students that they should listen instead of reading. Therefore, audio by itself is not equal to print, but Braille is.

Solutions

Braille is easier to produce now than ever before. People can print documents in Braille using translation software and Braille printers. In addition, students with visual impairments can use Braille displays to read information on computer or phone screens. These students will grow up to use Braille at work. A recent report from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) indicates that blind people who read Braille have more success finding jobs than blind people who do not read Braille. Blind adults can also move around more independently if they can read Braille on signs, room numbers, and elevator buttons. In short, blind people often have a better quality of life if they learn Braille in school.

An education standard could implement many solutions for the shortage of Braille instruction in Ontario schools. A standard could mandate that all TVIs have enough Braille training to confidently teach their students. With training, sighted TVIs can read Braille as easily as TVIs who are blind. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more education and training programs for TVIs. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for teachers of Braille, so that more people would follow this career path. More Braille instruction in schools will ensure that each student learns in the ways best for them.




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Braille Instruction in Schools


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that a standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, schools and school boards must make information available to students using accessible formats. This mandate should mean accessible schooling for all students.

However, there is an important gap which an education standard should fill. In all other sectors, people know what accessible formats they need. However, young children do not yet know what formats will work best for them. Instead, teachers and specialists must choose which formats they think will work best for each child. Then, teachers must teach students to use those formats. Braille helps students with visual impairments succeed in school and in later life, but educators sometimes choose not to teach their students Braille. More Braille instruction in schools could help more students succeed as adults.

More Braille Instruction in Schools

Parents of young children with visual impairments need to find out what formats their child should learn to read. To do so, they need to consult specialized teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), and/or eye specialists. Formats that children may learn include:

  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Electronic formats like Word or HTML files
  • Audio
  • Tactile maps or pictures

Braille or large print?

Specialists recommend Braille for students who are totally blind, and large print for students who have some vision. Specialists may recommend large print because they believe that a student’s vision will stay the same. However, specialists may sometimes recommend large print for students who will lose their vision over time. In this case, the students will need to learn Braille in later grades or as adults.

In other cases, students can continue reading large print but have more and more difficulty doing so as they grow up. For instance, they may have eye strain or headaches when they spend more time reading print in later grades. Furthermore, they may read more slowly than students with full sight. In contrast, when students learn to read Braille at the age their sighted classmates learn print, they develop the same reading speed. Additionally, they can keep up with their classmates as they age because reading does not give them eye strain or headaches.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore why specialists might choose not to recommend Braille. We will also outline how more Braille instruction in school can help children succeed later in their lives.




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Braille Instruction in Schools: Part 1


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that a standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, schools and school boards must make information available to students using accessible formats. This mandate should mean accessible schooling for all students.

However, there is an important gap which an education standard should fill. In all other sectors, people know what accessible formats they need. However, young children do not yet know what formats will work best for them. Instead, teachers and specialists must choose which formats they think will work best for each child. Then, teachers must teach students to use those formats. Braille helps students with visual impairments succeed in school and in later life, but educators sometimes choose not to teach their students Braille. More Braille instruction in schools could help more students succeed as adults.

More Braille Instruction in Schools

Parents of young children with visual impairments need to find out what formats their child should learn to read. To do so, they need to consult specialized teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), and/or eye specialists. Formats that children may learn include:

  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Electronic formats like Word or HTML files
  • Audio
  • Tactile maps or pictures

Braille or large print?

Specialists recommend Braille for students who are totally blind, and large print for students who have some vision. Specialists may recommend large print because they believe that a student’s vision will stay the same. However, specialists may sometimes recommend large print for students who will lose their vision over time. In this case, the students will need to learn Braille in later grades or as adults.

In other cases, students can continue reading large print but have more and more difficulty doing so as they grow up. For instance, they may have eye strain or headaches when they spend more time reading print in later grades. Furthermore, they may read more slowly than students with full sight. In contrast, when students learn to read Braille at the age their sighted classmates learn print, they develop the same reading speed. Additionally, they can keep up with their classmates as they age because reading does not give them eye strain or headaches.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore why specialists might choose not to recommend Braille. We will also outline how more Braille instruction in school can help children succeed later in their lives.




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Change In Ontario Law Creates Uncertainty For Service Dogs In Schools


“Are all these school boards going to start saying that the dogs need to be certified?” By Bailey Martens

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Cadarette was a C student, struggling to stay in school in Windsor, Ont. until Vincent came along. The specifically trained golden Labrador helps the teen manage his post-traumatic stress disorder, and gain better focus in classes.

Cameron scratches his arms and legs until they bleed; Vincent is able to interrupt his self-harming behaviour by nudging the teen’s hand. The service animal also keeps the teen safe at night, waking him from night terrors and bringing him water bottles to help him catch his breath during an anxiety attack.

