Unit 3: Responsibilities of School Boards and Their Special Education Advisory Committees (SEACs)
This unit is designed to enable SEAC members to:
- have a better understanding of the legislated roles and responsibilities of SEACs;
- gain knowledge about the regulations regarding the makeup and governance of SEACs;
- become aware of resources available to SEAC members;
- have answers to questions commonly asked by new members of SEACs.
SEACs are legislated under the Education Act and Regulation 464/97. Subsection 57.1 of the Education Act requires each school board to establish a SEAC and provides authority for the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations governing SEACs as well as requiring school authorities to establish a SEAC.
School Board Responsibilities Regarding SEACs
As outlined in Unit 2, district school boards and most school authorities are required to establish a SEAC. The SEAC is to be given an opportunity to be heard by the board or by a committee of the board before the board or committee makes any decisions about recommendations put forward to them by the SEACs.
In determining the range of special education programs and services to be offered, school boards are required to obtain the advice of their SEAC. Regulation 464/97 states that "a special education advisory committee of a board may make recommendations to the board in respect of any matter affecting the establishment, development and delivery of special education programs and services for exceptional pupils of the board."
According to the same regulation, each board must ensure that:
- "its special education advisory committee is provided with the opportunity to participate in the board's annual review ... of its special education plan, made in accordance with Regulation 306";
- "its special education advisory committee is provided with the opportunity to participate in the board's annual budget process under Section 231 of the [Education] Act, as that process relates to special education";
- "its special education advisory committee is provided with the opportunity to review the financial statements of the board under Section 252 of the [Education] Act, as those statements relate to special education";
- it "make[s] available to its special education advisory committee the personnel and facilities that the board considers necessary for the proper functioning of the committee, including the personnel and facilities that the board considers necessary to permit the use of electronic means for the holding of meetings of the committee in accordance with the regulations made under Section 208.1 of the [Education] Act."
Regulation 464/97 so states that "within a reasonable time after a special education advisory committee is appointed, the board shall provide the members of the committee and their alternates with information and orientation respecting, (a) the role of the committee and of the board in relation to special education; and (b) Ministry and board policies relating to special education."
This provision is intended to enable the SEAC to make informed recommendations to boards. This can be achieved by arranging for knowledgeable persons to provide in-service training sessions for members during regular SEAC meetings or in an alternative forum.
The orientation session for new members may focus on:
- sections of the Education Act relating to special education;
- regulations regarding special education;
- Ministry of Education policy statements, including policy/program memoranda;
- the Ministry's publications, for example, initiatives of the board impacting on special education including: literacy and numeracy; curriculum and assessment; student success;
- board policies regarding special education programs and services;
- the board's special education plan;
- the roles and responsibilities of the SEAC;
- the funding of special education.
The SEAC's Role in Quality Assurance
School Board Special Education Plans
Regulation 306 requires that each school board establish and maintain a special education plan and ensure that it is "amended from time to time to meet the current needs of the exceptional pupils of the board." The regulation also requires that each school board review the plan once a year and send any amendments it makes to the Minister of Education. As well, every two years, it must prepare and approve a report on its special education programs and services. Regulation 464/97 stipulates that each board must ensure that its SEAC is provided with the opportunity to participate in the annual review of its special education plan.
Traditionally, the Ministry of Education sends instructions to boards in the winter about how to submit their amendments and reports and what type of information to include in them. The reports and amendments must be submitted by July 31 of every year. The Minister has the right "at any time to require a board to amend its plan in a manner that the Minister considers necessary so as to ensure that the board provides special education programs and special education services that meet the current needs of the exceptional pupils of the board."
The Ministry issued a policy document, Standards for School Boards' Special Education Plans, 2000, which describes the province wide standards that school boards must meet when developing their special education plans. School board special education plans should be available at the school board office (or at individual schools) for parents to see and should also be posted on the school board website, whenever possible.
The standards stipulate that, in developing and modifying their special education plan, boards must take into consideration feedback on special education issues from members of the community, including parents, members of school councils, community organizations, and students. This public consultation, which takes place with the assistance of the board's SEAC, must be maintained on a continuous basis throughout the year.
