FNSA Learning

About the Special Education Program

The Special Education Program works to support First Nations schools to provide students high-quality, inclusive education services.

Types of services available:

  • Special Education Specialist Support
  • Speech Language Services
  • Psycho-Educational Assessments
  • Assistive Technology
  • Suggestions for Professional Development, resources, assessment tools, and more.

The Special Education Program  supports First Nations schools in meeting the needs of all of their students.  The program is implemented using an intervention-based approach to special education delivery, involving a systematic process that begins in the classroom, with an extensive use of informal and formative assessment techniques for the purpose of program planning and for identifying students who might need more intensive assessments and support, and/or ultimately psycho-educational diagnoses and possibly assistance from one or more specialists.

First Nations schools also have placed significant emphasis on early identification of special needs, as identifying and addressing exceptionalities as early as possible offers the best opportunity for mitigating challenges and giving students the greatest chance of long-term success.

In addition, the SEP program in BC includes both funding at the school-level for direct support for students with special needs, complemented by collective initiatives to create economies-of-scale and increase access to necessary expertise and special education materials.

Accordingly, each year all First Nations schools are provided an allocation to support their special education programming, with accompanying workplans, reporting, IEP requirements, and additional responsibilities set out in contribution agreements.  In addition, a separate portion of the BC SEP funding is allocated through a proposal process to schools with specific students with high cost low incidence special needs who cannot be served using the school’s annual grant.  Using these funds, First Nations schools have made great progress in terms of their special education programming.

In addition, collective activities are implemented to maximize the benefits of the SEP funding.

  • SEP staff share information with schools, answer questions, organize services, and provide overall management to ensure the effective operation of the SEP program.
  • The SEP staff are working to provide ongoing assistance to all interested First Nations schools in BC through professional development and training workshops, to which all First Nations schools are invited to send representatives.  Professional development opportunities are designed – to the extent possible – to recognize geographic challenges, meaning that community and/or regionally-based training opportunities are seen as particular priorities.
  • Seven Learning Assistance Teacher Networks are now being facilitated, through which Learning Assistance Teachers meet regularly through teleconference for advice and information sharing.  The LATs were able to meet as a whole group for two days, as well as in individual groups face-to-face to receive professional development on relevant topics. All Learning Assistants in all First Nations schools are welcome to join in this initiative.
  • Each year, schools are able to apply for additional funding grants to support students with specific high cost special needs.  All schools that identify students through this process receive at least one visit during the school year, additional visits if possible, as well as ongoing support through phone and email.
  • SEP Managers and Coaches provide training and in-school support to promote the development, delivery, implementation and evaluation of strategies and programs aimed at increasing the quality of special education services throughout BC.  Continued student, school and community assistance is provided on an on-going basis through emails, telephone and technology.  To date, all schools that have requested support from a SEP Manager or Coach have received it before the end of the school year – although for scheduling purposes, priority is assigned to schools with the greatest numbers of students with high cost special needs enrolled.
  • FNSA/FNESC-sponsored Speech Language Pathologists are working in a number of First Nations schools in various regions of the province.  The SLP services provide teachers with much-needed information and language development strategies, and assessment and intervention recommendations are provided for students with exceptional learning needs.
  • FNESC/FNSA-contracted Occupational Therapists (OTs) are now working in over 30 First Nations schools throughout the province. This new initiative provides families and school staff with training and information on the motor development of children.  The OTs provided student assessments and follow up, with intervention recommendations and staff training.  In an initial pilot phase, students were selected based on recommendations from SEP field staff.  This initiative is now included in a second level service application process and is available for all schools moving into the 2017/2018 school year.
  • The Special Education Program sponsored a total of 12 days of training for Education Assistants who are working with students with high cost special needs to address literacy and numeracy instruction, behaviour management, effective participation as a student team member, and assistance with specific exceptionalities.
  • Finally, the FNSA has coordinated a provincial-level approach to psycho-educational assessments for students referred for potential learning and behavioural exceptionalities.  Each year, FNSA/FNESC hire specialists and assign them to visit schools to conduct appropriate assessments and provide associated follow-up, as possible given available time and resources.


First Nations schools can request services from the FNESC/FNSA Special Education Team.


Holly Smith, Director, Special Education Program, Toll-free 1-855-250-5083  hollys@fnesc.ca

Barb O’Neill, Executive Assistant, Special Education,  Toll-free 1-877-422-3672 barbo@fnesc.ca

Rosie Caputo, Manager of Special Education, rosiec@fnesc.ca

Program Resources

SEP Handbook and Application 

Special Education Reporting