Two years later, Cameron holds an average of 95 per cent in Grade 9 and is able to have relationships with his peers. “He can meld into the school system and not be an outcast,” said his mother, Nicole McMillan.

But a recent change in Ontario’s Safe and Supportive Classroom Act is making McMillan and other families with students who use service animals nervous.

Vague nature of new section concerns dog handlers

A new section on service dogs, which was approved in April, notes that the education minister may create policies and guidelines, and require school boards to comply with them or create their own based on the minister’s parameters.

A draft policy is underway, the Ministry of Education told HuffPost Canada, that will “set out the framework and required components of board policies across the province resulting in greater consistency, transparency and clarity of process when requesting that a student be accompanied by a service animal in school.”

“We are committed to ensuring every student in Ontario has access to safe and supportive learning environments,” said a ministry statement, which noted that it’s aware of 39 of 72 school boards with active policies on service animals.

Still, the vague nature of the new section has left service dog handlers with more questions than answers.

“Nothing is actually changing because they’re just passing a bill that says the minister could do something,” said Deanna Allain, an Ontario-based service dog trainer and lobbyist. But the concern comes in the unknown: “The minister could ban all service dogs, that’s that’s how specific this legislation is.”

Emily Write has been working with her diabetic alert service dog Kailey for six years. Kailey is scent-trained to alert her handler to dangerous changes in blood sugar levels.

Write is nearing completion of her masters degree from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute For Studies In Education, and has been doing a required teaching placement at a Catholic school.

“I realize that we can’t just have anyone bring a dog in a school and that the dog does need to have appropriate training levels,” Write told HuffPost Canada. But the new addition in the law is not the way to go about it, she said.

With a lack of clear expectations, it provides no information on the process to bring a service dog to school. “Are all these school boards going to start saying that the dogs need to be certified, and who is going to monitor that? Because we don’t have a certification process,” said Write.

Uneven requirements across Canada

Currently, Ontario only requires a note from a medical professional outlining the need for a service dog. This is contrary to provinces like British Columbia, which mandates a certification test, or Alberta, where certification is voluntary. There’s no national standard or consistency across provincial laws, which becomes problematic when more public places are requesting proof of certifications. An increase in fraudulent registries and copycat harnesses and ID cards doesn’t help either.

Then there’s the issue of reporting complaints. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) that governs service animals does not have a formal complaint process. Write wonders why new service dog legislation would be implemented if it has no clear path to enforcement.

McMillan has fought complex policies before. Cameron’s service dog was initially denied by both the Greater Essex Public School Board and the Windsor-Essex County Catholic School Boards because they couldn’t recognize Vincent’s international training credentials from Florida.

The public school board has its own service dog policies and was considered complaint with the AODA. McMillan took their case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which said the issue was settled through mediation in 2017.

Cameron now attends a private school with Vincent by his side.

“All I want for him is an education that he has the right to,” said McMillan.

She feels the new section in provincial legislation can open doors, “but it’s also left room for interpretation, which in the long run, I think you’ll see some battles from families trying to … get their service dogs in schools that are adequately trained for their children.”

“It encourages empathy.
Emily Write

McMillan fears that families will go “school-district shopping” as they try to place students in schools with better service dog policies, as it appears the act’s new section would allow districts to have varying policies.

As a teacher in training, Write points out that service dogs benefit the whole classroom. “It encourages empathy,” she said. She noted how students she worked with, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 12, recognized when the classroom was getting too loud through Kailey’s changing body language and would respond accordingly.

“As an educator, that’s not something I ever knew: that by bringing a service dog into a classroom that it would not just benefit me but also benefit my students,” said Write.

Original at https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/ontario-service-dog-school-policy_ca_5d014863e4b0985c419705b8?utm_hp_ref=ca-living&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS91cmw_cmN0PWomc2E9dCZ1cmw9aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuaHVmZmluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY2EvZW50cnkvb250YXJpby1zZXJ2aWNlLWRvZy1zY2hvb2wtcG9saWN5X2NhXzVkMDE0ODYzZTRiMDk4NWM0MTk3MDViOCUzRnV0bV9ocF9yZWYlM0RjYS1saXZpbmcmY3Q9Z2EmY2Q9Q0FFWUFDb1VNVEEwTURnNE5qWXlNamN4TmpRek9Ea3dOemt5R2pGa1l6QTJOVFF5TjJaa00yRmhORFE2WTI5dE9tVnVPbFZUJnVzZz1BRlFqQ05FYXZiTTdqeDFZUTE3OXVRcElabkxsekNFYWl3&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAACquXyzeRYfHimJ7dPggreypPKVGbaamqEGxlH9Uk4ADtqTX1oq4Z9iLbgCR6CbQJnTKndTqxxv46eR0LjoXnjQiw4Hrghk0WMoSBP29oaXjuJRmjiQDiK4FwzCtSCFbPeFxMBtOqn8QQudOe6E704VNYOn41BsqlM1OwhPgwcGA



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A Modest Interim Victory for Joint Efforts by the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition — Ford Government Agrees to Consult on Practices of Schools Refusing to Admit some Students with Disabilities to School for All or Part of The School Day


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org  [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

A Modest Interim Victory for Joint Efforts by the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition — Ford Government Agrees to Consult on Practices of Schools Refusing to Admit some Students with Disabilities to School for All or Part of The School Day

March 14, 2019

          SUMMARY

Here is some potentially good news for students with disabilities in Ontario.

