School Options in BC
In-person (IP) schools, often referred to as “brick & mortar”, public schools are your local school(s) open to all students. Offering K-12/13 education some school districts also offer Strong Start programs for children under age 5.
Public schools can offer in-person classes, online learning, and blended models between the two. Typically, if you live in an area with a neighbourhood school, that is called your ‘catchment’ school. If you desire your child to attend a school outside of your catchment area, you need to apply for cross-boundary registration and enrollment in the school depends on the availability of designated spaces for your child’s grade.
Application for cross-boundary is typically on a year-to-year basis with no guarantee of acceptance even if your child or a sibling attended the school in the previous year(s). Some schools operate under a lottery system rather than a first-come, first-serve waitlist. Cross boundary will consider how many designated spots are in your child’s grade and if there is space for any additional designations, priorities are always for in-catchment registrations.
In BC, the Ministry of Education uses an Inclusive Education approach. You can read more about your child’s rights to inclusive education here in the 6th edition of the InclusionBC Parent Handbook: Parent Handbook on Inclusive Education – Advocacy Resources, Inclusive Education – Inclusion BC
Independent schools are regulated by the Independent School Act and overseen by the Ministry of Education. Independent schools offer Online Learning (OL), and some have brick-and-mortar locations as well.
Private Schools also fall under the Independent School Act and can be operating as secular or non-secular. Acceptance into private schools with a designation is dependent on the school’s ability to support your child’s needs. If you are exploring private education, our best advice would be to connect with other families in the area who have an autistic child who attends the school and what their experiences have been. Private schools do have the right to deny your child acceptance into their program if they feel they cannot support your child adequately.
Find out more about private school options and costs: Private Schools – Autism Funding in BC (asdfunding.com)
Education Options in BC
“Homeschooling is typically led by a home educator (a parent or guardian) who delivers an educational program to a child at home. Homeschoolers are not eligible to receive a Dogwood diploma unless they’ve achieved all 80 required credits. B.C. Certificate of Graduation.
Homeschooling programs are not:
- Supervised by a B.C.-certified teacher
- Required to meet provincial standards
- Inspected by the Ministry of Education”
Government of BC 2021
Sometimes referenced as unschooling, homeschooling students are not registered with government-accredited schools. Their educational programs are not regulated by the Ministry of Education and students are not eligible for designation funding.
Designation Funding: K-12 Funding – Special Needs – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)
“Homeschooling comes with great responsibility – choosing this option means parents must provide and supervise their child’s entire educational program, including curriculum and learning materials.
See a comparison of classroom alternatives to see if online learning may better meet your needs.” (Source: Homeschooling – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca))
Online Learning – OL (formerly Distributed Learning) is offered by both public and independent schools.
Online Learning schools are BC Ministry of Education or government-funded schools that offer choice in how the BC curriculum is delivered to students who choose to learn outside of a regular “brick and mortar” school.
OL programs are:
- Supervised by a B.C.-certified teacher
- Required to meet provincial standards
- Inspected by the Ministry of Education
“Both public and independent online learning schools offer online classes. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 7 must take a full course load at one school, while students in Grades 8 to 12 may learn from home entirely or learn at school and take some courses online.” Government of BC 2021
The dual enrollment is called a blended learning approach.
Starting in spring 2023, you can choose one of the following options:
Option 1: Sign up with a local or an independent school that offers online learning
- Contact your school district to find out about local online learning schools or available online learning options at a neighbourhood school
- Contact an independent online learning school, or find out if an independent school near you offers any online learning options
Option 2: Sign up with a provincial online learning school
Learn more about the 2023 online learning changes, which were implemented on July 1, 2023. Online Learning Policy – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)
To learn more about Online Learning and Provincial Online Learning Schools: Home | Online Learning BC
When to Enroll?
If you are starting your school journey and entering Kindergarten, enrollment usually begins in January or February for the school year beginning in September of that year. You can help this transition go smoothly by:
- Before the first day, try to visit the school and tour your child’s new classroom.
