New Brunswick

Cardy hears parent frustrations about inclusion, workload, constant changes

Overworked teachers, an unreliable inclusion system and break downs in communication between everyone involved were all problems highlighted at Tuesday night’s consultation session with the minister of education.

Dominic Cardy speaks to parents, teachers, administrators at 3rd stop in green paper consultation tour

Minister of Education Dominic Cardy heard input from approximately 70 people at Harbour View High School Tuesday night. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Overworked teachers, an unreliable inclusion system and a break down in communication between everyone involved were all problems highlighted at Tuesday night's consultation session with the minister of education.

Minister of Education Dominic Cardy was in Harbour View High School for stop number three in his cross-province tour to get feedback on his green paper on education reform.

Around 70 people, including teachers, parents and administrators attended. They split up into groups and answered four questions provided to them by the minister's team. They discussed what's working and not working with the system now, what green-paper-proposed changes should be prioritized and what should change on the governance front.

After answering the questions together, one member of each group stood at a microphone and summarized the answers. Almost every group representative touched on how including every ability level in the classroom is a good goal that's not being met. They said it's partly because teachers are overworked and educational assistants assigned to the students may not be equipped to deal with the more complicated conditions.

Sharon Gerrits asked what concrete plans the minister has to address the fact that there are not enough resources to make the inclusion model work for her son who has Down syndrome. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Sharron Gerrits, whose son has Down syndrome and attends Barnhill Memorial School, asked the minister exactly what he plans to do to address the lack of support for the educational assistants her son requires.

"Where is your plan for that? I don't see anything in the green paper about EAs," she said. 

Gerrits said it impacts teachers because they're dealing with classrooms that are not being managed properly or students that don't have the proper support.

"It hurts the students," she said, her voice cracking. "I don't see any concrete plan, thought or process in place other than 'yes, we agree it's an issue.'"

In response, Cardy said EAs are not mentioned in the green paper but mental health and inclusion are mentioned — and are a priority. He could not give Gerrits a concrete answer, however.

"Those plans are now just beginning. I can't give you a full list of all the details of how this is going to be addressed," he said. 

"The point of this — which is actually just fairly unusual for government policy processes — is to see what the public actually think is the most important thing. So we can get a sense of where to focus my efforts."

After the exchange with Cardy, Gerrits said this conversation has already been going on for too long.

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

Too many changes

Many participants expressed their frustration about the government constantly changing the system, and using education as a political tool. Speakers accused both the liberals and conservatives of doing this, and doing it for too long.

At the mic Elizabeth Zed said her eldest — almost four years old — will be old enough to join the school system right about the time the green paper changes could be implemented. She asked the minister to be cautious about what changes he implemented and why.

"It gives me anxiety thinking about where [my daughter] would be best served," she said. "I worry that some of the changes could be made without evidence-based educational theories."

Elizabeth Zed, mother to a girl who will be entering the New Brunswick education system soon, says she's worried there have been too many changes to the system to know what works and what doesn't. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

She said there's no specific proposed change in the green paper that worries her, but she's concerned about the amount of changes that have been made in the past years.

"I am not certain that we've had a chance to see what works and what doesn't," she said. "My main concern is that we're making changes without knowing if they are going to work and how we're going to measure if they're working."

Zed said she's grateful that Cardy gave community members the chance to speak.

"It was very important that he give us this opportunity … to provide feedback," she said. "I am hopeful that it's taken into account."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hadeel Ibrahim is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Saint John. She's been previously awarded for a series on refugee mental health and for her work at a student newspaper, where she served as Editor-in-Chief. She reports in English and Arabic. Email: hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca. Twitter: @HadeelBIbrahim

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