Having Your Child Identified as a Special Needs Student

This information was made possible due to the generous support and by permission of the authors of:

The Advocate's Journal: A Manual and Profiling Diary for Successful Educational Advocacy

By Georgina Rayner and Cora Koculym
See Advocates' Journal

The School Identification Process

(This is the process in Ontario. It is similar, but may vary slightly in terms and timing in other provinces. Check with your Ministry of Education for exact information and terms)

Every Province in Canada has its own identification process of children with special needs. This process legalizes a child's rights to have their individual needs met within the school setting. It allows the child to receive the appropriate educational accommodations and/or modifications. Be aware however, that the term "modifications" means that the child's curriculum is being modified from the grade level they are currently in. If the term "modify" is used at the secondary school level, parents and students should be aware that the credit may be in jeopardy. An "accommodation" is a change in how the student is taught or assessed which will enable them to be succeed to their full potential.

(For a list of accommodations see Accommodations/Brief)

(For a detailed list of accommodations for specific behaviours see Classroom Accommodations

Steps to the School Identification Process
  • The school or the parents can initiate the identification meeting often called an 'IPRC'; Identification, Placement and Review Committee. (There may be a slight variation in the terms used from province to province.) Parents can initiate the process by writing a letter to the school principal requesting one.
  • Once this has taken place, the family must be notified within 15 days of the school's initiation or must be notified in 15 days that the school board has received the parent's request for a meeting.
  • The board must also notify the family at this time approximately when the meeting will held and ask the family if they are going to attend.
  • At this point, the family should also receive the board's "Parent's Guide", which outlines the procedures for the process.
  • The family may be asked to sign permission for psychological testing to be done by the board.
  • The board does not need permission to do an educational assessment
  • Once the IPRC meeting date is assigned, parents must be notified 10 days in advance. If the family is unable to attend at that time, the Ministry of Education mandates that "every effort should be made to accommodate the parents' schedule."
  • Parents should always attend the IPRC meeting. This is where decisions about your child's school placement and the accommodations they will or will not receive are made. Do not forfeit your right to be involved in this decision-making.
  • Any information that the school receives has to be provided to the parents (or student if 16 years of age or older)
  • The family has the right to have a professional or advocate speak on their behalf.
  • The family should review all reports generated by the boards prior to the IPRC to determine if they are accurate before they are formally presented to the IPRC committee.
  • The student may be interviewed by the IPRC, but if under 14 the parents must consent.
  • If 16 and over, the student should attend.
  • Parents may be asked to supply reports for outside testing and should share reports which will help the child.

Disclosure of Reports and Medical Information

Be Aware That: Disclosure can bring certain risks
  • Anyone with access to your child's student record will have access to these reports.
  • The intimate details of your family's lives are not always pertinent or appropriate for a school record.
  • You have complete control of what you choose to share with the child's school and the best way to ensure this is to personally present the documents you wish to share with the school.
  • Since most school professionals are not trained to interpret a medical or psychological report, it is best if the diagnosing professional produces a school-friendly report that gives clear diagnoses and a detailed list of recommendations for the school to action.

During the Identification Meeting
  • The committee can review information on: medical, hearing, visual, speech, psychological, psychiatric testing and school and home observations.
  • From these discussions, a list of the child's strengths and needs should be generated.
  • These needs should be well defined, not vague and open-ended.
  • The IPRC must then decide if: the student is exceptional, the student is not exceptional, or there is not enough information to make a decision.
  • If the decision is that the student is exceptional, an exceptional category must be assigned and an appropriate placement be decided on.

Does the ADHD diagnosis result in a child receiving an identification?
  • In most Boards of education in all provinces of Canada, a diagnosis of ADHD will not result in an IPRC designation. (Manitoba is the exception)
  • This is why it is important when having your child go through psycho educational testing, the tester be qualified to make a definitive diagnosis and be prepared to look for and clearly report on any learning problems that can be designated a learning disability such as: graphomotor dysfunction, audio processing difficulties, problems with visual perception, short term memory, or executive functioning.

Do you have to sign the document resulting from the IPRC?
  • If you are at all unsure of what you are being asked to sign, Don't !
  • You have the right to ask for time to go home and review any documents.
  • If you do not agree with the recommendations of the committee including the suggested placement of your child, you may refuse to sign the document.
  • Note - if a student is not identified and informal support is offered, you have no right to demand an IEP, or that any special services or accommodations be put in place. As well, you have no guarantee that the services will be maintained.
  • The IPRC must send a statement confirming its decision as well as any recommendations to the family as well as the date that the board will be notified.
  • Prior to this date, within 15 days, another IPRC meeting may be requested to further discuss recommendations.

What happens after the meeting?

If the family agrees with the decisions:
  • Written consent is required before placement.
  • An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed, usually by the Special Education Teacher, from the Needs Statement made at the IPRC and should be shared with the family 30 days after the placement occurs and the placement should occur 30 days after the IPRC.

If the family does not agree with the decisions:
  • They must not sign the decision sheet.
  • They must write to the board within 30 school days requesting an appeal.
  • The IPRC will be reconvened to see if differences can be resolved.
  • If differences cannot be resolved, the family may choose to initiate an appeal process.
  • The Appeal Board can overturn the IPRC decisions and reconvene another IPRC.
  • The board must convene an appeal board within 30 school days.
  • An Appeal board consists of 3 members, one nominated by the board, one nominated by the parents, and a chair that both parties agree upon.
  • Your Ministry of Education website contains extensive information on this process.
  • If there is still a disagreement the family can go to the Provincial Tribunal, which then becomes a legal process.

*The IPRC is a legal process governed by the Education Act

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