As Canadians we are known for our unwavering outreach to others, our progressive initiatives, and our instinctive apologies when we perceive that we may have been remiss. Why is it then, that when parents seek services for special education there are no apologies- only excuses and reasons to blame the system which come in a variety of prepackaged scripts that vary little between school boards?
Why is the school system so untypically Canadian in its approach to special education services, access to information and customer service to parents? As Canadians we apologize for everything, yet when it comes to fundamental questions regarding the education of our most vulnerable students there is silence, dismissal, denial, deflection of the issue by blaming another aspect of the system: lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of space, lack of programs, lack of availability and waiting lists.
Why are there no apologies for two year waiting lists for intervention services that everyone knows now to be critical for children and youth to be implemented as soon as possible to be effective?
The education sector remains intimidating to parents, complicated to navigate and adversarial when one wants to advocate for their child’s needs, which mirrors the legal system more than the collaborative pedagogy that reflects the teaching practice. Perhaps the influence of the legal sector on the education sector has created this vacuum of non-responsiveness, as many legal tactics are felt in the administrative behaviour of school board personnel and characterize school board organizational culture.
The authoritative entitlement posture of school board entities is no longer appropriate, colliding with the goodwill of teachers and educational assistants who work covertly to ensure positive daily experiences for students. The rising number of complaints to the Ontario Ombudsman, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and litigation through the Courts show an emerging landscape of pushback from parents fed up with the entrenched way school boards deal with the advocacy efforts of parents for their children.
Let there be apologies for special education, and proactive engagement in improving areas where school boards and the Ministry of Education have been remiss in access, services, support and information about rights to educate parents. No more sideshow legal settlements to make issues hide under confidentiality clauses when rights have been trampled upon. Settlements between school boards and parents are not in the public interest and so not fitting our Canadian persona.