- Meet with school staff and share your child’s strengths, needs, interests, and difficulties.
- Ask about the necessary support and materials your child needs
- Involve your current support team in this transition
- Contact the District Inclusive Education staff member for your area. District staff typically work through the summers or return a couple of weeks ahead of the start of the school year.
- Check out our Back to School Planning Blog for more tips.
- If you are starting at a new school or changing schools mid-year enroll as soon as possible. Even while not taking full enrollment information most schools will have a waitlist for students, often accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis as spots become available. You can be on several waitlists. However, you are often required to have an address within the local area.
- If you live within a school’s catchment area, they are often obligated to enroll your child. However, sometimes you can be waitlisted if they are at capacity with designated students.
- If you live outside a school’s catchment area enrollment will be subject to space and available resources.
- Many online learning schools open enrollment as early as February and many of the larger independent schools do have waiting lists for their programs that have access to designation funding.
If you have a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis the Ministry of Children & Families (MCFD) gives the Ministry of Education (MoE) access to funds as autism funding changes at the age of six years old. While these funds are not targeted at individual students, they are intended to support inclusion. This funding is defined as Special Needs Level 2, Autism Spectrum Disorder, category G designation: K-12 Funding – Special Needs
How do schools use the funding they receive from the Ministry of Education?
Public School Districts:
Public school districts use what is described as a pooled funding method. All funding goes into a general pool for all schools and each district will ask for the resources and support they need for their schools and students. Communication with your school team, participation in the IEP process, and support with advocating is important to ensuring your child’s needs are being heard and addressed. The designation funding does not guarantee direct educational assistance to your child, so it is also important to discuss the level of support you feel is needed for your child with the school team. Many Districts are currently facing budget shortages, so it is vital to be vocal for your child as support may be limited.
Although some Independent schools may use a pooled funding method similar to the public system, most often, a portion of the funds received for a student is assigned as a budget to assist in providing support and resources necessary to reach goals outlined in a student’s IEP. The budget amount will vary depending on the school, expense decisions are made as a team and must directly relate to IEP goals.
All school-based funding designation funding disbursement happens twice a school year in the fall & winter terms.
The online learning school options, allow parents/caregivers more control and flexibility on how the funds can be spent and what types of support will meet the child’s needs for the year. The funding allocation is typically set up as part of the IEP.
When choosing an independent school it is also important to learn if they are secular or non-secular and if this aligns with your family’s values.
Independent Schools in BC:
Full list here: Support Resources | Online Learning BC
If a child is enrolled in an online learning (OL) or blended program such as NIDES, the program may also operate an in-person Learning Centre (Nuko). Some Learning Centres are through Behaviour Intervention Agencies and are paid as Behaviour Intervention/Consultation such as (Claro, Let Me Be Me, PivotPoint, Gateway Behaviour Services, Excel, etc.)
Learning Centres operate under the Ministry of Education Inclusive Education Funds (Special Needs Designation funding) and potentially the funds from the child’s autism funds through MCFD, Child & Youth with Support Needs (CYSN). The annual Autism Funding of $6,000 can be paid to the Learning Centre for fees. This means if you choose to allocate all your AFU funds to a Learning Centre, you will likely not have funds outside of the Learning Centre program for support.
Families that chose to not use the child’s autism funding to cover the additional costs may pay in the range of $500-600 monthly or $6,500 annually, per each Centre’s fees.
Many Learning Centres operate under the Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approach to education and intervention and have Behaviour Interventionists (BIs) as their Educational Assistant staff rather than Teachers. The BIs report to the Learning Centre’s Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) and must also submit the child’s curriculum work and progress, based on IEP goals, to continue to receive MoE OL funding for the child at the Centre. The BIs also work closely with the OL Teacher/Learning Consultant (Self Design, Ebus, Nides, etc.) assigned to the student to ensure they are meeting student goals and learning outcomes.
The support ratio is typically 3-to-1 student to adult and the learning structure can be academic mornings and then social/ community outings afternoons.
