School principals exclude students with special needs

On January 6, the Globe & Mail published an article entitled Advocates for students with disabilities call on Ontario to stop school exclusions, written by education reporter Caroline Alphonso. Advocates from the Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) are calling on the government to remove a principal’s power to exclude a student with special needs from school. Exclusions, in comparison with formal suspensions and expulsions, can be done at the principal’s discretion, without monitoring from the school boards. Often, this can look like parents being asked to have students attend for a shorter period of the day, or be kept home entirely on the basis of staffing or safety.

In an article written by Don Shanks for Cheadles LLP, a legal precedent is examined where an eleven-year-old student was excluded from his mainstream classroom, while his parents appealed an IPRC decision to move him back to a congregated school for students with special needs. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that principals have the right to exclude students, even those deemed exceptional, under the following conditions:

the safety concerns are genuine;

the principal’s response to those concerns is a reasonable one in all the circumstances;

the use of the powers is not intended to circumvent an obligation to leave an exceptional pupil in his or her placement pending an appeal; and

the principal is not using these powers for any other improper purpose.

This power to exclude, however, does not include the right to enforce an “administrative transfer;” instead, the board can offer a more suitable placement to the parents of an excluded student.

Advocates argue that exclusion represents a poor solution to a lack of support for students with exceptional needs, all of whom are entitled to a safe and appropriate learning environment for the entire school day.

What are your thoughts on a principal’s power to exclude a student with special needs? What alternative solutions should be implemented in our school system?

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