Special Education in Ontario (UPDATED)

**This is an updated and expanded version of the article that was posted last year and contains hyperlinks**
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

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 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

There is some debate as to whether or not the IEP can be considered a legal document. That’s probably something  best left to legal experts. However, keep in mind that 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 with it.

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 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) People For Education

3) Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO) – (Check out their IEP online workshop here)

4) Special Education Gateway

5) ConnectABILITY

6) Autism Ontario – Education Advocacy Resources

7) Easter Seals Kids at School

8) EduGains

9) Inclusive Education Canada

Ministry Documents

1) Planning Entry into School Resource Guide

2)  Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Resource Guide (2017)

3) Effective Educational Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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

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

6) Policy/Program Memoranda Concerning Special Education

7) Special Incidence Portion (SIP) Funding Guidelines (2018-19)

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.

8) Special Equipment Amount (SEA) 2018-19

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.

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

10) Special Education Companion

11) OSR (Ontario Student Records) Guidelines

Other Documents

1) Questions and Answers Parents May Have Regarding Special Education

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

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

4) OHRC: Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities

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

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

Other Resources/Downloads

1) Erinoak –  school resources here

2) IEP Tools

3) Autism Ontario

3) Safety Plans (see a sample here)

4) Sample IEPs

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 (Elementary to Secondary)

1) Transition to High School

2) Inventory / Assessment of Functional Skills in Secondary Schools

3) Autism in High School

Transition Planning Resources (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.

Education Advocacy 


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