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Understanding IEPs and IPRCs in Ontario Schools: A Guide for Parents

Navigating the world of education can be a complex journey, especially when acronyms like "IEP" and "IPRC" are involved. This guide is here to help you understand what they are, how they work. and the role parents play. We will also discuss how partnering with the internal school team and outside educational consultants can make a significant difference in supporting your child's educational needs.


Here is a handy guide to understanding different terms that may be used and your child’s rights as a student, recognizing that each school board may have slightly different procedures in place. 


Important Terms:

Diagnosis: This is a label used to communicate an individual’s particular profile of strengths and needs. While we encourage a strength based approach, diagnosis often involves a focus on areas of deficits and difficulty. Diagnosis is a controlled act that can only be provided by a registered health professional with the appropriate designation. Diagnoses that may be relevant to an Individual Education Plan (IEP) are medical diagnoses, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Autism, mental health diagnoses, developmental disabilities, etc. 


School Board Identification: This is not a diagnosis. Rather it is a label used by school boards in Ontario to designate learners into different predetermined categories, called categories of exceptionality. An exceptional pupil is a student who has behavioural, communication, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities that require them to have a special education program or service.


Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC): This committee plays a vital role in identifying and placing students with exceptional needs in Ontario schools. Most often IPRC meetings are held for students who are receiving, or have received, a diagnosis (e.g., autism, learning disability) or have physical needs. They determine whether a student should be identified as "exceptional" under the Ministry of Education categories. IPRCs are also the meetings that determine what the most suitable educational placement is within respective boards. Most often the placement is in the mainstream classrooms, but sometimes students are placed in specialized classrooms (e.g., Special Education Classrooms, classrooms for those with intellectual developmental disorder, etc.).


What are the 5 IPRC categories of identification and their subcategories?

The Ministry of Education provides categories and definitions of exceptionalities (click here for further details).


1. Behavioural

  • Behavioural exceptionality

2. Communicational

  • Autism

  • Deaf and hard of hearing

  • Language impairment

  • Speech impairment

  • Learning disability

3. Intellectual

  • Giftedness

  • Mild intellectual disability

  • Developmental disability

4. Physical

  • Physical disability

  • Blind and low vision

5. Multiple

  • Multiple exceptionalities


It is important to note that each school board may have slightly different requirements for students under each exceptionality umbrella, which can be confusing for families at times. For example, the category of “language impairment” can have different definitions to qualify, even between neighboring school boards!


Individual Education Plan (IEP): This is a personalized document designed to support students who need extra help to succeed in Ontario schools. Each IEP is as unique as your child, outlining tailored goals, strategies, and accommodations or modifications required for the student. This document can be created with or without a formal diagnosis by a registered health provider or a school board identification. If the school feels an IEP will be helpful for your child, they will reach out to parents to request permission for its creation. Parents can also advocate for the creation of an IEP, and the school will consider the request. 


How is an IEP Created? 

The creation of an IEP involves a collaborative effort. Often this involves the school Special Education teacher for your child’s grade consulting with the school team (which may include the classroom teacher(s), principal, vice principal, child and youth worker, educational assistant, school psychologist, social worker, etc.) in it’s creation.


Things that are covered in most IEPs:

  • Assessments (internal or external to the school board): Educators and/or specialists may assess your child's strengths and areas needing improvement and document these in the IEP. This can sometimes be supported or largely based on an external assessment submitted by the parent.

  • Setting Goals: Together with the school team, you set achievable educational goals for your child.

  • Supports and Strategies: The IEP details services, accommodations, modifications, and strategies to help your child achieve their goals.

    • Accommodations: These are teaching and assessment strategies, supports, or equipment that is required to enable a student to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Accommodations are done at grade level and do not alter the curriculum. 

    • Modifications: Modifications involve changes to the age-appropriate grade level curriculum expectations of your child. These changes can be one to several grade levels below, depending on the needs of your child. Modifications can be done in one area of the curriculum (e.g., English) or across all areas. 

    • Alternative Expectations: For some youth, the IEP identifies that the youth’s program focuses on skill development in areas that are not represented in the Ontario curriculum (e.g., gross motor skills, life skills, social skills programs, speech remediation programs, etc.). For the vast majority of students, these programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade–level expectations from the Ontario curriculum. Alternative programs are provided in both the elementary and the secondary school level.

  • Monitoring: The IEP is reviewed and adjusted yearly (sometimes more often) to ensure it aligns with your child's progress and needs.


Parental Involvement in IEP Development

Parents should play a role in the IEP development. They may have to strongly advocate to ensure that their child’s rights are met at school and that they receive an appropriate educational program.

Woman sitting at a table holding a piece of paper with a laptop in front of her.

Here's what you can do:

  • Open Communication: Regularly engage with teachers and school staff to discuss your child's needs and progress.

  • Attend Meetings: Participate in IEP meetings, attend the IPRC meeting, and ask questions or express concerns. Document these meetings and conversations. 

  • Review the IEP: Carefully read through the IEP document to ensure it accurately reflects your child's needs. You can ask a special education teacher at the school to review it with you if needed.

  • Advocate for Your Child: Don't hesitate to voice concerns or request changes to the IEP as needed.


