COVID-19: Back to School Tips for Children with Disabilities

While parents and guardians are normally apprehensive at the start of the school year, this year brings new and never before seen challenges. With the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and guardians are wondering whether to send their children to school or opt for online learning, and if their child will be attending school in-person, what measures are in place to ensure that their child stays safe. These challenges are exacerbated for children with disabilities.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has no comprehensive reopening plan – it is up to each school board to develop its own plan for returning students, including students receiving special education supports and services. It would be best to consult with your school board to see what strategies are being implemented to help students transition back to school.

That being said, no matter what school board your child belongs to, here are some general tips that could be useful to ensure a successful return back to school for a child with a disability:

    1. Contact your child’s school now – don’t wait for the school to contact you! Ideally, you should share your child’s needs with the school before the school year begins, and update them on any changes since the pandemic began. Some factors to consider are:
          • Social interaction;
          • Behaviour;
          • Health and mental health;
          • Learning – such as skills that have been lost or gained;
          • Technology needs – including not having the proper devices for online learning;
          • Remote learning needs – such as issues with virtual platforms; and
          • Needs specific to COVID-19, such as assistance or supports required for social distancing, wearing a mask, or handwashing.
    1. Ask to meet with the child’s teacher, principal or other supports to discuss your child’s needs. Remember that meetings can be held virtually, which provides more flexibility to parents and guardians.
    2. If your child will be attending school in-person, try to coordinate an early visit so that they can get used to their physical surroundings.
    3. Your child’s right to be accommodated is the same as it was pre-COVID-19. Your child is still entitled to have an Identification Placement and Review Committee (“IPRC”) identify them and their placement, and to make recommendations for your child’s Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) based on their needs. Consider modifying the IEP to add needs specific to the pandemic, such as COVID-19 safety measures, transitions and/ or remote learning needs.
    4. Whether your child is learning in school or online, their teacher and/or educational assistant (“EA”) should be communicating their plan for the day with you, and if there is an IEP in place, they should be accommodating the child’s needs. For example, if online learning is challenging for your child, an audio call with the EA may work better.
    5. Be patient! Remember that principals, teachers and support staff are doing their best to navigate the ongoing health crisis. Parents and guardians should be proactive in bringing their child’s needs to the school’s attention, keeping in mind that schools are trying their utmost to assist their students and keep everyone safe and healthy.

There are also some great online resources for parents and guardians who are preparing for back to school. We would highly recommend Ontario Autism Coalition’s video on “Action Tips for Parents to Prepare for School Reopening” and Autism Ontario’s COVID-19 Back to School Transition Meeting Checklist, available in French and English. These resources are not Autism-specific, but generally useful for parents and guardians of children with disabilities who are returning to school.

You can also find guidance from the government of Ontario online, such as its Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools and Operational guidance: COVID-19 management in schools.

A Note on Exclusions

There is a growing concern amongst parents, guardians and disability advocates that due to challenges faced by schools during the pandemic, more schools will ask students with disabilities to stay at home (also known as an “exclusion”) or attend school part-time/modified school day. The exclusion of students from school is an ongoing human rights issue, as it disproportionately impacts students with disabilities receiving special education. These measures should not be used as a pandemic protocol. School boards and staff are obligated to accommodate students with disabilities and implement the student’s IEP, notwithstanding the pandemic. PooranLaw will be monitoring the situation closely.

If you require legal assistance with respect to education or other matters, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.


Ontario Autism Coalition – Action Tips for Parents to Prepare for School Reopening:

Autism Ontario – COVID-19 Back to School Transition Meeting Checklist:

Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.