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Ottawa-Carleton District School Board looks to integrate more special needs kids into general classroom

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It could mark the biggest change in 25 years, as the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board looks to overhaul its elementary programs, a decision that could integrate more special needs students into the general classroom.

"Instead of having three or four staff to six students in a specialized classroom, you might have one of those students in a general classroom with a full time (educational assistant)," said Lyra Evans, OCDSB trustee.

The OCDSB launched an elementary program review last month to examine the six programs it offers — English with Core French, Middle French Immersion, Early French Immersion, Alternative, and Ottawa-Carleton Virtual — along with special education and English as a Second Language supports and services. The goal of the review, which isn't slated to be implemented until the fall of 2025, is to determine whether the current program model still serves the needs of the community.

Cathy Varrette's nine-year-old son Nicholas has a learning and intellectual disability along with ADHD and autism. He's currently in a specialized classroom that supports his needs.

"He's actually doing hands-on things that are good for him and his development and he's with his friends," said Varrette.

That wasn't always the case. Varrette says for both Grade 1 and 2, the now Grade 4 student was in a mainstream classroom.

"When we were in mainstream, the system wasn't working," said Varrette. "When our EA was absent, there was nobody to fill in, so my son would stay home, and because resources were stretched, he would be home maybe two days a week, if not three."

Parents like Kate Dudley Logue are skeptical whether mainstream classrooms can adequately support students like her son Desmond who has autism, pointing to a lack of resources.

"An environment of a busy mainstream classroom would be extremely difficult for him and ultimately lead to him spending more time out of classroom than in the classroom parents are really concerned about this," said Dudley Logue.

The review comes as the board faces a financial shortfall.

"We have seen decreases to our funding year over year both against inflation and just in general and we're not getting the funding that we need to provide the supports we want to provide," said Evans.

There are roughly 1,200 students in specialized classes in 66 locations across the city.

Part of the review Evans says is finding a better way to serve students at their local schools instead of sending them outside their community.

But some parents worry changes could be detrimental.

Public consultations

The OCDSB is holding a series of public consultations on the elementary program review. You can find out more on the board's website.

Here is a list of upcoming meetings:

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

D. Roy Kennedy Public School – 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Glashan Public School – 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School – 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Sawmill Creek Elementary School – 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Avalon Public School – 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

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