The standards also require that a board's special education plan describe the consultation process and include the following:
- a statement of how, in accordance with Regulation 464/97, the board ensures that its SEAC is involved in the annual review of the board's special education plan;
- a description of any majority or minority reports concerning the board's approved plan that have been received from members of the board's SEAC;
- the board's response to these reports;
- a statement of how members of the community, particularly parents of children who are receiving special education programs and services, are informed of the timelines and methods for providing input into the board's special education plan;
- a summary of feedback received as a result of consultation with members of the community;
- a statement about the ways in which the school board's SEAC is consulted about staff development;
- information about the results of any internal or external reviews of existing special education programs and services provided within the board that have taken place in the previous or current school year;
- a list of internal and external reviews of the board's special education programs and services that are planned for the following year.
Individual Education Plans
Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, and Implementation, 2000 is a ministry policy document that describes province wide standards that school boards must meet when developing, implementing, and monitoring the IEPs established for exceptional students, in accordance with Regulation 181/98 of the Education Act, and for students not identified as exceptional who are receiving special education programs and services.
With regard to the IEPs, the school board's special education plan must describe the following:
- the board's plan for implementing the Ministry's standards for IEPs;
- any processes for dispute resolution where parents and board staff disagree on significant aspects of an IEP;
- the results of the Ministry's review of the board's effectiveness in meeting the Ministry's standards for IEPs in the previous year, along with the board's plans for a response to these results.
In 2004 the Ministry developed The Individual Education Plan (IEP), A Resource Guide that provides practical approaches to the development of IEPs as well as samples.
In 2007/07 the Ministry conducted a collaborative review of school board’s IEP practices. The results are noted in IEP Collaborative Review 2006-2007 Provincial Report: Common Trends.
During the 2007-08 school year the Ministry will work to align board improvement planning processes. The Ministry will conduct a process to determine measures of achievement and learning for all students with special education needs. During the 2008-09 school year the ministry will work to align the special education plan with the revised Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat/Student Success/Learning to 18 plan. It is the intent to have aligned board improvement plans for the 2009-10 school year. In the interim, special education plans will continue to be amended annually.
Parents or members of the public may contact a member of their school board's SEAC to offer their point of view on and discuss the board's system wide planning and development of special education programs and services. Members of the public at large may attend a SEAC meeting. Those members of the public at large who would like to make their views on special education issues known to the committee, and through it, to the district school board might request for an audience at a SEAC meeting.
SEAC Membership and Governance
Under Regulation 464/97 a SEAC is composed of the following:
- representatives from up to 12 local associations that are affiliated with associations or organizations that are incorporated, that operate throughout Ontario, that further the interests and well-being of one or more groups of exceptional children or adults, and that do not represent professional educators;
- a maximum of three board members, depending on the size of the board;
- one or two persons to represent the interests of Aboriginal pupils, where appropriate;
- one or more members at large (optional).
SEAC members are appointed by the school board for the term of office of members of the board and until a new board is organized. SEAC members must be qualified to vote for members of the board and must be resident in its jurisdiction.
Provision is made for alternates to be appointed. The alternate attends SEAC meetings in place of the local association's representative when the member cannot be present. Employees of a school board are not eligible for membership on the SEAC of the board that employs them. However, employees of one school board may be members of the SEAC of another school board, subject to their eligibility to vote for members of the school board that appoints them. SEAC members appointed to represent Aboriginal pupils need not be qualified to vote for members of the board that appoints them.
School Authorities With SEACs
The SEAC of a school authority is composed of the following:
- one representative and one alternate from each of two local associations;
- one trustee and one alternate;
- where there are Native representatives on the school authority, the same number of Native representatives (to a maximum of two);
- if there are no local associations, two members at large and two alternates.
Removal of Members From SEACs
A member of a SEAC vacates his or her seat if he or she:
- is convicted of an indictable offence;
- absents himself or herself from three consecutive regular meetings of the committee without being authorized to do so by a resolution entered in the minutes;
- ceases to hold the qualifications to be appointed to the committee.
Rules and Procedures for SEAC Meetings
The following rules and procedures apply to SEAC meetings:
- Where a member for whom an alternate has been appointed cannot attend a meeting of the committee, the alternate may attend, and where a seat of a member of the committee is vacant and has not yet been filled, the alternate for the member shall act in the member's place for all purposes, as outlined in Regulation 464/97, section 9.
- A majority of the members of a SEAC is a quorum, and "a vote of a majority of the members present at a meeting is necessary to bind the committee."
