Special Education in Ontario

**This is an updated and expanded version of the article that was posted last year**
Students with ASD often find school challenging. They may have communicative, behavioural, and/or physical difficulties 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
If a student’s ASD diagnosis is already known, the school may recommend that an IPRC (Identification, Placement, and Review Committee) meeting be held to formally identify them as being exceptional. However, a parent may also make a request in writing to the the school principal. Within 15 days of making the referral, the principal must send written notification, including an approximate date of the IPRC meeting 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. 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.
The principal is responsible for ensuring that an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is prepared within 30 school days after the student’s educational placement has been determined. 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 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 they were consulted 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.

Also keep in mind that special education supports can look different school board to school board. For example, some school boards have self-contained special education classes while others provide a more inclusive 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 of 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.


1) Ontario Ministry of Education

2) Parent’s Advocacy in the School

Parent’s Advocacy in the School offers a comprehensive variety of services relating to educational advocacy for children with exceptionalities.

3) Mahony Advocacy

Ed Mahony is a special education resource teacher in Hamilton, Ontario. He has over 20 years of experience teaching educators & parents about ASD, special needs, avoiding crisis behavior & advocacy strategies in colleges & other agencies throughout Ontario.

4) People For Education

This is an independent organization working to support public education in Ontario schools.

5) Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC)

A Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) is a committee of a school board or a school authority that provides important advice on special education.

6) Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO)

LDAO has an IEP online workshop – “IEP 101 for Parents and Students”

7) Special Education Gateway

This is an online portal to effective strategies and resources for teaching students with special needs in Ontario’s elementary and secondary schools.

8) ConnectABILITY

9) Autism OntarioEducation Advocacy Resources

10) Erinoak – downloadable materials to support children and youth with ASD in school

11) School Health Support Services

12) Easter Seals Kids at School

Useful Documents

1) A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Ontario

This is from Learning Disabilities of Ontario (LDAO). It goes through advocacy, the IPRC process, and IEPs.

2) The Individual Education Plan (IEP): A Resource Guide (2004)

This guide is intended to help teachers and others working with students with special needs to develop, implement, and monitor high-quality IEPs. A five-step process is recommended. Suggestions and examples are provided, but IEPs, by their very nature, will be individualized on the basis of the particular requirements of the student.

3) Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, and Implementation (2000)

This document describes the province-wide standards that school boards must meet when developing, implementing, and monitoring IEPs.

4) Special Education: A Guide for Educators

This guide provides comprehensive information about legislation, regulations, policies, program planning, and resources pertaining to the education of exceptional pupils in Ontario.

5) Accommodations and Modifications

This document describes the accommodations and modifications that may be part of a student’s IEP.

6) Effective Educational Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

This resource guide is designed to support educators in Ontario schools in planning and implementing effective educational programs for students with ASD. It contains information, strategies, and practices that can be put to use in the school and the classroom. It also includes a collection of sample materials reflecting current practices in schools, as well as lists of references and resources for further reading.

7) Shared Solutions – A Guide to Preventing and Resolving Conflicts Regarding Programs and Services for Students with Special Education Needs

8) Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario – Supporting Students with Special Education Needs Through Progressive Discipline, K to Gr 12

9) Planning Entry into School Resource Guide

This guide is for staff, parents, and community partners to facilitate successful entry to school for all children, including children with special needs.

10) Tools for teachers and parents to use in developing an IEP

11) Questions and Answers Parents May Have Regarding Special Education

12) Autism Ontario

13) OSR (Ontario Student Records) Guidelines

14) “YES, My Child Belongs” – Parent’s Education Handbook

Community Living Toronto has put out a handbook to help parents and caregivers understand special education in Toronto. While some of the resources are specific to Toronto, the information regarding the IEP, IPRC process, and transition into secondary school are still applicable to everyone. (scroll to the bottom to get the PDF for print out)

15) EQAO Guide for Accommodations, Special Provisions, Deferrals, and Exemptions

This guide provides information and directions to assist principals and teachers in making decisions about accommodations for students with special education needs, special provisions for English language learners, deferrals and exemptions.

16) Making a Difference for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Ontario Schools: From Evidence to Action (2007)

The government created a reference group to advise on the most effective ways to meet the needs of students with ASD in Ontario schools.This report is an overview of the discussions held by the reference group, and its final recommendations regarding province-wide implementation of practices to support students with ASD

17) Safe Schools Policy and Practice: An Agenda for Action (2006)

The Safe Schools Action Team was mandated by government to conduct a review of the Safe Schools Act (Part XIII of the Education Act), as well as its regulations, and related policies and administrative practices. The Team heard concerns from parents, educators, support staff, community groups and residents of communities across the province. This report summarizes the results of that review, which was conducted through broad public consultation, with input from more than 700 parents, educators, students, and other community members across Ontario, and written submissions from organizations, school boards and individuals throughout the province.

18) Education For All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6

This report is a day-to-day resource for educators, a useful hands-on reference document that will enable every classroom teacher to fully support all the students in his or her classroom.

19) Ontario Schools: Kindergarten to Grade 12 – Policy and Program Requirements (2016)

This resource sets out the requirements of the Ministry of Education that govern the policies and programs of all publicly funded elementary and secondary English-language schools in Ontario.

20) Policy/Program Memoranda Concerning Special Education

Many policy directives to school boards from the ministry have been issued in the form of numbered policy/program memoranda (PPMs). Some of these PPMs concern special education.

21) Sample Safety Plans

22) Sample IEPs

23) Special Incidence Portion (SIP) Funding Guidelines (2016-17)

School boards may apply for Special Incidence Portion (SIP) funding for staff support to ensure the health and safety both of students who have extraordinarily high needs related to their disabilities and/or exceptionalities and of others at school.

24) Special Equipment Amount (SEA) 2016-17

The Special Equipment Amount (SEA) provides funding to school boards to assist with the costs of equipment essential to support students with special education needs where the need for specific equipment is recommended by a qualified professional.

25) Special Education Companion


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.

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. Search here

2) Standards for School Boards’ Special Education Plans

Transition Planning Resources

1) Transition Planning: A Resource Guide, 2002

A transition plan is the school’s written plan to assist the student in making a successful transition from school to work, further education, and community living. This guide outlines the policies, roles, process and strategies involved.

2) Connections: A Guide to Transition Planning for Parents of Children with a Developmental Disability

3) Transition to College/University Skills for Postsecondary Pathways

This document focuses on transition goals to set in high school so that skills are practiced and developed before starting college or university.

4) The Road to Adulthood -Transition from High School to Community: Resource Guide (Peel Region)

5) Autism in High School

Post Secondary

Education Funding

Each year the Ministry of Education provides funds to school boards through a series of grants. This page contains information on this year’s grants, plus links to information on grants from previous years.

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