Sparks fly over Thames Valley school board special education plan

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Two Thames Valley trustees grilled the board’s administration Tuesday evening over a requested review responding to criticism of its annual special education report, which they said they expected would be released this week.

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In June, Thames Valley trustees approved the board’s annual special education plan, but tacked on a number of conditions, following the release of a critical report questioning its accuracy. It was written by two members of the school board’s own special education advisory committee, including recently elected trustee Beth Mai.

The report outlines why they believe the special education plan is flawed and not compliant with the education ministry’s regulations.

“We received some substantial concerns from the . . . report,” trustee Sherri Moore said at the time. She introduced the motion to approve the plan if certain conditions were met.

The plan, required of all school boards, details how millions of dollars will be spent on 11,000 Thames Valley students with special education needs.

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At the June board meeting, trustees unanimously voted in favor of three secondary motions that would assure a report reviewing the education plan’s details would be released by October, with a report responding to concerns raised from the minority report available in November.

Education director Mark Fisher said the release of such a report could only come in the wake of feedback from the Ministry of Education. “Respectfully, we can’t control the timeline to which the ministry responds,” Fisher said.

Moore respondent: “My understanding was that this was internal work addressing the issues in the minority report. We weren’t asking the ministry to respond. . . we were asking the administration to respond,” she said.

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In July the special education report was approved by the Education Ministry.

“We asked the ministry to conduct a full review of the plan,” said Andrew Canham, superintendent of student achievement (special education). “We have since been informed that the plan and the process followed to complete the annual review satisfied all ministry expectations.

“Following a ministry of education review of our plan, feedback on the plan or minority reports will be shared with the special education advisory committee.”

The critical report of the education plan was co-authored by special education advisory committee chair Christine Thammavongsa and Mai.

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“We discovered that many problems with the special education plan have been in editions of the plan going back as far back as 2018,” their report read. “This means the problems created by a plan that is missing information, contains inaccurate information, and that the community cannot understand, has been proliferating throughout our community for several years already.

“We see indications that this has already had a direct impact on the entire community: the board, staff in schools, families, and students.”

At Mai’s request, board chairperson Lori-Ann Pizzolato agreed to review email and other correspondence between the school board administration and the education ministry surrounding the issue in order to maintain “public confidence.”

“It’s the board’s responsibility to ensure there is a special education plan that meets the standards not only of the ministry but of its own standards in this community,” Mai said.

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