Practical Applications - Exempting Your Child From Core French


It's one thing to discuss the big picture of how things should work in the world of special education. It can often be quite another thing to attempt to navigate through that maze on the ground. I received a question last week asking about how to obtain an exemption from core French for a special needs child in Nova Scotia.

We have requested on several occasions that our son be exempted from French at school because of his disability (PDD-NOS/NLD). We have been told that the school is unable to exempt any student from French and that he will have to continue to take it even though there is no reasonable expectation that he will learn to use it. The school has offered an IPP (although it was never put in place, he currently draws pictures in French class) but we wanted him removed from French so that he could use those classes for organization and catch up (or maybe even some tutorial). We have been told there is no way around this although there are other children in the school who have been exempted from French. What is your take on this?

I ran into this last year with my oldest daughter. Ironically, she has always enjoyed French but I knew the time would come when it would be way over her head. Frankly, I was surprised that it took until Grade 8 before that occurred.

Also, somewhat ironically, although I had questioned the school about the possibility of a French exemption when she started Middle School, the thought never even entered my mind the night I wrote a note in the communication book complaining about the French homework she had brought home. Homework which involved translating whole sentences and which was way beyond her ability. Imagine my surprise to get a note home the next day saying that 'they' understood completely and would be applying for a French exemption for my daughter.

For those not so lucky, let's take a look at how the process of obtaining an exemption should works. Although, first, I should point out that "Core French" is only mandatory from Grades 4 through 9; after that it becomes an elective and the problem is effectively solved.

Much like we discussed in a previous post which set out the relationship between legislation, regulations and policy, the policies of any particular school must be in line with those of their school board. Which, in turn, must be in line with the Department of Education's policies in the relevant area.

As a parent being refused some accommodation, service or plan for your child, you will want want to follow this hierarchy from the top down in order to gather the information you need to make a sound argument. Meaning that first you would look to the Education Act to see if your situation is covered there. Whether or not it is, you would continue through a search of the both the Ministerial and Governor in Council Regulations made under the Act. Then you would continue to search the relevant Department of Education policies and finally your own school board policies.

In this case, having completed a review of the Act and Regulations, we find that the Department's "French as a Second Language" program (also known as Core French and currently under review), under the heading 'Exemptions From Core French" (page 9 of the link), provides that

A variety of teaching and evaluation strategies and appropriate program modifications should be made within the French classroom to accommodate a wide range of learners. It is only when the student experiences a continued lack of success despite these accommodations that an exemption should be considered. The decision to exempt students from French must be made on an individual student-by-student basis. A consensus about whether an exemption is to be granted should be reached by the school program planning team consisting of, at a minimum, parent(s)/guardian(s), the principal, the Core French teacher, the home room teacher and a school or district student services representative and, where appropriate, the student. The team should consider any relevant information about the student including:
  • history of first language acquisition
  • history of French language acquisition
  • learning strengths and weaknesses
  • formal or informal assessment information

The process can be initiated at any time for individual students - elementary, junior or senior high, depending on the student's needs. Statistics on the number of exemptions are to be submitted to the Director, Acadian and French Language Services.

So now we know that the Department of Education provides for students with special needs to be exempted from French classes, provided that the school program planning team [of which parents are (and students may be) members] agree that this is appropriate. And that is likely the rub in the present case; "teams" are said to operate by consensus and it appears that this student's team could not agree.

Armed with the provincial policy, we move on to the school board policy. Each school board in the Province has some form of Student Services Manual (although it may known by a different name). As a parent seeking an exemption from French for your child (or some other accommodation, service or plan), you would next move on to your Board's Manual to see which of their policies will help you in your quest.

Knowing that this particular student is under the jurisdiction of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB), we now turn to that Board's Student Services Manual. Of particular interest are the following sub-sections under the heading "Program Planning and Delivery"

Under the heading "Inclusion: Guiding Principles", we find the following useful principles:
  • Parental Involvement - It is a parental obligation and responsibility that they be involved with their child's education and program planning.
  • Individual Program Planning and Accountability - An Individual Program Plan (IPP) is required when the provincial curriculum outcomes are not applicable or attainable for a student with special needs. The accountability of students and teachers is strengthened by the development and implementation of these plans.
  • Collaboration - Collaboration and consultation is essential to a coordinated and consistent approach to program planning and service delivery. . . . . In an inclusive environment which facilitates the membership, participation and learning of all students in school programs and activities, the emphasis is on quality programming. The student's program is the central focus around which other decisions revolve, such as determining the environments in which students will learn. Preparing all students for a lifetime of learning requires appropriate programming in a variety of educational settings.

Further down the page, under the heading "Current Practices", we find that inclusive education is supported by a number of 'current practices,' which include "flexible teaching and management strategies allowing for short-term interventions, sometimes in settings other than the classroom", "ongoing involvement of parents / guardians in decisions regarding their children's educational programming" and "a continuum of programming options and services to meet the special needs of students".

A look at the "Questions ... Which Guide the Program Planning Process" will provide you, as a parent, with the factors that program planning team, the school and the board will look at when making a programming decision, such as

  • What is the student able to do and/or participate in independently within the class?
  • What is the student able to do and/or participate in with the assistance of natural supports in the classroom?
  • What is the student able to do and/or participate in with the assistance of additional supports in the classroom?
  • Which of the provincial curriculum outcomes cannot be met by the student and what individualized outcomes will replace them?
  • What level of support is required to assist the student in achieving the individualized outcomes keeping in mind that the support should be “only as special as necessary”?
  • Are there services which are best provided in a setting other than the classroom? If so, how can they be scheduled so as to be the least disruptive to the student’s inclusion in his / her class?

The process for developing an Individual Program Plan (IPP) for a student is covered under Stage 4 of Part B The Planning Process ... An Overview. And that will be very important because the parent whose child is on an IPP should, at least theoretically, have a bit more power in the equation.

And now for the "good" stuff.   The CCRSB is one of the school boards in the Province which provides for "Service Plans". Although it is expected that all students will receive courses as prescribed in the Public School Program, accommodations will be made within the classroom, IPPs will be developed in any subject area for a student who is unable to achieve the outcomes and learning support intervention will first take place within the classroom, the Manual provides a procedure to be followed for the "possible partial or total exemption from any course / subject".

No doubt a bit of a two-edge sword, the use of a Service Plan might be very useful in this instance. The procedure must include "the appropriate Family of Schools Consultant(s]" and "the final decision for any exemption must be documented on the Service Plan Form".  Further, if a student on an IPP is exempted from any subject, this must be documented on a Service Plan, and attached to the IPP.

The steps to be followed in developing a service plan are set out as follows:

1. The decision to develop a Service Plan is made on an annual basis by the Site-based Support Team in a meeting with the appropriate Family Consultant(s).

2. Prior to this meeting, the Site-based Support Team gathers the appropriate documentation supporting the rationale for development and implementation of a Service Plan (i.e. current psychoeducational reports, previous and current attendance records, student reports which track the student's progress, outside agency reports, etc).

 3. Service Plans should not be suggested to parents / guardians until it is agreed by the Site-based Support Team and the Consultant(s) to formally propose that a Service Plan be developed.

4. Once this agreement has been reached, the Site-based Support Team contacts parents / guardians to schedule a Program Planning Team Meeting.

5. The Program Planning Team:

 a. Convenes an initial meeting with the parents / guardians to propose and discuss the development of a Service Plan;

 b. (Note: if parents / guardians agree, Part 1 of the Service Plan Form is completed and signed at the meeting);

c. Completes the Service Plan Form and provides a copy of completed form to parents / guardians and the Family Consultant; and,

 d. Places the completed Service Plan Form in the student's cumulative record card; and,

e. Convenes (as appropriate) meetings to review, evaluate, revise the Service Plan.

Having followed this process, our parent in the CCRSB seeking to have their child with special needs exempted from French class should now have both the ammunition information needed to form a coherent argument to show their school and board exactly why their child needs such an exemption and a knowledge of the procedure to be followed sufficient to ensure that the procedure is, in fact, followed.

It should be noted that although not all school boards may provide for "service plans", it is very likely that the relevant school board itself will, in some form, have the "final say" in the manner. Or, at least, that's likely what the parent will be told.  That's exactly what I was told in the case of my child's exemption from French.  That and the fact that the school would have to come up with alternate programming acceptable to the Board to fill that time slot. In our case, that "alternate programming" was a life skills program which was accepted by the Board. 

The educated parent, however, will realize that the "final say" of the school board is a relative term as an appeal (informal or otherwise) can always be made for the Department's intervention. And, if a parent feels strongly enough on this or any other issue, other legal avenues might also be available.

That being said, it's important to remember that we need to pick out battles  and carefully choose which issues we will make a final stand on and proceed to legal action with. It's one thing to take such an issue to the school board and, failing that, to the Department. It's quite another to attempt to proceed past that level. Of course, that decision will always have to be made by a parent based on how harmful they feel the current situation is to their child.

But remember this - knowledge is power.  No matter what you are seeking for your child.


Special Education and Parents' Rights

The IPP Appeal Process