The Education department is attempting to clarify the rules for Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs.
A memo was sent out to parents and guardians on March 8 advising that students on IEPs are able to graduate high school.
”However, some students on IEPs have an education program that is highly modified,” the memo says. “In these cases, they may not get all of the credits they need to receive a Dogwood Diploma.”
Shanna Epp, the Yukon’s director of student support services, said the memo went out after the department started receiving a large number of inquiries about IEPs.
“There was a lot of confusion and lack of clarity around IEPs,” Epp said on March 10.
Epp was named director of student support services in November 2022. She has additionally been the director of Reimagining Inclusive and Special Education (RISE) since August 2022, as part of a promised departmental overhaul of inclusive education.
She told the News that the memo was meant to clarify that students could graduate, but said it isn’t a new change. She said she’s “not sure” where the confusion stems from, but wanted to explain and clarify the “reversal” for IEPs.
Michael Edwards, a communications advisor for the department, said some confusion may have stemmed from a lack of understanding among teachers and administrators.
“I think the issue stems from just a lack of understanding across the board,” Edwards said.
“If a child’s needs were more intensive, and they were on IEPs … [they] might not be graduating because that was not the stream they were on, as their curriculum was quite heavily modified.
“Maybe that’s the key thing that a student on an IEP, theoretically, has always been able to graduate. But that has not been the common understanding across the board.”
Later in the interview, Epp clarified that “students on IEPs are graduating.”
The department was not able to provide the number of students with IEPs who graduated last year by press time.
An IEP is a written education plan for students who have special education needs, either intellectual, communicative or behavioural.
In late 2020, the Education department moved a number of students off IEPs and onto student learning plans, which is similar programming, except it lacks the statutory obligation to provide support. Student learning plans are not baked into the Education Act, which means they don’t have the same firm reporting requirements set with IEPs in education systems nation-wide.
Students who remained on IEPs would not graduate high school, according to the change; they would instead receive an Evergreen Certificate, which signifies completion, but not graduation.
In May 2021, Education Minister Jeanie McLean told the legislative assembly that 62 students had been taken off IEPs. The teachers’ association reported that 138 students had been moved off the plans.
The change was reversed after the 2021 confidence agreement between the Liberals and NDP, which required that cancelled IEPs be reinstated within 30 days of April 28, 2021.
According to Ted Hupé, president of the Yukon Association of Education Professionals, the change happened quietly.
In an interview on March 2, Hupé said that he was still working to inform school administrators that students can be placed on an IEP and still graduate.
He said the action on IEPs is “the best news to come out of the department in awhile.”
“This is a move forward, this is good, but it’s only the beginning. The proof will be in the pudding,” he said. “I’m hopeful and I’m also wary.”
The government is also working to reimagine special education under the banner RISE, in response to the auditor general’s 2019 report on education.
The Education department is working with a “community of inquiry” to create new accountability structures around IEPs. Those recommendations are expected this spring.
There is also work to streamline assessments. The updated NDP-Liberal agreement, which was just signed on Jan. 31, asks for the delivery of a report within six months of a referral.
Epp said there is a bit of a backlog for assessments under the current systems; and wait times can span beyond six months into a year.
An increase in the allocation of educational assistants and learning assistance teachers is also planned for fall 2023.
Epp told the News that work is definitely needed to improve inclusive education in the Yukon.
“When I was brought over, we knew we had some work to do,” Epp said.
She said she is looking forward to hearing recommendations from the community of inquiry.
“I think some changes need to be made,” Epp said.
“Our students have different learning needs that we need to meet … and we need to support our students.”
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org