Share |

Printable version of this page (pdf)

Navigating The School System

There are a number of different resources you should be aware of that can help you successfully advocate for your child’s special needs. Keep advocating until you are satisfied that your child is receiving the help that he or she needs.

Even though you may have an IPRC and an IEP for your child, every school year can be like beginning all over again. This is also true if the school principal changes.  You are faced with coaching the new staff involved with your child with all the nuances and quirks that are unique to them. Kids tend to change over time, so that is why it’s helpful to begin the year with an updated profile of your child (See Creating Your Child’s Profile).  Be sure to include as many of your child’s strengths as possible to help school staff build on them.

Often, the best way for you and your school to understand the nature of the difficulties for yourchild is to perform a psychological assessment or psycho-educational assessment (see “Psychological Assessments”, in the Getting Started section).  This should be performed ideally every four years while in elementary school.  This assessment will help advise the development of the IEP and help you learn more effective ways of dealing with your child’s difficulties.  Schools have a limited budget to contract this service for pupils.  If you cannot get one provided through the school, you could check with your employer’s benefit package to see if this can be covered by insurance.

Occupational Therapy can be accessed in school.  For example, if your child has great difficulty with tasks associated with writing, the therapist can advise the school about strategies that will work with your child in the school and can also be the direct link you need to access technological accommodations, like word prediction software, or voice recognition software to assist with this task.  Other areas they can help with are: teaching strategies, sensory recommendations, other assistive technology, etc.  Likewise, Speech and Language Pathology can be co-ordinated through the school and services can be provided during the school day. There is often a wait list for these services.

To access assistive technologies or devices that your child requires to learn, you should be aware of SEA (Special Equipment Amount) and what equipment is covered under this funding.  For more information visit the Ontario Ministry of Education website:

You should also know of the SIP (Special Incidence Portion) funding for high needs. School boards may apply for Special Incidence Portion (SIP) funding for additional staff support.  This is to ensure the health and safety both of other people in the school and the student who has extraordinarily high needs related to their disabilities and/or exceptionalities.

Conflicts sometimes arise while dealing with your school.  The Ontario Ministry of Education has documents to help you work within their framework and problem-solve.  Parents, schools and school board administrations do not always interpret the directives in the same way.  It helps to know what you are advocating for when you engage in problem-solving with your school.  It also bears mentioning that you need to be realistic and focus on one need at a time, rather than multiple requests or demands.

A Special Education Tip Sheet” is provided from People For Education in this section.  Another tip sheet prepared by the Waterloo Region District School Board entitled Communicating With Your School is also provided in this section.  Last, but not least, the Ministry’s document entitled “Shared Solutions – A Guide to Preventing and Resolving Conflicts Regarding Programs & Services for Students with Special Education Needs” is also a great tool.

There are a number of useful documents that can be of help to support you in your child’s journey through school on the Ministry of Education’s website.  (Please see The Ontario Ministry of Education- Special Education Resources”).

We have provided a chart of related Ontario Ministry of Education resources by the areas of concern you may be experiencing.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  The most current source for Ministry of Education information is at

If you have concerns about:Accommodations / Technology / Assistive Devices• SEA (Special Equipment Amount)

• SIP (Special Incidence Portion) 2010-11Bullying (victim or aggressor)• Bullying: A Guide for Parents of Elementary and Secondary      School Students (updated Spring 2011)Conflicts with school or Board• Shared Solutions – A Guide to Preventing and Resolving Conflicts Regarding Programs & Services for Students with Special Education NeedsIdentification, Placement & Review Committee (IPRC)

If you have concerns about: Supporting Ontario Ministry of Education
Documentation (under Special Education):
Assistive Devices
  •  SEA (Special Education Amount)
  • SIP (Special Incidence Portion (2010-11)
 Bullying (victim or aggressor)
  •  Bullying: A Guide for Parents of Elementary and Secondary
    School Students (updated Spring 2011)
Conflicts with school or Board
  •  Shared Solutions – A guide to Preventing and Resolving Conflicts Regarding Programs and Services for Students with Special Education Needs
Identification, Placement & Review Committee (IPRC)Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • An Introduction to Special Education in Ontario
  • The Identification, Placement & Review Committee
  • Resolving Identification or Placement Issues – Procedures for Parent(s)/Guardians
  • Individual Education Plan (IEP) Samples 2004
  • Individual Education Plans – Standards for Development and Implementation 2000
IPRC Appeals
  • The Education Act on Special Education
  • Regulation 181/98
  • The Ontario Special Education Tribunal (for when a parent disagrees on the placement (IPRC) of their child)
Progressive Discipline
  •  Caring and Safe Schools (Supporting Students with Special Education Needs Through Progressive Discipline, Kindergarten to Grade 12
  •  SIP (Special Incidence Funding)
Special Education
  •  Topic headings are: Overview, Policy Direction, Funding, Special Education Advisory Committee, Resource Documents, Special Education Reports/Recommendations, Roles and Responsibilities, Additional Information, Related Information, Advice to Parents, Questions and Answers
Suspensions/voluntary withdrawal from school
  •  Caring and Safe Schools: Supporting Students with Special Education Needs Through Progressive Discipline, Kindergarten to Grade 12
  • Making Ontario Schools Safer: What Parents Need to Know, click on Parents tab then Safe Schools section
Teaching Strategies
  • Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students with Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005
Transition Planning (+14 years)
  • Transition Planning: A Resource Guide, 2002

If you are still without resolution to your problem after dealing with the administration at your school, you can also try talking to the school superintendent, or directly to the Board office and speak to the Executive Superintendent of Education.  (Refer to the “Communicating With Your School.

It is important to maintain a paper trail while communicating with all levels of the school,  Board Office and aothers..

At any time, you may also contact your elected school board trustee.  Trustees can provide information and direction to parents, but they cannot act as a representative of the parent.  Check your local school board website for a listing of trustees.

Trustees and representatives of many local parent associations meet monthly during the school year at the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee meetings.  (Please refer to “Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC)” .  Each Board in Waterloo Region has a listing available on their websites.  The Ontario Ministry of Education site also provides a list of advocacy and support associations under the heading “Advice to Parents”.

If you suspect any of the diagnoses as described in the “WHAT IS” section of this guide, your local parent support group may be able to help you. They may have someone in their membership who has had a similar experience. You may also find someone willing to go along with you to a school meeting to help you with advocacy, or to just to provide moral support or take notes.  (Please refer to the links at the bottom of each definition in the “WHAT IS” section for specific support group information, or check the “Website Resource Listing  in the RESOURCE section at the end of the guide).  Parents for Children’s Mental Health (PCMH) is an umbrella organization that deals with all of the concerns as they are listed in the “WHAT IS” section.  If you cannot find a support group related to your child’s specific needs, PCMH may be the best fit for you.

Links or Useful Resources for NAVIGATING THE SCHOOL SYSTEM:
Ontario Ministry of Education:
SEA Funding in the WRDSB: