The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published the results of a study which examined the prospects of young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (A.S.D.) in the years following their graduation from secondary school. Based on 2007/2008 data, this study found that two years after leaving high school more than 50% of students with A.S.D. had had no participation in the workplace, nor had they gone on to higher education. Those from lower-income families, or with greater functional impairments, were at even greater risk of a poor post-secondary outcome.
The findings identified in this study are particularly disconcerting in light of financial constraints now facing so many boards of education across the country, and public health and education organizations generally. As much as they might like to continue to expand their programming, particularly in areas which enhance each student’s ability to maximize their own potential, rising costs and greater competition for declining tax dollars have left many boards wondering how they are going to continue to meet even their minimum statutory obligations to their special needs students.
Typically, these obligations are designed
to guarantee access to services, rather than outcomes. The Ontario Human Rights Code,
for example, requires boards to accommodate the needs of all students with
disabilities in the provision of educational services, to the point of undue
hardship. The Education Act ensures that “all exceptional students” will have
available “appropriate special education programs and special education
services without payment of fees”. The Accessibility for Ontarians with
Disabilities Act imposes further and increasing obligations for boards to
ensure that all goods, services and facilities in education to be universally
education system is faced with a growing number of students identified as
having special needs, including A.S.D. This is in part due to the fact that
educators, health care professionals and parents are increasingly aware of the
need to identify these needs early, and have greater access to diagnostic tools
which continue to improve in sophistication.
the current funding model does not compensate boards for all of the costs
associated with meeting their statutory obligations to accommodate these needs,
and the funding gap only grows as the number of students presenting with
disabilities and requiring accommodation increases.
may therefore wonder how the results of a study pointing to poor outcomes which
only become apparent once students have left the educational system will be
received, and whether the problems it describes can be remedied in the current
environment. Notwithstanding the fact
that many educators would agree that the ultimate measure of the value of
education is how their students fare beyond the classroom, they may be
increasingly distracted by a legal and fiscal framework which renders the full realization
of each individual student’s potential too lofty a goal.
expectations exceed capacity, there is a risk that conflict can absorb valuable
time and resources. Boards will
therefore want to ensure that legal requirements have been satisfied in all respects,
in anticipation that this will be the starting point of any challenge to
whether or not they have met their statutory obligations. Further, it will be worth watching for any
sign that a court or tribunal is prepared to acknowledge that a board has a
duty of care to a student which extends beyond the years spent in the school
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