There are many students who have educational needs that cannot be met through regular instruction and assessment practices at schools.

Special education needs can be met through:

  • accommodations
  • educational programs that modify specific course expectations to be above or below age-appropriate, grade-level expectations
  • alternative expectations that help students acquire knowledge and skills that are not part of the curriculum

An individual education plan (IEP) is a written plan that describes special education programs, accommodations and services that a school board will provide for a student. IEPs are based on a thorough assessment of a student’s strengths, needs and ability to learn and demonstrate learning.

Learn more about how school boards identify and place students in special education programs.

The IEP process

Your child can have an IEP for one of two reasons:

A student’s provincial report card must link directly to the programs and expectations set out in their IEP.

Your child is formally identified as an “exceptional pupil”

School boards must provide special education programs and services to students who are formally identified as “exceptional pupils.”

An exceptional pupil is a student who has been identified by a committee as having behavioural, communicational, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities that requires them to have a special education program.

There is:

  • a specific procedures on how school board committees will identify students requiring special education
  • a requirement for regular reviews of a student’s identification and placement in a special education program
  • a process for parents or guardians to appeal a school’s identification and placement of their child in a special education program

School board committees who identify and place students in special education programs are called identification, placement and review committees (IPRC). Learn more about identification, placement and review committees, including how your child’s principal can make a referral or you can request one for your child.

If an IPRC identifies your child as exceptional, the principal of your child’s school must ensure that:

  • your child has an individual learning plan, called the Individual Education Plan (IEP) in place within 30 days
  • you receive a copy of the IEP If you believe your child will benefit from special education programs or services and the school board does not agree, you have the right to request that the IPRC meet to review your child’s strengths and needs.)

If you believe your child will benefit from special education programs or services and the school board does not agree, you have the right to request that the IPRC meet to review your child’s strengths and needs.

Your child is not formally identified as an “exceptional pupil”

An IEP may be developed for students who have not been formally identified as exceptional by an IPRC, but who require a special education program or services to attend school, achieve curriculum expectations or demonstrate learning.

If you think your child requires an IEP and your child has not been formally identified as exceptional, talk to your child’s teacher or the school’s special education teacher about the process to create an IEP and the possibility of doing so.

What an IEP must include

A school must develop your child’s IEP in consultation with you or, if your child is 16 years or older, with your child.

The IEP must include:

  • a description of your child’s strengths and needs and specific educational expectations
  • an outline of the special education program and services that will be received
  • a statement about the methods by which your child’s progress will be reviewed
  • a transition plan that includes the specific goals, actions required, person(s) responsible for actions, and timelines for each educational transition where your child requires support

IEPs must be reviewed regularly

Schools should review your child’s IEP at least once every reporting period and update it based on their progress.

Principals should encourage relevant school board personnel and community personnel, who have previously worked on or are currently working with your child, to provide input and participate in the IEP process.

More information on IEPs and transition plans can be found in the Special Education in Ontario Kindergarten to Grade 12 Policy and Resource Guide.

Achieving expectations

With special education programs and services, many students with special needs — whether formally identified or not — will be able to achieve the grade-level learning expectations of the provincial curriculum.

Some students may require modifications. Modifications are changes made in the grade–level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet a student's learning needs.

Some students may require alternative expectations to succeed. Alternative expectations are those that are not derived from the expectations set out in ministry curriculum documents.

Further guidance for educators on curriculum modification and alternative expectations can be found in Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12, Policy and Resource Guide (2017).