Education Minister Dale Kirby said the current inclusive education model in schools across Newfoundland and Labrador is "not working as it was intended," and it needs to change.
"If you look at student outcomes in our schools, children are not being best served by this model right now," he said.
"We have to make adjustments, because if we don't, we'll be failing our children."
Kirby said it's one of the issues that will be addressed by the Premier's Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes — a group of education experts examining the province's kindergarten to Grade 12 system.
"Let's face it, we didn't get into this situation overnight, and we're not going to get out of it quickly either," he said.
"Based on what I've seen firsthand, we need to change the way that we're mobilizing our resources, and providing resources to schools in order to serve students better."
Kirby was responding to issues raised in CBC's special series, Inside the Classroom — where a forum of 30 teachers spoke out about issues they face on the job.
Next to inclusive education, the biggest issue among the teachers is the increasing class sizes.
"We've been very up front from the beginning that larger class size means more work for teachers," Kirby said.
He noted how, in last year's budget, government had not reduced the allocation of instructional resource teachers (IRTs), or other specialist positions, like speech pathologists and educational psychologists.
Kirby said the province added 27 IRT positions last year, as well as more than 100 hours of additional student assistant time.
When asked if he thought that kept up with the demand in increasingly large inclusive classes, he was quick to respond.
"Absolutely not. No, there's no question about it," Kirby said.
Violence in the classroom
During the forum, educators said large, inclusive classrooms with not enough resources was leading to violence against teachers.
"It's disturbing that that would happen at all, but it does happen in our schools," Kirby said.
'We are challenged to provide inclusive education with the resources that we have...' - Dale Kirby, education minister
Despite the issues with the current inclusive education model, Kirby said he doesn't want to go back to the days of segregation, like Exon House in St. John's — a provincial institution that housed children and adults with developmental disabilities.
"We are challenged to provide inclusive education with the resources that we have and the model that we're trying to use," he said, noting that teachers work under exceptionally difficult circumstances.
"I just think we really have to adjust things, change the way that we're doing things, and I'm really hoping to work with the task force when they get to the end of the road."
A report is expected from the task force in June, and then they will develop an action plan.
"It is my hope that in the budget next year, that we can start to put things together, in a way that we can change the system for September 2018," Kirby said.
"I fully acknowledge that's sort of cold comfort for people right now who are looking for help."
Stepping inside the classroom
Kirby said he has visited many schools and spoken with teachers, so he wasn't shocked by anything he heard throughout the Inside the Classroom series.
"But I don't dispute that there are significant challenges that we have to overcome, because otherwise we're failing our kids, and I don't want to be responsible for that," he said.
'There are significant challenges that we have to overcome, because otherwise we're failing our kids...' - Dale Kirby, education minister
When asked if disciplinary action would be taken against the teachers who spoke out as part of the series, Kirby replied: "Never."
"I have been very clear from the beginning: We need to hear from teachers," he said.
"They're able to speak out publicly; there's no problem with that."