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.”