Many of these Centres run Monday through Friday 9:00 am – 2:00 pm and follow their local school district calendar timetable.
Learning Centres may be a great alternative for families that have exhausted their public school options for their children and have struggled with school exclusion. We do hear from families that have found greater success and less exclusion in the Learning Centre approach to education.
For caregivers who are employed full-time, a Learning Centre may reduce the barrier to continuing their employment versus having a child at home for their learning. Connecting with other families enrolled in a particular Learning Centre is your best way to know if it may be the right fit and approach for your child and their support needs. Please ensure you discuss the learning pathways with each Learning Centre to understand if your child can obtain a Dogwood Diploma or an Evergreen Certificate. Learn more about these options below when we discuss the graduation pathways.
What about Graduation?
There is so much to consider when looking at what graduation for your child may look like. This will be an evolving journey and decisions should be made with your child involved as much as possible. Learning about the different types of graduation certificates and programs and how they may affect post-secondary options will help you feel prepared to make these choices as they arise.
Dogwood Diploma “The B.C. Certificate of Graduation or “Dogwood Diploma” is awarded to students who successfully complete the provincial graduation requirements.” Government of BC 2023
“Dogwood Diploma – at a glance
The B.C. Certificate of Graduation or “Dogwood Diploma” is awarded to students who successfully complete the provincial graduation requirements.
Students require a minimum of 80 credits to graduate.
Of these 80 credits:
- At least 16 credits must be at the Grade 12 level, including a required Language Arts 12 and Career Life Connections
- At least 28 credits must be elective course credits
- Effective July 1, 2023: At least 4 credits must have an Indigenous-focus (see Indigenous-Focused Graduation Requirements – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca) for additional information)
- 52 credits are required from the following:
- Career-Life Education (4 credits), and Career-Life Connections (4 credits)
- Physical and Health Education 10 (4 credits)
- Science 10 (4 credits), and a Science 11 or 12 (4 credits)
- Social Studies 10 (4 credits), and a Social Studies 11 or 12 (4 credits)
- A Math 10 (4 credits), and a Math 11 or 12 (4 credits)
- A Language Arts 10, 11 and a required 12 (12 credits total)
- An Arts Education 10, 11, or 12 and/or an Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies 10, 11, or 12 (4 credits total)
In addition, students must also complete three graduation assessments:
- The Grade 10 Numeracy Assessment
- The Grade 10 Literacy Assessment
- The Grade 12 Literacy Assessment
“Students may earn credits toward graduation in a variety of ways. In addition to earning credits by successfully completing courses delivered by a B.C. public or independent school, students will be awarded credits through this policy.” Government of BC 2023
Earning Credit through Equivalency, Challenge, External Credentials, Post Secondary Credit and Independent Directed Studies – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)
Curriculum and Assessment Links:
Adult Graduation An adult high school diploma is the British Columbia Adult Graduation Diploma (BCAGD), also known as the “Adult Dogwood.” It is for adult learners (18 years of age and older) who want to take courses in order to complete high school and obtain their adult high school diploma. Courses can be taken at school district continuing education centres and/or at one of the public post-secondary institutions that delivers Adult Education programs across the province.
“To graduate with an Adult Dogwood, students must have:
- A required Language Arts 12 course
- A Math 11 or 12 course
- At least three additional Grade 12 electives, or a Grade 11 Socials Studies course and two additional Grade 12 electives
Courses and credits can be counted from either or both the public secondary and post-secondary systems.
Of the five courses required for the Adult Dogwood, at least three must be completed after the adult student has entered the Adult Graduation Program, either through enrolment (instruction) or Prior Learning Assessment. This means that students can receive credit toward the Adult Dogwood for no more than two qualifying courses completed while in the B.C. (school-aged) Graduation Program. You cannot receive an Adult Dogwood using only courses completed prior to enrolling in the Adult Graduation Program.
Adult learners are not required to complete the Graduation Numeracy or Literacy Assessments to graduate with the Adult Dogwood. At the same time, adult learners should be aware that some post-secondary institutions may require that students write assessments/examinations for admission purposes.
