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Special Education in Ontario

Updated: Mar 9

NOTE: This post contains hyperlinks *

The following article comes courtesy of Peel Autism Resource. It lists a number of Special Education resources for Ontario that you may find helpful in your advocacy efforts should your child require additional support at school.

Image shows a small group of happy school aged children in a playground

Autistic, disabled and/or neurodiverse students often find school challenging. They may have communicative, behavioural, and/or physical differences that require additional support. Special Education serves to provide the programs, supports, and placements these students need to allow them to be successful at school. The Education Act in Ontario requires that school boards provide, or purchase from another school board, special education programs and services for “exceptional” students. A student is identified as exceptional when their learning needs meet the criteria for:

  • Behaviour

  • Communication (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Learning Disability, Language Impairment, Speech Impairment, Deaf or hard of Hearing)

  • Intellectual (Giftedness, Developmental Disability, Mild Intellectual Disability)

  • Physical (Physical Disability, Blind Low Vision)

  • Multiple

The school may recommend that an IPRC (Identification, Placement, and Review Committee) meeting be held to formally identify a student as being exceptional. However, a parent may also make a request in writing to the the school principal. Within 15 school days of making the referral, the principal must send a written reply that includes an approximate date of the IPRC meeting (please note that this meeting may take weeks/months to set up) and a parent’s guide containing information about the IPRC.

The IPRC determines if a student meets the criteria for being exceptional and will decide the educational placement of that student. Placements will either be in a regular class or a special education class, and are reviewed at least once each school year (IPRC review).

Placement options are:

  • A regular class with indirect support where the student is placed in a regular class for the entire day, and the teacher receives specialized consultative services.

  • A regular class with resource assistance where the student is placed in a regular class for most or all of the day and receives specialized instruction, individually or in a small group, within the regular classroom from a qualified special education teacher.

  • A regular class with withdrawal assistance where the student is placed in a regular class and receives instruction outside the classroom, for less than 50 per cent of the school day, from a qualified special education teacher.

  • A special education class with partial integration where the student is placed in a special education class for at least 50 per cent of the school day, but is integrated with a regular class for at least one instructional period daily.

  • A full-time special education class where the student is placed for the entire school day.

Image is a flowchart showing Ontario's IPRC process for publicly funded schools
Source: Lambton Kent District School Board

After the student’s educational placement has been determined by the IPRC, the principal is responsible for ensuring that an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is prepared within 30 school days (or 30 school days after school start for students that previously have been identified).

According to the Ministry of Education, the IEP “is a working document which describes the strengths and needs of an individual exceptional pupil, the special education program and services established to meet that pupil’s needs, and how the program and services will be delivered.”

Every IEP must include:

  • program goals

  • an outline of the special education services the student will receive

  • a statement about how the student’s progress will be reviewed

  • for students 14 years and older, a transition plan

The IEP should also outline any accommodations and/or modifications that may be needed to help the student reach his/her program goals. Alternative programming may also be put into an IEP. These are goals that are not specifically part of the Ontario curriculum. Examples of alternative programs may include speech remediation, social skills, self-help/personal skills and/or personal care programs.

The development of an IEP should be a collaborative effort among teachers, parents, the student, the school, and other professionals involved with the student. Parents must be asked to sign the IEP and indicate whether or not they were consulted (please note that such "consultation" doesn't necessarily involve a meeting - it may be via survey, email, phone call, etc) during its development. Parents are also entitled to receive a copy of the final IEP.

The IEP is kept in the Ontario Student Record (OSR), unless parents object in writing. Because the IEP is a working document, adjustments to its program goals may be necessary throughout the school year. Those adjustments should be noted and significant changes should be shared with the parent. The resources listed below provide more detailed information about special education services, IEPs, and the IPRC process.

NOTE: There is some debate as to whether or not the IEP can be considered a legal contract. According to some Special Education advocates, it may be more appropriate to regard the IEP as a legal working document. Unlike an IPRC ruling, there is no real process or procedure to appeal an IEP that a parent/caregiver disagrees with. Signing the IEP just means you’ve been consulted. It does not mean that you agree to it. If you’re in a position where your child’s needs are not being met in school, take a look at the “Education Advocacy” links below.
Also keep in mind that Special Education supports can look different from school board to school board. For example, some school boards have self-contained special education classes while others provide a more integrative model of education. As well, school boards have a range of professionals beyond teaching staff who assist in supporting students with special needs. Your school board may have access to child and youth workers, itinerant teachers for the blind, deaf, gifted, etc., speech-language pathologists, or psychologists, just to name a few. The board’s Special Education Plan is a good source of information about special education services and supports provided by each board and can be found on the board’s website.


Ministry of Education Documents

Special Education Plan

1) School boards are required to maintain a Special Education Plan, review it annually, amend it from time to time to meet current needs of its exceptional students, and submit any amendment(s) to the minister. Members of the community, and particularly parents of children who are receiving special education programs and services, are invited to provide input into the board’s special education plan. This may be done through the board’s SEAC at any point throughout the year prior to April as the ministry requires the plan to be submitted by May 15. Your board’s Special Education Plan should be available on the board website.

Other Documents

Other Resources/Downloads

2) Autism Ontario


Image shows the  chain of command for Ontario's publicly funded schools
Source: The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL)

Image shows the process that parents/caregivers can take in order to deal with concerns at school
Graphic created by Sherry Caldwell of the Ontario Disability Coalition for Easter Seals At School

Ontario Special Education Tribunal (OSET)

If you are not satisfied with the IPRC decisions made by your child’s school board, there are steps you can take at the school board level to try to resolve your concerns. These include asking for a second IPRC meeting and, if that doesn’t work, appealing to a Special Education Appeal Board (SEAB).

At that point, if you are still not satisfied with your child’s placement, then you can appeal to the OSET. The Education Act requires parents to “exhaust all rights of appeal” by going through the IPRC and SEAB, before making an appeal to the OSET.

Education Advocacy

Transition Planning Resources (Elementary to Secondary)

Transition Planning Resources (Post Secondary)

Inclusive Education Resources

Here are two other school-related articles from Peel Autism Resource that you can also check out:

Image is the Peel Autism Resource logo. Black text reads "Peel Autism Resource". Underneath is a rainbow infinity symbol representing neurodiversity

* Disclaimer: Please note that the content posted here is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice on any subject matter. In using this website, you accept that Balance Support and Self Care Studios will not be held liable for any discrepancies or errors, claims, liabilities, losses, costs, damages or expenses (including attorney's fees) arising from the use of the information contained thereon. The resources, products, and providers listed do not signify endorsement. It is your responsibility to verify any information obtained from this website to your own satisfaction

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