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How to protect children with special needs at school

Following the shocking report of a 9-year-old boy with autism being handcuffed by police officers at school last month, his mother has given the press an update on the situation.

Stephanie Huck said her son, Daniel Ten Oever, won’t be returning to St. Jerome Catholic School until all records relating to his care have been handed over.

“[There will be] no discussions, no negotiations until we know exactly what happened to our son,” she said during yesterday’s press conference. “Only then can we make an informed decision about what the next steps for Daniel will be.”

At the time of the incident, the Ottawa Catholic School Board defended the actions of the school, stating that “staff acted appropriately to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

Huck and Daniel’s father, Dan Ten Oever, were contacted by the school and told that Daniel had been acting out. When they arrived at the school, they discovered that police officers were present, and were informed that Daniel had to be restrained. They later found out the officers had used handcuffs on Daniel because he had allegedly been throwing chairs.

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Since the incident, Daniel has not returned to the school, and the family has been working with advocacy group Restoring Dignity. During the press conference, the group’s founder and CEO, Roch Longueépée, said the Ten Oever family did not initially intend to involve lawyers or file a legal complaint, but that the school board involved its own lawyer, who subsequently threatened to sue Longueépée on the grounds of making defamatory comments.

“This is a terrible response and only serves to frustrate and prolong Daniel’s safe return to school,” he said.

Longueépée added that the family does not blame the police for handcuffing Daniel but that they are questioning whether it was appropriate for the school to involve the police in the first place.

He also said he was aware of a 14-year-old autistic boy being processed through the criminal justice system and that other families with special needs children had come forward with worrying stories of their own. These stories, he said, are “symptoms of a larger problem” and that “Canadians living with disabilities are facing a national crisis.”

In Canada, every child with special needs is entitled to free public education. But how can you ensure that your child is receiving the right care at school when you’re not there to watch over him?

  • Refer to your province’s Education Act to familiarize yourself with its special needs education policy.
  • Ask your school board for the document detailing its program of integration of children with special needs into mainstream schools.
  • As soon as you register your child at school, inform them of his special needs requirements, going into as much detail as possible.
  • Request a copy of your child’s tailored, individual educational program as soon as he is enrolled at the school.
  • Make sure you’re getting the educational support you’re entitled to for your special needs child. This will vary depending on your province or territory. For example, in Ontario, special needs children should be offered different classes or an Individual Education Plan, specially designed by school boards.
  • Keep the lines of communication with the school open. Inform them of any changes in your child’s health, well-being or behavioural patterns — and make it clear you expect the same from them.
  • Report any concerns about how your child is treated at school to the school board without delay.

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