Logo for the Greater Essex County District School Board. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)Logo for the Greater Essex County District School Board. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

ETFO concerned about review of spec ed program at GECDSB

An ad campaign launched by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario warning of cuts to special education comes amidst a review of one such program at the Greater Essex County District School Board.

Spokesman Scott Scantlebury said the review of the Reaching Individual Success and Excellence, or RISE, Program has nothing to do with budgetary concerns; the board faces a $9-million deficit this year, but to gauge its effectiveness.

"The GECDSB's Special Education Department is working with a research team to facilitate a review of the Reaching Individual Success and Excellence Program," he wrote in response to a query earlier this month from WindsorNewsToday.ca. "They are investigating whether the RISE Program is meeting the academic, social, and engagement goals of students and their families."

The review of the program that caters to the needs of 800 students started a year and a half ago. Interviews with students, staff administration, and families began last October, and the research team should have recommendations within the coming weeks.

Dr Gillian Parekh from York University is co-leading the review with Dr Andrew Allen from the University of Windsor and Dr Kathryn Underwood from Toronto Metropolitan University.

ETFO Greater Essex President Mario Spagnuolo said school boards across the province are reviewing their special education programs, and some have already made cuts.

"We believe the writing is on the wall," said Spagnuolo. "If it does get dismantled, we're going to see kids being thrown into a mainstream classroom without the proper supports."

Students enrolled in the RISE program receive specialized instruction focused on language arts and math in a classroom with eight to 11 students. They spend half their day in a special education classroom and the rest in a regular classroom.

Spagnolo said the union local recently surveyed members and 98 per cent believe the school board should invest more resources, not less, into special education, and 99 per cent said the programs are effective.

He fears placing special education students in a regular classroom will negatively impact all pupils.

"They'll be put into a classroom with 30, 32 kids with various needs and the teachers will not have the time to meet the needs of every individual student," said Spagnuolo.

The public school board is experiencing a shortage of support staff, and Spagnolo believes cutting special education programs will exacerbate the shortage.

The union urges parents to call their MPPs and board trustees to express their support for special education.

"Other school boards have done the exact same thing that this board is doing, and we believe we're going down the same path," urged Spagnuolo. "We need to be vocal now before the decision is even made."

The school board has not decided on the future of special education programs and typically approves its budget in June for the following school year.

Read More Local Stories