Support for students with special needs requires long-term changes, not short-term tweaks

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Implementing long-term supports for students with special needs is pressing in the elementary setting — without proper resources in elementary classrooms, students get left behind. 

In a recent Globe and Mail article, Sam Hammond, the head of Ontario’s elementary teachers’ unions, was quoted pushing the province to focus more resources towards special needs students to help better integrate them into classrooms, citing violent or disruptive incidents that may happen involving those students.

In a Kingston context, this past summer, The Kingston Whig-Standard reported a substantial cut to funding for special education services in the Limestone District School Board, due to a change in how funding was allocated throughout the province. 

It’s true these kinds of cuts are sometimes warranted. But the way the province deals with funding for special education has a systematic impact beyond the classroom.

As university students, we’re often privileged to have the support of academic accommodations and other services to help us cope. While those services aren’t always perfect, they’re in place so that students can seek out at their own convenience and comfort the support that they need to complete their education.

But these resources aren’t as valuable if the students who really need them don’t have the help earlier on in their education.

At the elementary level, it’s a two-part issue — teachers and educational assistants are trying to help these students while also being responsible for a dozen or so more students in an integrated classroom.

An absence of proper funding means only a couple of educational assistants (EA) per school, which affects both students with disabilities who’re lacking in proper support and other students in the classroom as well. Funding isn’t only needed because only one group is vulnerable or at risk, but because all three are affected — the student with increased need, other students and the educators. 

If incidents keep occurring because the province is hesitant to provide proper support to educational assistance, it only further stigmatizes behavioural health or mental illness.

If instead, the province can normalize the idea that those with special needs and behavioural illnesses can get into and succeed in both post-secondary and life afterwards, we’d take a big step towards making education truly accessible.

Journal Editorial Board 

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