On Monday, March 11, 2019, the Ford Government made an announcement about measures it plans to take to address the expected influx of children and youth with autism into Ontario schools as a result of provincial cuts to pre-existing autism services that those children previously received. Amidst the details of that announcement by Ontario’s Ministry of Education were these two sentences on the Ministry’s website which got little attention.

“The ministry will also host a series of virtual sessions about exclusions and modified days to engage parents, educators, administrators and others in a dialogue about these complex issues. The details will be communicated at a later date.”

Here is a joint statement by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition:

“This is a small preliminary step in the right direction, for which we can claim a modest interim victory.

As the Globe and Mail exposed in articles earlier this year, students with a range of different disabilities, who have a right to an education in Ontario schools, too often can be directed by their school or principal either that they may not come to school at all or that they can only come to school for part of the school day. On January 30, 2019, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held a joint news conference at Queen’s Park and issued a joint news release. We called on the Ford Government to take action to redress this recurring and systemic unfairness, including two immediate steps:

  1. To now convene a summit of key stakeholders to get input on legislation and policy changes to fix this problem.
  1. In the interim, to immediately issue a policy direction to school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school for all or part of a school day.

It is helpful that the Ford Government has now announced that it is prepared to look into the issue of schools refusing to admit a student to school or reducing the length of their school day. This is the Government’s first implicit recognition that there is an issue here that the provincial government should address. It is also helpful that the Government will seek input from families, educators and others on this.

However, this should be done by face-to-face meetings with all stakeholders, not through “virtual” or online input-gathering. The Government must allow for the direct in-person engagement of all stakeholders together, which is necessary to find effective solutions. As part of this,

We repeat our call that the Government now bring together at a summit meeting leaders of key organizations of stakeholders such as parents and families of students with disabilities, students themselves, teachers, principals and school boards. Get us around one table.

As well, we need the Government to rein in the obvious excesses that can and do now occur at Ontario schools. The Government can issue a policy direction to school boards on this in no time.

For example, the Government should now direct all school boards that when a principal refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day, the student and family should be given the reason for this. A time limit for this should be specified.

They should be told about their right to appeal. The Ontario Government should require each school board to record a student’s absence from school for all or part of a school day by a unique attendance code.

At present, it is harmful that the Ontario Government directs school boards to use a more general attendance code which makes it impossible to know how many students or how many school days are affected by these exclusions from school.

None of these new policy directions would cost any money. Who could oppose such obvious and simple measures?

The March 11, 2019 Government announcement was made in the context of ongoing problems with the Ford Government’s treatment of children with autism. This issue pertains to all students with any kind of disabilities, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It is important for this issue to be seen as part of the broader need to tear down the many disability barriers facing students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. It is also important for the tremendous outpouring and advocacy efforts in opposition to the Ford Government’s changes to the Ontario Autism Program to be seen in this broader context. Even though children and youth with autism have gotten a great deal of recent public and media attention, all students with disabilities  need to have their learning needs effectively met in Ontario’s education system. It is our shared aim that this recent outpouring can be effectively harnessed to ensure that all students with disabilities can benefit from improved Government action.”

The Globe and Mail today reported on this news. We set out that article below. This is the third time our issues have been in the media this week.

This Globe article bears an inaccurate headline. The headline makes it sound like the Ford Government is only looking into the issue of refusing to admit students to school who have autism. In fact, as the text of the article accurately reports (but not the headline), the announcement relates to students with all kinds of disabilities, and not just those with autism. This headline error was understandable since the Government’s announcement of this consultation is included in a larger Government announcement about students with autism.

The AODA Alliance is conducting a survey of all Ontario school boards to learn about their policies and practices regarding refusals to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day. So far, a clear majority of school boards have not answered our survey, even though it was sent to them some six weeks ago.

As we set out in the January 24, AODA Alliance Update, last year, the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board made a detailed recommendation on what the policy should be regarding the power to exclude a student from school for all or part of the school day.

More Details

The Globe and Mail March 14, 2019

Originally posted at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontario-to-look-into-school-exclusions-of-children-with-autism/

Ontario to look into school exclusions of children with autism

CAROLINE ALPHONSO EDUCATION REPORTER

The Ontario government will examine the issue of students with complex needs being excluded from school after demands from disability advocates that the practice be halted.