- Every member present at a meeting, or his or her alternate attending the meeting in his or her place, is entitled to one vote.
- The members of the committee shall, at their first meeting, elect one of their members as chair and one of their members as vice-chair. The chair or, in the absence of the chair, the vice-chair, shall preside at meetings. If at any meeting the chair and vice-chair are not present, the members present may elect a chair for that meeting.
- The chair may vote with the other members of the committee and any motion on which there is an equality of votes is lost.
- The committee shall meet at least ten times during each school year.
Additional Resources Available to SEACs and Their Members
Information on Selection of SEAC Members
The following are some guidelines from the Ministry publication entitled Special Education: A Guide for Educators (2000) that boards have used in selecting members for SEACs:
- The SEAC seats for representatives of local associations should be used to bring to the committee the perspectives of parents of children with a wide range of exceptionalities. Note that the Ministry provides school boards with definitions of exceptionalities for use in the identification, placement, and review process. As many as possible of these exceptionalities should be represented on the SEAC;
- Representatives of local associations should be persons who can express the views of the parents of the exceptional pupils of the board;
- Representatives of local associations should bring the perspective and the resources of a provincial or a national association that is incorporated and operates throughout Ontario to further the interests of one or more groups of exceptional pupils;
- The representative of the local association nominated by the association is normally the person appointed by the board.
As long as the association selects as its representative a member who lives within the jurisdiction of the board, the address of the "branch" of the association should not be significant.
Questions Commonly Asked by New SEAC Members and Answers to Them
1. What is a local association?
A local association, as defined under Regulation 464/97 is:
an association or organization of parents that operates locally within the area of jurisdiction of a board and that is affiliated with an association or organization that is not an association or organization of professional educators but that is incorporated and operates throughout Ontario to further the interests and well-being of one or more groups of exceptional children or adults.
Note: In the above excerpt,
- of parents means "to which parents of exceptional pupils belong";
- operates locally means "has local membership;
- is affiliated with means "is a part of" or "is a chapter of";
- incorporated means "incorporated provincially or federally".
2. Can the board refuse membership to a local association?
Boards may limit membership if there are already twelve local associations represented on the SEAC.
3. Must the association nominate an alternate?
A local association can, but is not required to, nominate an alternate.
4. Can the board require more than one nomination for each position?
The board may request, but cannot require, more than one nomination.
5. Where there is only one nominee, must the board appoint this person?
The regulation expressly states that the board must appoint the person(s) nominated to represent the interests of Aboriginal persons and the alternates of these representatives. The regulation does not state that the board must appoint the persons nominated by local associations to the SEAC, although it is the intent of the regulation that the board appoints the persons nominated by local associations. There is an expectation that school boards, in carrying out this responsibility of appointing members to SEACs, will respect the preferences of the local associations, unless there are very good reasons to do otherwise.
6. Where there are already twelve local associations represented on a SEAC, can any of these same local associations nominate members at large?
No, but a board may appoint members at large to the SEAC who are not representatives of a local association, members of the board, or members of another committee of the board.
7. What is the rationale for having alternates?
Alternates are nominated to ensure that the local association is always represented and to assist in achieving a quorum at meetings. Having alternates with experience available is also helpful for the committee's future because association membership changes and the interests of committee members change.
8. As an alternate, how can I get better informed about and prepared for my role?
You can prepare for your role in the SEAC by:
- participating in the board's orientation session for SEAC members;
- attending SEAC and board meetings as an observer;
- attending SEAC meetings as an alternate when requested to do so by the local association member;
- participating in the Ministry of Education's on-line SEAC Information Program, and reviewing the resources referred to in it, including the Internet links.
9. What questions should I be asking board members or administrators in order to fulfil my duties as a SEAC member?
The following are some questions you might ask board members:
- Is the SEAC consulted in the budget development process and provided with the documentation required to provide quality advice?
- Does the board provide the SEAC with financial statements that are easy to read and easily understood, and that help members understand how special education programs and services are funded?
- Is the SEAC consulted by the board as the board makes its staff development plan, which outlines the training teachers, educational assistants, principals, and other professionals will require to respond to the needs of exceptional pupils?
- How are SEAC resolutions and advice received and considered by the board?
- How is the SEAC's voice heard at the board table?