Is your child getting all the help they are entitled to under the law? When a child has special needs, whether they are a physical disability, learning disability, autism or other development challenges, giftedness, anxiety or other mental health concern, or a combination of these needs, an educational facility has a legal obligation to provide the necessary the resources your child requires to succeed. While this is the law, it is not always upheld in each school or classroom. This is where the team of education lawyers at DSF can help you and your child to get the education they deserve.
“Accommodations” is the term given to the additional learning tools and physical structures required by special needs students, also referred to as “exceptional pupils.” Available accommodations can vary between schools and school boards, and between public and private schools, but some examples include physical changes to the classroom to accommodate a disability, reduced workload for students who need to work more slowly, extended time for tests, having material presented in a different way (i.e. a teacher may read the question aloud versus having the student read it), receiving specialized one-on-one assistance either in a regular classroom, or in a specialized classroom, or perhaps even a specialized program in another school.
The accommodations that your child is to receive should be set out in an Individual Education Plan or IEP. If your child attends a publically-funded school, it may also be helpful to go through the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) to have the Board formally recognize your child’s needs and commit to meeting them.
When a school id not providing accommodations, or not providing accommodations that help your child, then there are several legal avenues to pursue to get your child the additional assistance he or she needs to fully benefit from the school system.
For many cases surrounding your child’s special needs, the matter can be dealt with without professional, legal intervention. If your child is struggling with one or more aspects in their learning, the first step should be to contact the school and request an accommodation. If you are not sure how to do that, you can meet with a DSF education lawyer to get some tips.
Legal assistance may be needed if the school fails to provide the accommodation, or, if the following issues arise:
If the School is Uncooperative: Oftentimes, legal intervention comes about after an individual has already attempted to correct the situation themselves. If you find yourself in a position where the school is unwilling or unable to comply, a DSF education lawyer can help.
If the School is punishing your child for having special needs, or otherwise being “different” or conveying to you that you child should not come to school, then it may be time to retain a DSF education lawyer involved to protect your child’s rights and ensure the school is treating your child fairly and appropriately.
When Tensions are Rising: Not surprisingly, hiring a lawyer is not an ideal way to keep the situation at hand, amicable. However, as is often the case, if your relationship with the school’s administration is already heading towards being contentious, a DSF lawyer can provide a supportive and knowledgeable representative for you and your child.
If the School Has Legal Counsel: If your school board has already hired a lawyer or has indicated that they intend to, hiring a lawyer of your own will provide protection and assurance that you can get the results you need.
Convenience: Many people find themselves in the position of wanting to speak to the school and fight for their child’s rights but simply do not have the time. DSF lawyers can take on the burden of communicating and negotiating with the school to save you time and effort.
While there are many valid reasons and appropriate times for legal counsel, the delicate nature of education law for special needs children requires additional consideration. Because of the potential effects on your child and other students, it is important to proceed with legal action responsibly to minimize stress on your child and maintain a good relationship with the school.
One important thing to remember is that educational professionals at the school are the people who have the training, skills, and experience to select or develop the programs for students with special needs. The courts and the Human Rights Tribunal will not tell a school that is accommodating an exceptional pupil to change the type of accommodation unless it is clear, beyond any doubt, that the accommodation provided is not addressing the student’s needs. Our education lawyers can help you assemble the proof to determine what accommodation is appropriate.
Parents, guardians, or student advocates do not get to choose what type of accommodation a student receives, but they should be part of the discussion about how the school will meet their child’s learning needs and the creation of Individual Education Plans. However, parents and guardians are certainly entitled to be heard in the Student Identification and Placement process. They can also appeal or take alternative steps if the school is refusing to provide accommodations or is providing accommodations that do no assist the student.
If a parent disagrees with the way that programming is provided to a student with identified special needs, it is up to the parent to gather the evidence, usually professional assessments, to show what the school is doing is wrong. Getting a school to change the way it is teaching a particular child requires a demonstration that the child is clearly not benefiting from the current plan or that another plan is deemed better. That is not an easy task.
While there are many potential hurdles to getting proper accommodations for a special needs child, having proper legal representation from the knowledgeable DSF team can help you get the best educational experience for your child.
To schedule a consultation with one of our Ontario Education Law lawyers, contact us at (416) 449-1400. We offer three convenient locations in Toronto, Whitby and Barrie to serve our clients better.
B.A. (HONS.), LL.B
B.A. (HONS.), LL.B., LL.M., C.S.