I would like to focus this month’s report on the theme of student services and the systems in place to support children with special needs within the jurisdiction of the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board.
Each School Board is responsible for establishing a process of identification, assessment, program planning and evaluation for students with special needs. Much of the following is cited from our Special Education policy as well as the Department of Education policy.
The school board is responsible for the implementation of this process; therefore, each procedural step should be documented in the school board’s special education policy. School boards are encouraged to refer to the appropriate sections of the Department of Education’s Special Education Policy.
Identification, Assessment, and Program Planning Process
Stage 1: Screening and Identification
This stage may be initiated by a variety of people. Some children and students may come to school with assessments and programming information from other agencies or from another school. Some students may have been in school for a number of years, and their special needs may be identified at a later stage. The planning process can be initiated at any time, based on student need.
If a student has been identified as needing an individual program plan before entry to school, the team may wish to start the process at Stage 3, Referral to Program Planning Team, to avoid delay.
Parents are expected to be involved at the beginning of the process. Classroom teachers, parents, students, and outside agency personnel and resource teachers are all possible initiators at this stage. The principal should be aware of any communication concerning students at this stage.
Stage 2: Exploration of Instructional Strategies
After a student has been identified as requiring additional planning to meet his or her needs, the classroom teacher uses available material and human resources to explore a variety of strategies in the learning process. In all schools there is a wealth of experience to draw upon. In exploring alternative methods of working with students, teachers may also wish to consult co-coordinators, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, or other available personnel. The key at this stage is to be as creative as possible in determining a wide variety of behavioral and/or instructional strategies to meet student needs while ensuring accurate record keeping in terms of the outcomes of utilizing these approaches. Determining why a method does not produce the desired outcome can yield as much information as one that does. Co-operation and collaboration among professionals and parents are essential at this stage.
The identification, assessment, and program planning may not go beyond this stage for many students, as their needs may be met through adaptations that support them in achieving provincially approved curriculum outcomes. However, adaptations will require review at least once annually, as student needs change over time. It is also necessary to ensure that the adaptations are supporting student success in meeting the outcomes.
Stage 3: Referral to Program Planning Team
If a student’s needs are not met as outlined in stage 2, the classroom or subject teacher and/or parent should make a referral to the principal to establish a program planning team for the student. In some boards there are school teams that provide peer support for problem solving and creative suggestions for meeting student needs. This team may also be involved in prioritizing referrals. If either the teacher or parent disagrees on the need for a referral, the matter should be referred to the principal. Guidance counselors and resource teachers may provide valuable insight on student strengths and challenges at this stage.
The Education Act outlines the responsibility of school boards in this regard: “A school board shall, in accordance with this Act and the regulations … develop and implement educational programs for students with special needs within regular instructional settings with their peers in age, in accordance with the regulations and the Minister’s policies and guidelines…” [Section 64(2)(d)].
The responsibility of teachers to engage in the process is also outlined in the act: “It is the duty of a teacher in a public school to … implement teaching strategies that foster a positive learning environment aimed at helping students achieve learning outcomes; … participate in individual program planning and implement individual program plans, as required, for students with special needs…” [Section 26(1)(c)(g)].
The format of the referral depends on school and school board procedures. The initiator of the referral may be required to have certain types of information available for the principal in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to select team members and set a date for the program planning team meeting. Information required could include anecdotal information, observation records, informal assessment, interviews with the student and involved agencies, school records, or any other information available that may be of help in program planning. Care should be taken not to use outdated or irrelevant assessment data. (See policies 2.4 and 2.5.)
Stage 4: Program Planning Team Meeting
The program planning team must ensure that the problem or difficulty facing the student and/or teachers and parents is clarified before proceeding with the planning. The reason for referral does not always match the team’s clarification of the problem, and careful problem solving at this stage can prevent unnecessary or inappropriate steps being taken.
Team members are those who have responsibility for the student’s learning. The team includes the principal or vice-principal, teachers directly involved in teaching the student, and parents (see Policy 2.4). These members form the core of the student’s program planning team. The selection of additional members depends on the needs of the students and on the personnel resources of the school board and community. In some cases, students may have ongoing involvement with health or community agency professionals. These professionals may be invited to a program planning team meeting to share their understanding of the student’s learning needs, and written reports can also be shared – with parental consent – if they are not able to attend a meeting. It should be noted that the school retains responsibility for programming and implementation decisions. In cases where there are many teachers involved, as in high school, reports can be gathered from teachers for presentation at the team meeting; however, key personnel should be present. In some cases, this may include the student, especially at a high school level when career/transitional decisions are being discussed. Every attempt should be made to encourage parents to feel comfortable in presenting their views of student’s strengths and challenges.
The team meeting provides an opportunity for members to come together to clarify, given all available information, the student’s strengths and challenges and to decide on future actions to be taken in terms of program planning. The meeting should not be a forum for teachers, administrators, and other agency personnel to present a completed program to the parents. If this is done, the parents become outsiders to the process and do not have the opportunity to affect decision making in any meaningful way. Together, the members should discuss the information each has observed and collected. Concerns should be expressed openly and information presented, without judgmental rebuttal. However, in cases where differences of opinion occur, the chairperson acts as a mediator in the process.
