Towards a new vision for special education
By Laura Boudreau, Development Manager at People for Education
At our conference in November, a group of educators, parents, and policymakers explored how schools can create learning opportunities for all students, no matter what their learning needs. Speakers Louise Sirisko and Kate Diakiw shared York Region’s approach to special education.
As someone who is relatively new to PFE, and with young children new to the system, it was inspiring to see how passionate and purposeful people are about special education, and what that means for all children in public schools. Here are some of the insights from this energizing and informative session:
Insight 1: Is special education really all that special?
1 in 6 children in the YRDSB has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Across Ontario, that rate increases to 1 in 5 children. Given these very large numbers – nearly 20,000 children in York Region alone – should special education really be all that special? The York Region approach is to assume that all students can learn, and to ensure that all students and families feel like they belong at school. This means that building rich and inclusive learning environments is absolutely essential — for everyone.
Insight 2: Serve the student, not the experts’ particular disciplines.
Louise and Kate described the all-too-common occurrence of teachers receiving conflicting advice from special education professionals. For example, a speech-language pathologist might advise that a particular student needs a very language-rich environment, but then a psychologist might say that same student requires a quiet, low-talking classroom. Which expert is right? Both! Many special education students have diverse needs and multiple exceptionalities, but priorities need to be set. The advice from Louise and Kate: ask the student and the family what their priority area is, and work on that. Then, as you make progress, reassess. Centering student and family voice is key!
Insight 3: There are tried, tested programs with impact out there — let’s use them.
Kate and Louise identified evidence-based programs and practices that have made a real difference for students in York Region.
- See the presentation slides from this session.
- Read People for Education’s 2018 report on special education in Ontario schools.