Ottawa’s gifted student debate heats up

Do gifted students belong in congregated or integrated classrooms? An Ottawa public school board is in the middle of this heated debate.
Do gifted students belong in congregated or integrated classrooms? An Ottawa public school board and a group of parents are currently debating the issue. Tbel Abuseridze

As schools move increasingly towards integrated classrooms — merging students with disabilities and non-special needs students together — where do gifted students fit in this dynamic?

A group of parents in Ottawa believe there remains a need for separate classrooms for gifted students, who, in standard classrooms, may face bullying or have behaviour or mental health issues related to boredom or intellectual isolation.

While congregated classrooms exist for gifted students in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), currently these children are placed in regular classrooms first.

Through a process the board calls "tiered intervention", students are first given additional support within regular classrooms and later moved into smaller, specialized classrooms if necessary.

According to the Ottawa Citizen1, some parents with gifted children are claiming that the board is making it difficult for gifted students to tier into congregated classrooms.

In a memo provided to the OCDSB by the board's director of education Jennifer Adams (PDF 431kb), there is a noticeable drop within the past four years in the number of identified gifted elementary students and those placed within congregated classrooms.2

In 2013-2014, 692 OCDSB gifted elementary students were in congregated classrooms, and in the 2017-2018 school year, there were 416.
In 2013-2014, 692 OCDSB gifted elementary students were in congregated classrooms, and in the 2017-2018 school year, there were 416. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

OCDSB trustee Christine Boothby is proposing a motion to remove the three-step tiering and allow parents to request that their gifted child be placed directly into congregated classrooms.

Board staff oppose the motion, arguing that gifted students should "not be given privileges not available to others."1

Parents of gifted children attended a board committee session earlier in October 2018, and the Ottawa Citizen reported two example cases:

Father Ben Librande said his gifted son began kindergarten as a “capable, engaged and social student” but the regular classroom was “unable to meet his social and emotional needs.” The boy began experiencing anxiety and “challenging behaviours” that in Grade 1 earned him 10 exclusions and two suspensions from school.

A Grade 8 gifted student told trustees that he was bullied in the regular classroom by both fellow students and teachers who told him to stop reading and make friends with the students who hated him. He’s happy now in a congregated class where the teacher understands his educational needs, he said.1

The OCDSB are expected to vote on removing "tiering intervention" for gifted students Tuesday, October 30, 2018.

Postscript

The results of the Oct. 30th OCDSB meeting was to indefinitely defer a vote on removing tiering intervention for gifted students, and instead review the operations of all special education programs (including gifted students, students with autism and other learning disability classifications). A plan for the review is expected in Feb. 2019, and an update on the review is to be provided in Oct. 2019.

Tiering intervention will continue for gifted students until Oct. 2019 at the earliest.

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About Robert J. Ballantyne

Robert J.Ballantyne is a teacher-in-training at the University of Ottawa. In a former life, he was a journalist and producer/director at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked at the Toronto Star and freelanced at other publications.

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