For questions and answers regarding the Adult Dogwood, please refer to the ABE Articulation guide (PDF).” Source: British Columbia Adult Graduation Diploma Program – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca) Government of BC 2021
School Completion Certificate Program
“The School Completion (“Evergreen”) Certificate is intended to celebrate success in learning that is not recognized in a Certificate of Graduation (Dogwood Diploma). Evergreen Certificate
It is used to recognize the accomplishments of students with special needs and an Individual Education Plan, who have met the goals of their education program, other than graduation (and not all students with special needs should be in an Evergreen Certificate Program.)
The Evergreen Certificate is not a graduation credential; students who receive an Evergreen have not graduated. It is important that students and their parents clearly understand that the Evergreen represents the completion of personal learning goals but does not represent graduation.
Some students may be unable to meet graduation requirements due to their special needs. However, the decision to put a student in an Evergreen Program should not be made prior to Grade 10, and should include the informed consent of the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s).
All students of school age are entitled to an education program, whether or not that program leads to graduation. For students pursuing an Evergreen Certificate, their education program should enable them to meet their individual learning goals. Accordingly, they should have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that indicates their personal education goals, how the goals will be achieved, and on-going monitoring and assessment to know when the goals have been met and an Evergreen Certificate should be issued. Parents and, wherever appropriate, the student are to be provided an opportunity to be consulted about the preparation of the IEP.
In addition to receiving an Evergreen Certificate, students on an Evergreen path are also entitled to a Ministry transcript of successfully completed Grades 10-12 courses, both for-credit and non-credit, including Ministry-authorized, Board/Authority Authorized (BAA), and Locally Developed (LD) courses (e.g. IEP courses).
As with graduation program students, the Transcript of Grades should provide prospective employers and post-secondary institutions with relevant information concerning the student’s education program accomplishments. As such, it should include meaningful information. For that reason, course titles should be (re)titled to meaningfully represent course content (e.g. for XSIEP courses) before submission to the Ministry’s Transcript and Examinations (TRAX) system. Course titles can be customized for every student.
Note that it is up to Boards of Education to request a transcript for an Evergreen Certificate student. If it is not in the best interest of the student to receive a transcript (e.g., students with limited awareness of their surroundings, students with fragile mental/physical health, students medically and cognitively/multiply challenged), schools may apply for the Evergreen Certificate only.” Government of BC 2021 (Source: School Completion Certificate Program – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca))
Funding Adapted and Modified Programs: What is the Difference?
Adapted: Any changes or supports needed to help a student meet Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO) and obtain a Dogwood diploma. All accommodations should be noted in a student’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
“Teaching and assessment strategies made to accommodate a student’s special needs, and may include alternate formats (e.g., Braille, books-on-tape), instructional strategies (e.g., use of interpreters, visual cues and aids) and assessment procedures (e.g., oral exams, additional time, assistive technologies). Adaptations enable achievement toward the learning outcomes of the provincially prescribed curriculum.” Government of BC 2021
Modified: Changes to a student’s learning plan that work towards personal goals and don’t require meeting Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO). Students on modified programs work towards an Evergreen Certificate.
“Modifications are a form of accommodation which establish learning outcomes specifically designed to meet a student’s special needs. Modified learning outcomes are substantially different from those within the provincially prescribed curriculum.” Government of BC 2021
- DL Distributed Learning (Now Online Learning)
- OL Online Learning (Formally Distributed Learning)
- IDL Independent Distributed Learning
- IOL Independent Online Learning
- OSP Online Service Provider
- IOSP Independent Online Service Provider
- IDL Independent Directed Studies
- IEP Individualized Education Plan
- HS Homeschooling
- HL Home Learner
- PLO Prescribed Learning Outcomes
- BCAGD Adult Graduation Diploma Program
Support Resources | Online Learning BC
BC Government Online Learning
Do you have something to contribute? Or see something that needs correction or updating? Contact us.