Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year.
“It’s hugely concerning for us,” said Melanie Bennett, executive director of the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate.
IEPs are nationally-recognized plans for special needs students, baked into the Yukon’s Education Act. They guarantee that students who have special learning needs will receive the support they require, like educational assistants (EAs), occupational therapy, or speech and language support.
In October 2019, the department changed the definition and assessment guidelines for IEPs. Now, students who are on IEPs are no longer on track to graduate with a Dogwood Diploma. They will instead receive an Evergreen Certificate, which signifies completion but not graduation.
As a result, 138 students have been transferred to Student Learning Plans, an alternative program that is local to the Yukon and doesn’t hold the same national recognition.
In an email to the News, education spokesperson Kyle Nightingale said the shift won’t affect student programming.
“We have not made any changes to the supports that are available to students to ensure they are successful at school,” Nightingale said.
“No learning plan prevents students from receiving the specific supports they need to be successful.”
According to Bennett, the alternative learning plans might promise the same support, but they still won’t have the statutory obligations associated with an IEP. Alternatively, students who stay on IEPs won’t be on track to receive a high school diploma and have a nominal chance of attending post-secondary school.
Bennett noted that in the Auditor General’s 2019 review of the education system, Yukon schools were already struggling to meet the reporting requirements of IEPs.
“The educators in this system are saying they don’t feel they have the tools to address that, and Yukon Education is not providing that to them. So now, you’re going to take our most vulnerable learners and move them to something that isn’t legislated,” Bennett said.
First Nations students encompass more than half of the total Yukon students on IEPs and present consistently lower graduation rates, Bennett explained. Removing legislated support programs doesn’t bode well for students who are already falling behind.
“That really opens the gates to less service and less success, that’s going to be very concerning,” Bennett said.
The Yukon NDP issued a press release on Jan. 14 demanding answers for the change in IEP programming. Party leader Kate White told the News she is concerned about the timing and lack of transparency surrounding the decision.
There is currently an independent review of the education system underway, as recommended by the Auditor General, White explained. The decision to adjust IEPs was made in the middle of that review.
“The fact that they made the decision ahead of the review is problematic, the fact that they did it without consulting … parents, teachers and organizations,” White said.
The Department of Education also did a poor job of communicating the change, White and Bennett said.
“Yukon Education has not engaged with the Education Commission or parents. I’ve had multiple parents calling our education advocates not understanding what this is,” Bennett said.
Both White and Bennett hope the Department of Education will rethink the change and return to the recommendations laid out in the 2019 Auditor General report.
“I think it’s the recognition that a sweeping decision to save money isn’t actually going to benefit the educational outcome of children, and we need to focus on the success of children,” White said.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org