Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommendations for accessible large-scale emergency response review in education.
Accessible Large-Scale Emergency Response Review in Education
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the impact of emergency situations on the education of all students, especially students with disabilities. Therefore, the Committee recommends independent reviews of the Ministry of Education and school boards’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. These reviews will help the Ontario education system prepare to provide accessible education during future emergencies.
First, when the Solicitor General reviews the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, this review should focus on accessibility. For instance, this review could involve feedback from citizens with disabilities, and from the Accessibility Standards Advisory Committee. Similarly, review of the Fire Code should include the same focus and feedback.
Independent Review Committee Assessment
In addition, the Ministry should create an independent committee to review the Ministry and school boards’ support for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Review Committee should include:
- School board members
- Students with disabilities
- Other community members with disabilities
- Members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee
- Staff from the Ministry of Education
Moreover, the Review Committee should assess how well the Ministry has worked with other government departments to ensure accessible remote learning. Likewise, the Review Committee should consider key decisions the Ministry and school boards made, and their responses to changes. For example, the Review Committee might assess how school boards maintained the accessibility of education during:
- Transitions from in-person learning to remote learning
- Blended learning, taking place sometimes in school and sometimes at home
The Review Committee can learn from successes in removing accessibility barriers, as well as from challenges. Finally, the Review Committee can suggest strategies for the Ministry and school boards to use in future emergency situations.
When the Review Committee completes its assessment, it should submit a report to the Premier and Cabinet. Alternatively, the Review Committee should submit an interim report if pandemic conditions last for over one (1) year. The Ontario government should ensure that the Ministry and school boards implement these recommendations when they plan responses to future emergencies.