The government said earlier this week, as part of an announcement on supports for schools related to the province’s autism program, that it would hold “virtual sessions” on exclusions and modified days with parents, educators and others.

The details will be shared at a later date, Kayla Iafelice, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said on Wednesday.

The issue of indefinite exclusions from school has been top-of-mind for many parents as Doug Ford’s government implements changes to the province’s autism program. Families who currently receive full funding for intensive therapy will receive only a fraction of it after April 1, when funding will be distributed based on a child’s age and household income.

School districts have said they are expecting a number of children with complex needs who were on modified schedules to attend full-time if their parents cannot make up for the lost funding.

The Ministry of Education said in its release on Monday that it would also survey school boards regularly “to assess the impact of increased school enrolment and attendance by children and youth with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] as they transition into the school system.”

Earlier this year, a Globe and Mail analysis found that families with children in many parts of the country who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up children early, start their school day later or keep them home for an indefinite period because of behavioural issues.

Aside from school districts in North Vancouver and Greater Victoria that passed motions in the fall to record how many children with special needs are being asked to stay home, most school boards do not formally track these exclusions.

But parent and advocacy groups surveys have documented a rise in frequency.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the government’s plan to have virtual discussions is a “small preliminary step in the right direction, for which we can claim a modest interim victory.”

Mr. Lepofsky’s group and the Ontario Autism Coalition, which advocates for families, have been calling on the government to hold public discussions on possible legislation and policy changes surrounding exclusions of special-needs students with behavioural issues. The groups have also asked the government to issue a policy directive to school boards in the interim that would require principals to tell families why a child is being excluded and specify a time limit.

The Globe’s story in January highlighted the plight of Grayson Kahn, a seven-year-old with autism and behavioural issues who was expelled from his school in Guelph, Ont. The expulsion followed an incident in which Grayson struck an educational assistant, leaving her with bruises, scrapes and a concussion. Expulsions such as Grayson’s are rare – they involve a principal’s report and a hearing by a school board committee. Disability advocates say exclusions are far more common and are typically informal; parents will be given oral notice of a decision made at a principal’s discretion.

Mr. Lepofsky said it is “helpful that the Ford government has now announced that it is prepared to look into the issue” of exclusions.

He added: “This is the government’s first implicit recognition that there is an issue here that the provincial government should address. It is also helpful that the government will seek input from families, educators and others on this.”



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Service Animals in Schools: Proposed Amendment to Legislation


The Ontario government has proposed an amendment to legislation that would simplify the accommodation process for students who use service animals in schools.

First, we provide a brief introduction to service animals and then we discuss how the proposed legislation could benefit children who use service animals in schools.

Service Animals

A service animal is an animal, typically a dog, that helps someone with a disability maintain independence. Service animals help people with many disabilities and medical conditions, such as:

  • Visual impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Physical disabilities

Service animals are working animals with duties. They are not pets. Instead, they are assistants or guides and they usually wear harnesses or vests identifying them as service animals.

Moreover, service animals have extensive, specialized training to perform tasks, such as:

  • Guiding a person around obstacles
  • Warning a person about low blood sugar or coming seizures
  • Calming a person in an environment with too much sensory stimulation and preventing behavioural outbursts
  • Retrieving out-of-reach objects
  • Alerting a person to sounds, such as ringing phones or fire alarms

Guide dogs assisting handlers who are blind must be trained through an approved provider.

In contrast, there are no legal training requirements for animals assisting people with other disabilities. Handlers may train their service animals on their own or with a professional trainer.

In addition to the disability-specific tasks listed above, service animals are also trained to behave appropriately in public places where non-service-animals are not allowed. For example, good service animal behaviour includes:

  • Focusing on the handler’s needs
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Never barking, growling, or jumping

There are two ways to tell whether an animal is a service animal, in addition to its good behaviour:

  1. If it is visibly apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or
  2. If the person provides an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability

Service Animals in Schools

Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), individuals with disabilities may bring their service animals with them to all public places. However, the Human Rights Code ruled in 2017 that schools are not places that all members of the public have access to. This ruling means that all students must request the accommodation of having their service animals in schools, such as:

  • In the school building
  • In the classroom
  • At all school activities

Requests for service animals in schools are heard on a case-by-case basis.

To date, only 39 of the 72 Ontario school boards have policies that offer clear guidance on how these requests should be handled. The proposed legislation would help school boards develop policies that clearly outline the process families should follow when requesting the accommodation of service animals in schools. When school boards fail to create policies addressing the possibility of students with service animals, or when their policies are unclear, children may not receive the classroom accommodations they need.

If the amendment to create guidelines is approved, members of the public will have the chance to make recommendations about what school boards should be encouraged to include in their policies. Thus, families, school officials, and other members of the community can work together to develop policies that ensure an inclusive education for all students.



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