Mixing students who have intellectual disabilities with students who don't can have an impact on overall learning inside the classroom, the New Brunswick Teachers Association president says.
"It's difficult to be able to match all the needs of students learning in today's classroom," George Daley said Tuesday. "Classroom composition is our number one issue."
Earlier this week, education consultant Paul Bennett said the province's policy of one classroom for everyone is hurting students of all abilities, especially those who could be the highest achievers and those with complex needs.
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New Brunswick's policy of inclusive education, which was last updated in September 2013, requires all students be with their peers in a "common learning environment" and that instruction be primarily provided by the classroom teacher.
But Daley said there's a lack of resources to meet the high-end needs of students, including a lack of resource teachers in the system.
"There are some other classrooms where you have some complex needs and the whole combination of what's in those rooms is beyond what one person or one classroom teacher can accomplished," he said.
He cited a report by Gordon Porter and Angela AuCoin that recommended having one resource teacher per 120 students in the province, which he said would be a step forward.
Difficult to serve all needs
Right now, he said, the ratio is about one to 220.
"It's difficult to be able to match all the needs of students learning in today's classroom," he said.
Earlier this year, teachers ratified a five-year agreement with the Liberal government that called for adding 250 teachers to classrooms that face challenges related to the range of intellectual and physical abilities found in classrooms, which Daley says will help.
If you throw in complex cases of students with extreme behaviours, it can quickly turn a classroom environment into a direction that's not conducive to learning, he said.
"If you have those types of environments, there's going to be a cost to the class," he said.
For example, he said, some classrooms have had to be evacuated because of violent outbursts by students.
"Unfortunately, we do have some classes in the province that probably get evacuated fairly often," he said.
Daley said he wants to work with government to modify the inclusion policy and has recently approached Brian Kenny, the provincial education minister.
"We're four and a half years into this process where we have looked at this policy, we have taken it apart in detail," Daley said.
"We have given some quick fixes, long fixes and conversations about funding and it hasn't moved along to the speed that we would like to see."
Although there were no commitments to altering the inclusion program, Daley said the minister was committed to working with the teachers association.
"We need to look at the needs of every child in the system … and make sure we're assessing what those needs are and make sure the program we're offering meets their needs," he said.
Daley said he's also asked Premier Brian Gallant about reviewing the policy and hopes to meet with him.
"We have to have the right learning environments for everything else to work."