N.B. taking a closer look at inclusion policy for public schools
FREDERICTON -- Debate around classroom inclusion has surfaced again in New Brunswick.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy says there are major problems with the current system -- and some teachers agree.
Cardy says New Brunswick has "come a long way" from putting students with disabilities in segregated facilities, but more needs to be done to ensure the "inclusion" policy works for everyone.
"We need to help the kids who have trouble controlling themselves and that has to come with resources and additional trained staff and so on," Cardy said. "But we also have to start off by saying that every single child has the right to a peaceful and constructive and happy learning environment."
New Brunswick's inclusion policy has been both praised and criticized since it was introduced seven years ago.
Just last year, a United Nation's independent expert on the rights of persons with disabilities visited a Fredericton school and said in a report that they "welcome the progress in inclusive education achieved in New Brunswick, where all children with disabilities attend regular schools.”
The report went on to describe the situation in the province's schools as "one of the best in the world and should be taken as a role model."
But the teachers' association says there are gaps that desperately need to be addressed:
"We hear about the violence that's occurring on a daily basis," said Rick Cuming, the president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association. "Yes, there are classrooms that are evacuated on a daily basis."
So, Cardy has called for a review on the policy, and that's something that teachers welcome, but only if it leads to more teachers and better training.
"The inclusive education system is woefully underfunded and so a policy review in and of itself isn't necessarily going to ensure that the resources are delivered," Cuming said.
Cuming says he'll be looking for increases in the education budget next month.
Sarah Wagner of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living says this is all about students.
"It could be newcomers, it could be students with a disability, it could be students from poverty or coming to school hungry," Wagner said. "This could be kids with mental health needs."
Wagner says the policy is meant to protect all students' rights.
She's worried this review will water it down.
"I think our concern is that the starting point is a review of the policy, rather than putting to action the supports that are needed," Wagner said.
Everyone agrees they want to be included in the discussion as it moves forward.
"If, for example, you have a child who is aggressively misbehaving, and that causes the rest of the children in the class to be evacuated, which has come to be seen as part of the inclusion protocols, even though it absolutely isn't," Cardy said. "That ends making people concerned about inclusion, and whether this is having a really negative effect on their child's classroom environment and their learning abilities."
Cardy says his department will be consulting parents, teachers, associations and unions with the goal of having this review completed in the next six to eight months.