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School boards around the world have a variety of methods created to insure children with challenges receive educational opportunities.
In Ontario Canada every publicly funded school board is required to establish a Special Education Advisory Committee. The parameters of the committees are enshrined in Ministry of Education legislation.
What is unique about these committees is the role and the membership.
The role of the committee (referred to as SEAC)is “advisory”. They are tasked with providing local school boards with input and advice on all programs and services related to special education students.
Membership of each committee includes up to twelve representatives from local associations dedicated to furthering the interests and well-being of exceptional children such as cerebral palsy, deaf and hard of hearing, blind and low vision, bright and intellectual children to name a few. Associations must have a provincial or federal charter in order to qualify.
Committees also include several organizations directly involved with children with a variety of challenges and families in the community. Examples would be mental health, family and children’s services and associations without provincial or federal charters.
Each association would have a voting member as well as an alternate, although the alternate isn’t a voting member.
The school board appoints at least one trustee who serves on the committee for the full electoral term of the board. In addition wherever possible, a member of the first nations community. The board also provides staff support such as the superintendent responsible for special education programs and services as well as consultants and secretarial support.
School boards with effective SEAC’s, are in a position to provide significantly better educational opportunities for those students within their responsibility.
In my thirty-plus years as a sitting member of the committee I have seen special education committees evolve from a committee of parents that received information on a variety of subjects and issues, to a very critical and effective extension of the board. Today, SEAC’s provide input on any and all programs and services that impact students with special needs.
As an example, a short list of topics discussed in monthly meetings includes, transitions, report cards, bussing and other transportation issues, budgets, inclusion, bullying, accommodations, teachers, and support in the classroom to name a few.
SEAC’s can play a vital role in assisting school boards making critical decisions that have an impact on students with special needs. The “advice” and recommendations coming to the board from parents with first-hand knowledge of the needs of their child. Since the make-up is comprised of a cross section of diverse interests and needs, there is a natural filtering and fairness to the deliberations and outcomes.
Sitting on the special education committee for so many years has allowed me to personally witness the amazing work they do. The benefits to the special children are countless.
My personal goal as a member of SEAC has always been the same. Making every child feel they belong, and have the same, equal opportunity to succeed is paramount in education.
The whole topic of inclusion takes on a strong focus. Creating a change in attitude that sees teachers considering the needs of children with challenges during the initial planning process of special events, day trips and field trips, and not as an afterthought or an accommodation. It is imperative that all students are transported to these events with their peers wherever possible.
I highly recommend every school board throughout the world consider establishing special education advisory committees. In addition to the limitless direct benefit to students with special needs, the committees significantly increase parental engagement.
At the end of the day, special education committees work toward removing the moniker “students with special needs” ……to students.