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Limiting School Exclusions of Students with Disabilities

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 recommended guidelines for limiting school exclusions of students with disabilities.

Limiting School Exclusions of Students with Disabilities

Under the Education Act, school principals can “refuse to admit” a student from school, or from a classroom. Ideally, a principal uses this power only if a student’s presence in class is “detrimental to the physical or mental wellbeing of the pupils”. In other words, a principal refuses to admit a student if the principal believes the student’s presence will harm other students. If a student is excluded from school for this reason, they or their parents can appeal to the school board to revoke the exclusion.

However, the Committee reports that principals sometimes exclude students with disabilities at times when other solutions would be more appropriate. For example, if a school lacks the supports that a student needs in class, this lack may cause disruptions. For instance, a student may need alternative curriculum to learn social skills. Without this curriculum, the student frequently interrupts their teacher and classmates during lessons. The principal may not recognize that the student’s disruptive behaviour is due to a lack of accommodations. Instead, the principal only notices that the disruption is distracting classmates. As a result, the principal tries to resolve the disruption by refusing to admit the student:

  • For part of every school day
  • For one (1) or more days every week
  • Until further notice

In contrast, researching and providing appropriate accommodations would resolve the disruption while also ensuring that the student has access to an education. A student’s right to an education is more important than other policies or rules.

Therefore, the Committee recommends safeguards to limit exclusions, appeal them, and maintain students’ education during exclusions. These safeguards should help principals understand when it is appropriate to exclude students from school, and mitigate the reasons for exclusions.

Recommendations for Limiting School Exclusions

Before excluding a student, school boards should accommodate the student, unless accommodation would cause undue hardship. In other words, exclusions must protect the health and safety of students and other members of the school community. School boards should have emergency funds and processes to quickly implement accommodations needed to prevent or shorten exclusions. Likewise, the Ministry of Education should develop resources to help principals find more appropriate ways of resolving concerns. However, after a principal has attempted all possible accommodations, the principal can refuse to admit a student to school. Nonetheless, principals cannot exclude students as a punishment, or in response to a police investigation.

As soon as the principal considers exclusion, they should inform the student’s family of the possibility. In addition, school boards should meet with families before excluding students, or as soon as possible. At this meeting, families learn the principal’s reasons for considering exclusion, and discuss other ways to resolve the disruption. The principal and parents should then arrange a later meeting to discuss the student’s progress or make plans to support the student’s return to school. Like IEP meetings, these meetings should be fully accessible for parents with disabilities.

Moreover, when a principal excludes a student, a program should ensure that they will not fall behind in class. These programs should be timely, and students’ families should have access to them.

Furthermore, principals should not exclude students for more than five (5) school days in a row. However, due process requirements can extend this limit, in a formal exclusion procedure. If a student’s exclusion is extended, the principal should exclude the student first from a single class, or from the school, with board-wide exclusion as a last resort.

Our next article will explore fair procedures for school exclusions of students with disabilities.