I feel compelled to write on behalf of the students I represent because many of them cannot communicate in conventional manners of speech or print. I am speaking of the many children in our district who are identified as exceptional students. Please listen carefully so their silent voices can be heard.
In 1980, the Ministry of Education regulated Special Education in Ontario through Bill 82. Funding was made available to ensure appropriate services would be made available for any and all students that have identified exceptionalities according to its guideline. The exceptionalities included social and emotional physical disabilities, communication disabilities, developmental disabilities, as well as a combination of these disabilities.
As a result of this initiative, Special Education resources were set up within public schools to identify students’ needs and to develop individual education plans.
The backbone of this restructuring was a direct result of parental influence. Parents fought and won the battle to send their exceptional children to public school. Both the parents and the Ministry of Education agreed that integration of all students was the least restrictive environment for exceptional and non-exceptional students. Political activism by parents and other advocacy groups on behalf of students with special needs had—and continues to have—a powerful effect on government.
On behalf of the voiceless children, my question is this: why is the current government and minister of education determined to undermine children’s futures by cutting back the support the students require to survive and be viable in our society? Many of the government’s recent initiatives sabotage the efforts and gains of the past 15 years by withdrawing funding and changing legislation.
Bill 136 drastically reduces resources available to support exceptional students in our public school system. What will happen to the 10 percent of our students in the Fort Frances-Rainy River district who currently receive services from Special Education? The government has not identified what the future will be for these students. Perhaps they have either not thought of these students, or maybe they refuse to acknowledge that exceptional students are just as important as politicians and their hidden agendas.
Is there an answer to such an atrocity against children?
Universal access to education is guaranteed now for exceptional students. Students with special needs are generally perceived as just that—students. In short, Special Education has become a normal, integral and functional part of education.
My request is simple. Please assist in supporting the needs of all students in our district and province. Send a message that is clear to the Ministry of Education that it is not acceptable to deny any student his or her right to an education.
And remember the power of one.
Donna L. Kowalchuk
Resource Teacher, FFHS