An Introduction to Special Education in Ontario

All students require support from teachers, classmates, family, and friends in order to thrive and to gain full benefit from their school experience. Some students have special needs that require supports beyond those ordinarily received in the school setting. In Ontario, students who have behavioural, communicational, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities, may have educational needs that cannot be met through regular instructional and assessment practices. These needs may be met through accommodations, and/or an educational program that is modified above or below the age-appropriate grade level expectations for a particular subject or course. Such students may be formally identified as exceptional pupils. The ministry sets out definitions of exceptionalities that must be used by school boards after determining that a student is an “exceptional pupil”.

All students formally identified as exceptional by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) must have access to an education that will enable them to develop the knowledge and skills they need in order to participate in the life of Ontario's communities. The Education Act requires school boards to provide in accordance with the regulations special education programs and special education services for its exceptional pupils. Specific procedures for the identification and placement of exceptional pupils are set out in Regulation 181/98. This regulation also provides for the regular review of the identification and placement of a student and for the appeal of identification and/or placement decisions with which parents/guardians disagree. The document, Highlights of Regulation 181/98, is available on this website.

In the 2014/2015 school year (the most recent figures available) more than 178,500 students were identified by an IPRC as exceptional pupils. A further 162,000 students who were not formally identified were provided with special education programs and services.

School boards must develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for every identified student. School boards also have the discretion to develop an IEP for students who have not been formally identified as exceptional but who are receiving special education programs and/or special education services.

An IEP is a written plan describing the special education program and/or services required by a particular student, based on a thorough assessment of the student's strengths and needs that affect the student's ability to learn and demonstrate learning.

A student's IEP must typically have a direct progress reporting link to the Provincial Report Card.

In some cases, a student's program will include, in part or in whole, expectations derived from an alternative program (such as social skills, communication, and behaviour management) as described in an Individual Identification Plan (IEP).

If a parent believes their child will benefit from special education programs and /or services as described in an IEP and the school board does not agree, the parent has the right to request that an IPRC meet to determine if their child is an exceptional student. All exceptional students must have an IEP.