New Brunswick

Education minister calls for review of classroom inclusion policy

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said maintaining the status quo is no longer an option when it comes to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's inclusive classroom policy.

Policy will be reviewed to provide clarity on what exactly inclusion in education means

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said it's time to take a closer look at classroom composition in New Brunswick. (Maria Jose Burgos)

Education Minister Dominic Cardy is calling for a review of New Brunswick's inclusive education policy.

Cardy said maintaining the status quo is no longer an option when it comes to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's inclusive classroom policy, which, he said, isn't working effectively for students with developmental disorders, other students in the classroom and teachers. 

"The teachers are concerned that they're going to violate the inclusion policy if they discipline a child for acting out," Cardy said, adding students and teachers need to leave some classrooms several times a day or multiple times a week because a student is misbehaving. 

"We also have instances of violence against teachers [such as] biting, kicking, punching, spitting, teachers being urinated on."

Green paper tours leads to need for review

Cardy decided a review into the policy was necessary while on a province-wide tour seeking feedback on his green paper on education reform. The 25-page document discusses eliminating grade levels, introducing second language programming in daycares and using more artificial intelligence in the classroom.

On the tour, some parents expressed concerns about schools not having the proper supports and resources in place for children with special needs. 

Education Minister Dominic Cardy sought input on his green paper on education reform during a recent province-wide tour. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Sharron Gerrits, a Saint John mother of a boy with down syndrome, asked how Cardy planned to address the fact that there are not enough resources to make the inclusion model work.

"We hear students that are ... falling through the cracks," Gerrits said. "Every time we hear how important those supports are, but nothing ever changes."

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association began calling for changes to the province's inclusion policy in 2017. It said mixing students who have intellectual disabilities with students who don't can negatively impact the overall learning experience inside the classroom. 

Cardy said classrooms have been following an "old industrial era" model. Although schools are progressively changing, he said more needs to be done to accommodate children who learn differently and protect teachers from violent outbursts. 

"The difficulty is if you don't have the resources, obviously kids with behavioural issues have behavioural issues, and if they don't have proper supports then that can cause huge disruption in classrooms," Cardy said. 

Sarah Wagner, the executive director with the New Brunswick Association for Community Living, said she wants to make sure the province keeps in mind that the inclusion document is essentially a human rights document, adding parents fear having their children taught at separate schools.

"There is one thing to take a therapeutic approach and build a system that can have that within our schools. There's another thing for therapeutic sites," said Wagner.

Wagner said the children that fall under the program aren't just students with disabilities, but also newcomers, children struggling with mental health, children living in poverty and students with behavioral issues.

This means that any interaction with students is personalized and Wagner believes more support should be given to teachers.

"Why are we not looking at things like the supports and structures the resources the training that are made available so that all teachers are supported," said Wagner.

The review of the policy will include re-examining what the policy is responsible for and making sure that classrooms are properly resourced with educational assistants. 

New Brunswick's inclusive education policy was last updated in September 2013. 

The policy review will be conducted by the education department. George Daly, the deputy minister for the department and the former head of the NBTA, will be constructing a timeline for the review, which will begin sometime this summer.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Elizabeth Fraser