New Brunswick

Inclusive education still best model, says advocate

A long-time advocate for inclusive education maintains it is still the right approach for students with special needs, despite recent criticisms from a high-profile autism advocate that the province is going too far.

A long-time advocate for inclusive education maintains it is still the right approach for students with special needs.

On Tuesday, a high-profile autism advocate argued the province is going too far to include some students who would be better off outside a regular classroom.

But Gordon Porter, who has played a key role in the province’s inclusive approach, defends the practice, saying it’s as various as the children and teachers who are in schools across the province.

Porter co-authored a book last year called Exploring Inclusive Education Practices Through Professional Inquiry. It included 25 stories of parents and teachers who are trying to make inclusion work by discussing choices, dilemmas.

"New Brunswick teachers are in favour of inclusion, but both teachers and parents need to work together to make sure that we do things appropriately and effectively," he said.

"That's the challenge in New Brunswick is to make sure the personalization is matched by the quality in the classroom to make sure that it's successful."

Advocacy groups

He rejected any notion that the provincial government's policy is being influenced by ties to a group that promotes inclusion of people who have intellectual disabilities in work, recreation and education.

The role of advocacy groups, Porter said, is not to run and control public policy, but to provide a vision and support to get things started.

"The Association for Community Living, like this is not some kind of mysterious organization that pops out of nowhere to do some secret thing," Porter said.

"It's an organization of parents and families that had to create alternatives for their children's education and are trying to make New Brunswick schools more effective over the years."

Porter used Jobs Unlimited as an example, calling it a world-class operation in having people with disabilities be part of their community. He said the only reason it works is because the schools are inclusive and provide the start for those young people.

The New Brunswick Community College also has many success stories of students with special needs, he said.

Classroom setting questioned

Harold Doherty, who has an autistic son and runs a blog dedicated to autism issues, contends the classroom isn’t the right setting for every child.

Doherty's son, Conor, for example, used to come home from school every day with bite marks on his hands and wrists.

"Some autistic children cannot function in a mainstream classroom. They're overwhelmed," Doherty told CBC News.

Doherty said he wants to see more evidence-based intervention in the school system.

Education Minister Jody Carr has said the provincial government will be enhancing evidence-based support services for autism in schools.

Porter, the former head of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, said he remembers a time when the province had no services for students with special needs.

There are now hundreds of specialized teachers and thousands of assistants, he said.

"What needs to happen is a very personalized approach, and in fact, every child who has a significant need in New Brunswick and in other places gets an individualized program to define what they can and can't do, what they should do," Porter said.

"These kinds of personalized programs are the key to what makes inclusive education work."

New Brunswickers should be proud all children are guaranteed access to their neighbourhood school, Porter said.