Alberta education minister set to change special education standards without public consultation


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Education Minister Adriana LaGrange is planning to change the standards for special education in Alberta without open public consultation, prompting concerns from parents of disabled students.

According to a June 11 letter signed by LaGrange and obtained by Postmedia, changes to the 2004 standards for special education are moving though the final approval process and are “anticipated to be released this spring.”

The letter says LaGrange plans to use an order-in-council to update the standards, meaning they would not be subject to discussion or debate in the legislature prior to being implemented.

Multiple organizations that consulted with the government on the changes told Postmedia they are not allowed to comment until the document is public.

Representatives for the special education advocacy group Hold My Hand Alberta say that although the current standards, which were last changed using an order-in-council 17 years ago, do need to be updated to improve access to special education, they feel it should be done publicly with the kind of surveys or roundtable discussions seen ahead of other policy changes.


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“We’ve been asking for an update for over a year but we are concerned about the way it’s being handled because it makes it look like there’s something to hide,” said Keltie Marshall, who has seven children with a range of disabilities.

The standards for special education are the baseline expectations for the education of students with disabilities in the province. They lay out expectations including for assessments, professional standards, placement in classrooms and individualized programming.

Among other things, the standards allow for accommodations for tests and exams, require that an inclusive classroom is the first option considered for students and that staff be trained to help identify and provide programming for students with special needs.

“This is the documents that we as parents would refer to if we had a concern with how our children’s education was being handled,” Marshall said.

The UCP’s 2019 election platform promised to update the standards “to reflect new technologies and practices, to ensure accountability for quality inclusive education, and to protect a vision of parental choice.”

LaGrange was not available for an interview this week. In a statement, her press secretary Nicole Sparrow said virtual engagement sessions were held in December 2020 and January 2021 with “education partners” and that “engagement on the draft ministerial order is still ongoing.”

Sparrow listed more than a dozen groups she said were consulted by the government including the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Alberta Deans of Education, the Alberta School Boards Association and the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta.


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She pointed to the Autism Society Alberta, Inclusion Alberta and the Premier’s Council on Persons with Disabilities as examples of groups consulted that “include perspectives of students and families with disabilities.”

Hold My Hand Alberta said the majority of those consulted are school-related associations that are arm’s-length from children who require special education and the advocacy groups consulted don’t cover the full scope of disabilities.

Member Shantel Sherwood, who has two kids with disabilities, said she would like to see the government consult with parents as well as supports like occupational therapists and speech language pathologists so that they can understand the obstacles that exist.

“I would like to have seen them talk to people who really work with our kids,” she said.

The group wants the rollout of the new standards to be paused so that proper consultation can be done with parents across the province.

“It affects our children and we had no way to know it was happening. We had no way to contribute and we will not have any way to stop it once it’s gone through,” said Sarah Doll, who has two children with disabilities.

The parents say they don’t have faith in the government to make decisions about standards out of the public eye after the way it has handled other issues such as changes to funding for early learning programs known as PUF or the much-criticized draft K-6 curriculum.

“I don’t believe it’s going to adequately protect our children’s right to an education and all that that encompasses because we don’t have that now,” said Doll.


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“So why would the UCP, who’s done all of these things to harm our children, do better without asking or knowing or listening to parents?”

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said there should be broader consultations.

“If you’re going to change something so foundational to children’s learning as the way children are supported who have disabilities you should absolutely be inviting more people into the conversation, not fewer,” she said.

“And you should make sure that the parents of kids who are going to live the consequences have a voice in the process.”

Sparrow said the government expects to share the new standards “in the near future.”

“Parents can continue to engage with their school authorities and elected trustees to strengthen the inclusive learning environment in their schools,” she said.


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