Centre pioneered francophone services

Jules-Léger is a hub of research and a haven for kids.

By Tracy Morey

Some staffers call it Ontario's secret treasure. It seems an extravagant label for the sprawling 60s-era school building in Ottawa's east end that houses the Jules-Léger Centre.

But the centre is unique: a think tank and teacher training workshop in a provincial school for the deaf and a resource centre for the blind. There is a two-year residence program for seriously learning disabled students (including ADHD) that serves as a teaching lab. The centre also runs satellite programs and wide-ranging partnerships in the community.

Province Gets Advice on Special Education Funding

One of the messages Mordechai Rozanski heard as chair of the Education Equality Task Force during public consultations last fall was that funding for Ontario's 190,000 exceptional students was inadequate.

School boards currently receive a Special Education Grant in two parts: a Special Education Per Pupil Amount (SEPPA), based on the school board's total enrolment, and an Intensive Support Amount (ISA), based on the proportion of a board's students who need high cost, specialized programs. But the current per-student funding formula was introduced in 1998 and used 1997 financial figures that have not been updated.

In a brief to the Rozanski task force, the Minister's Advisory Council on Special Education recommended the ministry improve: standards, funding levels, the speed with which it provides money to boards, administrative backlogs, co-ordination with other ministries, student transportation, research, accountability and professional development for teachers.

In a 2001 value-for money audit of Ontario's special education programs, the provincial auditor said that neither the ministry nor the boards "have the information and processes to determine whether special education services are delivered effectively, efficiently, and in compliance with requirements." Boards, he said, spent $95 million more on special education than they received in grants.

In December, as part of his assessment of the government's funding formula, Rozanski recommended new investment of $269 million for special education as well as $88 million to update the formula over a three-year period.

Rozanski's report, Investing in Public Education: Advancing the Goal of Continuous Improvement in Student Learning and Achievement, recommended that the ministry:

  • allocate $130 million to school boards for ISA claims in 2002-03
  • fund all approved ISA claims in 2003-04
  • develop a funding policy for the transportation of special needs students
  • increase the SEPPA for secondary students by $19 million
  • publish new standards for spending to improve boards' accountability.

The government responded by announcing $250 million in new funding, bringing to $1.624 billion the allocation for 2002-03. Since 1998, special education funding has increased almost 40 per cent.

The Rozanski report is available at www.edfundingreview.on.ca/index.html.

"We were the pioneers and we have a huge mandate," says the centre's director-general, André Duguay. The operation was created by the University of Ottawa in 1979 and taken over by the Ministry of Education in the mid-80s. It serves francophones aged two to 21.

"We couldn't wait for experts," says Duguay, "we had to invent the wheel, because there weren't appropriate francophone models in Ontario or Quebec. We had to produce and generate teacher qualifications and the process has been edifying."

The centre has developed definitions of cases, types of intervention and created new services. It began serving as a lab for advancing the teaching of children with ADHD.

Commuter Students

Every Sunday night, youngsters from Windsor to Hearst fly or bus in to Jules-Léger for the school week. Day students from the Ottawa region also attend the provincial school.

The school's director, Jean-Marc Sauvé, signs to the students as he tours the hallways. There are few concerns about the deaf children living away from home. It's more a problem for the parents, say the experts. Deafness is another culture, Sauvé points out and the children are longing to communicate and be communicated with.

Perhaps that gives the centre its special feel, a quiet cafeteria filled with kids, calm corridors with a wide range of visuals on the walls. In a video studio, high school seniors prepare a sign-language version of the Three Little Pigs, requested by a Grade 2 teacher. There are 22 teachers and 13 consultants on staff.

The slogan "Tu veux, tu peux" (If you want to, you can) pops up throughout the school.

Braille Services

Being away from home is not as appropriate for students with visual impairments because they can integrate better into the regular school system, says Duguay. For overall mobility, sight-disabled children need to become autonomous, so taking them away from home often doesn't work well. In this area, the centre mainly provides consulting services.

Besides the residence and the provincial school, in which 38 students are enrolled, Jules-Léger houses a demonstration residential school for 37 children with severe learning disabilities and ADHD. Teams of teachers work with the children, chosen so that a wide a range of difficulties is represented, to develop teaching models. "When they leave, the children will still have learning disabilities," says Duguay, "but they will also have coping strategies."

Currently, the centre is involved in a project with the University of Ottawa to study whether the social strategies and practices of children with learning disabilities are those of mainstream students.

The centre works on professional development for its own staff and meeting school board requests to train teachers for specific students. One major goal, says Jean-Marc Sauvé, is "to create the first generation of teachers who are deaf and hard of hearing." Seven students are now studying for university degrees at the centre. University of Ottawa professors come in to teach courses interpreted simultaneously into sign language by centre staff.

The success rate of the graduates is impressive. Sauvé estimates the centre has contributed to the scholarship of 500 Franco-Ontarians and has developed and trained at least 15 professionals per year. And hundreds of children have benefited from the consulting services.

"But look," says Sauvé, "It's the teachers who are the real heroes."


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