The IPRC process includes:

  • Referral: A student may be referred to an IPRC if they have ongoing learning, behavioral, or communication needs. The school can make the referral, or as a parent or guardian, you can submit a written request for an IPRC meeting to your school principal. Once the school principal receives your request, they must, within 15 days, acknowledge your request, request an IPRC meeting for your child and provide you with an approximate date, and should provide you with a copy of their school board’s guide to special education.

  • Assessment: The committee reviews relevant information, such as assessments and reports, to determine if the student is "exceptional."

  • Placement: If the student is identified as "exceptional," the IPRC decides on the most appropriate educational placement and offers this as an option to families. This could be in a specialized education classroom, withdrawal support, or support in the regular classroom setting. Families have discretion on deciding whether to pursue placements offered, or maintaining their child’s placement in the regular classroom setting. 


What happens if I don’t agree with the decision of the IPR Committee?

If you do not agree with either the identification or placement decision made by the IPRC, you may:

  • within 15 days of receiving the IPRC decision, request that the IPRC hold a second IPRC meeting to discuss your concerns

  • file a written notice of appeal with the secretary of the School Board, this will usually be the Director of Education.


How do I appeal an IPRC decision?

The parent (or student 16 years or older) may, within 30 days of receipt of the original decision, give written notification of their intention to appeal the decision to the secretary of the School Board.


The notice of appeal must:

  • indicate the decision with which the parent disagrees; and

  • include a statement that sets out his or her reasons for disagreeing.

The school board will then consider the results of the appeal. If needed, parents can also appeal to the Ontario Special Education Tribunal (OSET). If you do not agree with the school board’s decision about whether to act on the secretary of the school board’s recommendation, you have 30 days from when you receive that decision to email or write the OSET.


When can IEPs and IPRC meetings occur?

Anytime! Parents can sometimes be confused when they read documents stating that IEPs need to be completed within 30 days of the start of school. This deadline is referring to updating already created IEPs. New IEPs can be created at any time during the school year! You can request an IPRC meeting as soon as your child has a diagnosis. You do not need to wait! IPRC meetings happen throughout the school year. 


The inconsistent landscape of IEP and IPRC processes in Ontario

Unfortunately, there can be inconsistencies across boards in how IPRC categories are used, what IPRC placements/classroom placements are available, and what types of concerns are being offered IEPs in both elementary and high schools.


We have recently observed the following:

  • Inconsistency for identifications and IEPs for youth with diagnoses such as anxiety disorder or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Some boards readily provide these, while other boards may “push back” and not allow this.

  • IPRC identifications and IEPs are sometimes denied if the student is not being considered for specialized classroom placements, regardless of their support needs.

  • IPRC identifications and IEPs are sometimes denied if several other steps have not been taken prior and/or in sequence. This has been seen for children who previously would have immediately been identified and provided an IEP, including autistic youth with high support needs. Some school boards are utilizing alternative documents to outline learning goals and accommodations (e.g., Individual Learning Profile (ILPs), growth plans, behaviour plans, safety plans, etc.), and may require these as a first step before an IEP is initiated, or proceeding to identification.

  • Some boards have implemented a recommended "minimum" age before implementing an IEP and/or initiating placement (e.g., grade 3), unless superintendent approval is accessed.

  • Guidelines are being provided to school staff stating that students must be a certain number of grade levels behind academically before qualifying for an identification or an IEP.

  • Within board differences exist! There are times where one school within a board will easily move towards creation of an IEP for an area of need, while another school may have a differing approach to IEPs for certain concerns (e.g., anxiety disorders).


The above are problematic shifts in procedures that are occurring more and more, and are inconsistent across school boards, and unfortunately these practices may lead to youth being unable to access the accommodations and modifications that would benefit them in a timely manner. Yes, for some youth the above guidelines will prevent unnecessary streamlining into special education pathways, but on the flip side, there are youth who require service immediately, who have clear support needs, and the above barriers may delay their needs being met. What is especially problematic, is the inconsistencies across boards and the unnecessary stress this causes to the caregivers trying to navigate support for their youth across Ontario. Caregivers should consult their individual school board's special education documents for information on special education supports available at their board, and their board processes to access them.


How Can an Educational Consultant Help? 

WonderTree's school psychologists, and educational consultants with special education training, can offer invaluable support:

  • Expert Guidance: Our consultants are well-versed in Ontario's educational system and can guide you through the IEP and IPRC processes.

  • Individualized Support: Tailoring our services to your child's unique needs, we ensure their IEP and educational placement align with their requirements.

  • Advocacy: We work alongside you to advocate for your child's needs within the school system, guaranteeing they receive the support they deserve.


Understanding IEPs and IPRCs and actively participating in the processes can make a significant difference in your child's education. An IEP is all about personalizing support for your child, while an IPRC ensures the right educational placement for exceptional students. For expert guidance and support, consider partnering with an educational consultant from WonderTree. Together, we can help your child thrive in their educational journey.



Resources

Ontario Government Information on Individual Education Plans (click here)


Autism Ontario Strategies for Advocating in the School (click here)


Hamilton School Advocacy (click here)


Ontario Special Education Tribunal (click here)


Ontario Government Page on Identification (click here)


Ontario Government Page on Special Education Policies (click here)


ABC Ontario Gifted IEP Recommendation Resource (click here)







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