Autism advocate raises concerns over inclusive education
Harold Doherty says the $62M inclusive education funding boost does not help kids with intellectual disabilities
Autism advocate and Fredericton lawyer Harold Doherty is questioning the education department's inclusive education model announced Tuesday.
Harold Doherty, who has an autistic son and runs a blog dedicated to autism issues, said the inclusive education model is a "philosophy" and said the classroom isn't the right setting for every child.
"It's a philosophy, it's not an evidence based approach to educating children with disabilities," Doherty said.
"Some children, particularly on the autism spectrum, and it's not all, but some children with autism disorders can't function properly in the mainstream classroom, and in fact it can cause harm, as it did to my son many years ago."
The New Brunswick government will invest $62 million over the next three years to improve inclusive education by creating about 140 to 150 new teaching positions and increasing the number of hours for education assistants.
Doherty said part of that plan is to have students all students, regardless of learning disability, in the same classroom.
"Looking the report over, after listening to the news conference today it's pretty clear this is really just a throw back to the previous model of full or extreme inclusion which requires that every child be kept in the mainstream classroom," he said.
He went on to say that many children in the autism spectrum are sensory challenged and that the stimulation they receive in a mainstream classroom can result in the child lashing out, physically.
"Behaviour such as biting and so forth," Dorherty points out. "They have a very specialized form of instruction called ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis for Autism). In many cases and it's really difficult to do that in the classroom, you need a separate quieter environment to do that most of the time. The teachers themselves aren't trained in this methodology."
Doherty said he also worries that even though the new model means more money for staff, funding to train education assistants to work with autistic kids is being rolled back.
"Now they’re going back to an in-house model of training, so the quality of instruction that the education assistants receive is going to decline substantially, in all likelihood. So that’s a real problem which is not mentioned at all in the report," he said.
Education Minister Jody Carr announced the three-year inclusive education spending plan on Tuesday.
"Today is the beginning of a new era in inclusive education," Carr said in a statement.
"We are positioning our resources to support better every child in reaching his or her full potential in inclusive positive learning environments."
The provincial government’s inclusive education model is based on public education being universal, individualized, flexible and responsive to change.
The Department of Education listed several initiatives that will be funded over the next three years.
The largest sums of money are being set aside for hiring and maintaining staff that will work in the inclusive education system.
There will be $18.8 million spent on the inclusive education model in the first year.
Of that, almost $12.5 million will be spent to create about 140 to 150 new teaching positions for "resource and methods, guidance counselling, behaviour interventionists and other teaching supports."
Carr said the funding reflects the provincial government's commitment to the future of education in New Brunswick.
"This is a clear demonstration today of our collaboration and partnership to support teachers and educational assistants, to support our students and families and schools, to do better for each and every child," Carr said, "So that our communities in the province can prosper for the future."
There will be another $1.2 million to increase hours for education assistants and $750,000 to create a new director of educational support services in each of the seven school districts.
The Department of Education is also investing $2.5 million to improve the inclusive education system. There will also be $1.4 million spent on two integrated services delivery sites in the province.
There will be $43.2 million spent in the final two years of the inclusion plan, according to the department.
Again, the largest amount of provincial money is being directed to staffing costs.
There will be almost $25 million spent to maintain the teaching positions hired in the first year of the education plan.
In addition to hiring more staff for the program, $250,000 will be set aside to make buildings more accessible.
Haley Flaro, executive director for Ability New Brunswick, said she is pleased.
"Our organization believes today is very historic because of how specific this announcement is," Flaro said. "I certainly came to this announcement with optimism but I am leaving with... a very tangible plan, a reallly specific commitment."
The Department of Education requested a report on inclusive education by experts Angela Aucoin and Gordon Porter.
Porter is a former chairman of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission and he served on Premier David Alward’s transition team after the 2010 election.
Carr thanked the two experts for their "comprehensive recommendations."
The inclusive education funding comes a few months after the department announced it was slashing the number of school districts to seven from 14.
The redesigned school districts resulted in the elimination of 65 jobs, Carr announced in May.
Carr estimated the provincial government would save $2.4 million by reorganizing the school districts.