Montreal

Shortfalls in inclusive education push Quebec family to move to New Brunswick

This Sherbrooke family of five feels disillusioned by Quebec's policy of separating children who have disabilities.

Separating 5-year-old with mild intellectual disabilities from 'regular' classroom not helpful, father says

Maxim Beauregard-Dionne and his daughter, Adélaïde, who has an intellectual disability. The father hopes New Brunswick's inclusive education model will provide his daughter more autonomy in the future. (Submitted by Maxim Beauregard-Dionne )

Maxim Beauregard-Dionne's daughter Adélaïde is a spunky five-year-old with a mild intellectual disability, who was about to start kindergarten in Sherbrooke this fall.

But after the school board upheld its decision to place Adélaïde in a separate classroom at her school with other children with disabilities, some more acute than hers, Beauregard-Dionne and his partner, Martine Locas-Beauchesne, grew frustrated with how Quebec keeps children with special needs apart.

He likens the model to segregation and fears it could lead to his daughter being less autonomous in the future. 

Now, the family is moving to New Brunswick, a province known for its policy of including students with special needs children into its "regular" classrooms.

"You don't gain autonomy by having always somebody around you telling you what to do," Beauregard-Dionne, who recently resigned from his position as a commissioner at the French-language Sherbrooke regional school board ahead of the move, said in an interview on CBC's Quebec AM Friday.

"So maybe having less, sometimes, it's better."

30 years of inclusive education

New Brunswick's inclusion policy was instituted in 1986. Teachers received extra training, and support staff were added to schools — measures that are still in place today.

The program has resulted in better treatment of people with special needs, says Léonard Goguen, who co-wrote a report that influenced the province's decision at the time.

"Inclusion didn't only help children who had difficulties, but helped the other students see that everyone has the right to their own place," Goguen told Radio-Canada.

However, educators in New Brunswick have called for changes in the model there, saying it can be difficult for teachers to match everyone's needs.

Beauregard-Dionne said he and his partner have already witnessed the benefits that kind of inclusion can have on their daughter. 

When they went to pick up Adélaïde, the eldest of the couple's three children, from day camp this summer, they found her surrounded by four friends her age who did not have a disability. Her new friends were sad to see her go, he said. 

"That's probably where she had the least specialized assistance and in the end she didn't want to go back to daycare. She preferred the camp."

Quebec approach too medical, says father

The Quebec education system evaluates a child's needs and then decides where to place them according to the level of their disability.

In the spring, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission released a report damning the provincial system's treatment of students with disabilities, saying their needs and right to be treated equally were not being met.

Quebec's Education Ministry has defended itself to other media outlets, saying it has done more to improve services to students with disabilities. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC.

The school board declined to comment on the situation.

Beauregard-Dionne says he met the Education Minister Sébastien Proulx in May and was disappointed to hear Proulx had no concrete plans to create more inclusion within Quebec's education system.

Beauregard-Dionne says he was disappointed by a meeting he had with Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"It's not about the money [but] way more about the philosophy," Beauregard-Dionne says. 

"Here, we have a very medical approach. So we give a lot of individual service and we try to give individual medical service, but we're talking about school and learning, and learning is not a medical diagnosis."

Adélaïde's parents asked the French-language school board to review its decision not to allow their daughter into a regular classroom. It refused, but proposed to come up with a plan that could involve some inclusion. 

Beauregard-Dionne says it was too vague and the family wanted to act before their children grew older, making it more difficult for them to change schools. 

Adélaïde's father says she is excited to start at her new school in New Brunswick. (Submitted by Maxim Beauregard-Dionne )

The move will take some adjusting, though, Beauregard-Dionne said. The couple has rented a house in Moncton, but still has to sell theirs in Sherbrooke, which will involve trips back and forth. 

Locas-Beauchesne is pregnant and will be starting school herself this fall, studying education at the Université de Moncton. Beauregard-Dionne has been looking into starting a post-graduate degree in education and will continue to do so in New Brunswick. 

But he says it's worth the chance at a better future for his daughter. And Adélaïde, he says, has already visited her new school and can't wait to start.

With files from CBC's Quebec AM and Radio-Canada

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