An advocate for people with intellectual disabilities is defending the policy of inclusive education in New Brunswick.

Krista Carr, executive director of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living, said inclusion isn't the only reason some classroom teachers struggle to accommodate growing numbers of students with learning and behaviour challenges.

"This whole issue of inclusion continues to come up as the scapegoat for all the problems in the education system, so I guess I can't help but feel a little dismayed," Carr said.

Carr argues there are a lot of "dynamics" at play in New Brunswick classrooms, including French immersion.

"It also creates an effect in our system because it streams off the top 30 per cent of kids that choose to go into the immersion system, and they tend to be the kids that don't struggle," she said.

Classroom composition has been raised as part of the reason for low literacy test scores by New Brunswick Education Minister Brian Kenny, New Brunswick Teachers' Association president Guy Arseneault and education consultant Paul Bennett.

As an example, Arseneault recently described a high school English class of 28 students in which only two could read at grade level and most were struggling with learning disabilities or mental health issues.

Carr argued this was an extreme example of an English classroom.

"So that's really not a byproduct of inclusion." she said. "I'm not saying we shouldn't have immersion, but it's a dynamic that never gets brought into the conversation. It causes an effect on the system."

'Not enough resources in the system'

Carr also took issue with a suggestion by Bennett that New Brunswick look to Calgary for examples of a less restrictive inclusion policy that provides more alternatives for students who are struggling.

Bennett said he found 13 alternative programs for children with severe learning disabilities, mental health and wellness issues, autism spectrum disorder and various other challenges.

"Are we going to create a special program for every single solitary student that exhibits any kind of a learning need? I don't think that's a sustainable model either." - Krista Carr, N.B. Association for Community Living

"The whole entire population of this province wouldn't be a suburb of Calgary ... we shouldn't  be comparing ourselves to what they're doing in other provinces, we should be looking at what we do in New Brunswick," Carr said.

"Are we going to create a special program for every single solitary student that exhibits any kind of a learning need? I don't think that's a sustainable model either in a province of 750,000 people. Nor is it the right thing to be doing based on the research that's been done."

The answer, Carr argued, is not rewriting New Brunswick's inclusive education policy but rather ensuring it is being implemented properly with adeqate resources at the school level.

Fears segregated classes

"We have to be looking at the composition of classrooms, and then we have to be saying do we need to add more teaching resources? What do we need to do to support that learning environment so that all kids can learn," Carr said.

"Creating a whole bunch of separate and distinct, segregated learning environments for kids first of all is far more expensive and also ... kids are stigmatized and segregated and we're right back to where we started in the 1950s."

"Right now there just is not enough resources in the system."

with files from Information Morning Moncton