Students with special needs – who are they? Can they still learn? Why do some of them have educators and some of them don’t? Can people with special needs succeed in their communities?

It’s easy to recognize the students who use a wheelchair or a walker, who are visually or hearing impaired, who have an intellectual challenge or have autism. Then there are the “invisible” challenges – learning disabilities, speech and communication disabilities, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and behaviour disorders.

A student is considered having a special need if he/she has been diagnosed by a pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, speech and language pathologist, or occupational therapist, after a series of assessments and observations.

There are also students who can be considered “at risk” – they are experiencing difficulties, which may arise from poor attendance, family problems, bullying, or teaching methods which do not meet the student’s learning style. These students also need our attention within our schools.

All students can learn. The degree to which they learn may differ depending on individual strengths and needs, but every student can learn. Teachers and schools may need to adjust their timetables or their environment or how they teach to meet these students’ needs. Addressing these students’ needs involves using a wide range of programming approaches, placements and supports.

Almost all students with special needs are included in the regular classroom. This is beneficial for everyone. Students learn from each other, but, more importantly, they grow with each other. Students who don’t share school time with each other are often seen as different, not part of the group. Students who are isolated in school can be isolated in the general community. Inclusion promotes tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.

Why do some students have educators?

Educators are assigned after very careful consideration of the student’s needs and a diagnosis. It must be determined that the student’s need is such that support is required either some of the time, part of the time, or in a few cases, all of the time. Not all students with special needs need an educator. In fact, for some students, an educator can hamper independence.

The teacher is still responsible for planning, teaching and evaluating all the students in his/her classroom. The educator’s role is to provide assistance in the classroom, sometimes with the student with special needs, and sometimes with other students in the classroom.

Special Education Services

Special Education Services was founded in 2004 because the board felt that students’ needs would be best addressed by a department whose focus was providing resources and support. These resources can include formal academic or psychological evaluations or support provided by psychologists or consultants

who specialize in autism, hearing or visual impairments.

Each school now has a special education department head, to provide continuing support and resources to teachers and educators of students with special needs and to assist in the referral process within the school, by providing alternative teaching methods, and alternative didactic material.

Each school also has been provided a psychoeducator, although most of the schools are still experiencing difficulties filling this position. This person provides continuing support for students with extreme behavioral or emotional difficulties, and they work closely with the psychologists who visit the schools.

Additional educator positions have been provided in each school to assist the teachers who have students whose diagnosis warrants the assistance of an educator, either some of the time, part of the time, or full time.

A second psychologist was hired by the Cree School Board this year, thereby providing more visits by psychologists to each school.

Each school has established a Local Problem Solving Committee (LPSC), consisting of the principal or vice-principal, the special education department head, psychoeducator (if there is one), and can also include the guidance counselor, school nurse, and SAT. Parents are always invited to attend LPSC meetings. Anyone can refer a student to the LPSC – even the parents.

A Special Education Advisory Group has been formed by the Cree School Board, the Cree Health Board and the Cree Regional Authority, to collaborate on services for students with special needs from daycare through secondary school. This ensures that the school is informed of the students’ needs before school begins, can obtain assessments for students with special needs who are not yet school age, and make referrals to medical personnel when required.

There have been many changes in special education at the Cree School Board, and more to come. The goal of the Board, as always, is for every student to achieve his/her educational goals and to receive an education which supports their learning, their development and their cultural integrity.