The team decides whether or not to proceed with the development of an IPP. The meeting may highlight the need for adaptations while maintaining the outcomes of a prescribed course. When this occurs, adaptations must be documented and stored in the student’s cumulative file. [See the Adaptations: Strategies and Resources fact sheet, and Supporting Student Success: Resource Programming and Services (2002)]. However, when the outcomes of the provincially approved curriculum must be changed or additional outcomes are needed to meet the needs of the student, an IPP becomes necessary. An IPP may focus on behavioral as well as curriculum outcomes to address student behaviors that may inhibit learning. At this point the chairperson designates responsibility areas to the team members to develop the IPP according to the priorities, outcomes, and strategies set at the meeting or to collect further information if necessary. Minutes of the program planning team meetings are distributed to team members by the chair.
Stage 5: Individual Program Plan Development
The student’s program planning team uses information gathered to write the individual program plan. Those who have responsibility for implementation of any part of the IPP should be involved in developing the outcomes, and deciding on strategies and evaluation procedures. The IPP includes the following (Policy 2.6):
Stage 6: Implementation of Individual Program Plan
Team members are assigned responsibility areas and monitor student progress. The teacher responsible for teaching the student is also responsible for evaluating and reporting to parents the student’s progress in that curriculum area (policies 2.5 and 2.6).
Stage 7: Monitoring
Teachers and other designated professional team members are required to evaluate individual program plans in order to continually assess student progress.
Stage 8: Review of Individual Program Plan
The program planning team is responsible for reviewing the student’s progress toward meeting the outcomes of the IPP and meeting to discuss changes when necessary. The individual program should be reviewed prior to each reporting period.
The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board recognizes that there is a need for flexibility in student programming. Student placement in a Learning Centre is a result of referral from various stakeholders in a student’s education (parents, teachers, psychologists, medical professionals, etc.) as part of the Program Planning Team. The referral goes to the system Placement Committee who reviews and approves placement.
Inclusive educational philosophy promotes student centered learning and therefore respects the need for a student’s program to be individualized. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board provides services at all levels of the learning process. Every effort is made to accommodate student needs within the regular classroom setting. Shaping a program to facilitate each student’s needs may include time outside of the regular classroom in an environment that permits more one to one assistance for the student. The amount of time spent in the Learning Centre is therefore dependent on each student’s individual program plan.
The school board accommodates all students requiring Learning Centre placement. Learning Centres focus on academic growth, social skills, self-organization skills, personal independence, communication skills, and recreation and leisure skills.
Some Learning Centres are designed to facilitate students with multiple needs requiring more concentrated assistance with their learning and their physical independence. The program in these Learning Centres may include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language services and specific programs such as STAR (Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research), PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and TTAP( TEACCH Transition Assessment Profile).
Other Learning Centres are designed to meet the needs of students who benefit from academic support in several different areas. These students work throughout the school and return to the Learning Centre as their academic schedule determines.
Transitioning Transition Support
Transition planning is a collaborative process that is most often initiated by the school program planning teams. This process should involve the parents and anyone working with that student who is able to contribute to the transition planning.
In order to receive this transition support a Transition Support Referral must be completed and sent to the Coordinator of Student Services for approval. With the approval of the Coordinator of Student Services, the Transition Support Lead Teacher or members of the Transition Lead Team can help to support school program planning teams with this process.
What is Transitioning?
Transitioning is the passage from one stage to another and is a lifelong process. Transition occurs when a student moves from home to school, from grade to grade, from school to school, from school to community. (Transition Planning for Students with Special Needs: The Early Years through to Adult Life, 2005, p. 5).
Transition planning takes into consideration the major aspects of each student's life experiences and assists in determining appropriate educational resources and programming. (Transition Planning, p. 3)
Transition planning is essential if we are to be empowered to improve the quality of our students' independent lives. (Transition Planning, p. 5)
Transition planning is part of the individual planning process for each student with special needs... School to community transition planning should begin when a student enters junior high school. (Policy 2.7, Special Education Policy Manual, 1996, p.49)
Transition planning is necessary at key transition stages for any student for whom an individual program plan (IPP) has been developed, as well as, for those students who do not have an IPP, but whose special needs related to transitioning must be addressed. (Transition Planning, 2005)
Although transition planning occurs for all students during their years in school, it is essential that individualized and collaborative transition plans be developed for those students requiring additional supports to achieve their potential.
The Transition Planning Process The transition planning process has four essential components: policy and guiding principles, collaborative consultation, the individualized transition planning process, and the development and implementation of an individualized transition plan. (Transition Planning, p. 3)
Establish Individual Transition Plan Outcomes → Base Outcomes on Strengths, Needs, and Aspirations → Engage in Community Resource Mapping → Identifying Existing or Required Services, Supports, and/or Programs → Linking the Outcomes to Services, Supports, and/or Programs. (Supporting Student Success, 2005)
Transition planning for students with special needs is a process that involves the cooperation, collaboration, and participation of students, parent(s)/guardian(s), educators, and other professionals to ensure that an individualized transition plan is developed to support the student through key transition stages. (Transition Planning, p. 9)
What is a Transition Plan?
A transition plan is a written document that reflects outcomes developed collaboratively in response to the specific strengths and needs of the student in relation to a transition phase in the student’s life. (Transition Planning, p. 6)
Effective Transition Planning Involves:
Early identification and assessment
Other supports for students with special needs include speech language, assistive technology, Steps to Success, ASD, teacher assistants, social workers, guidance counsellors, classroom teachers and Board based administrators. The new government suggested they may review the area of Student Services in the next year or so and we look forward to working with them.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to direct your attention, and that of the board members and staff, to read the comments from our school principals that are placed on individual school websites. These items represent the awards, achievements and successes of our students and staff within the boundaries of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. Again, I ask the principals to ensure that these important communications are kept up-to-date.
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