The Current

Inclusive education isn't living up to its name, expert says

On Monday, the New Brunswick government announced plans to track the number of students who attend school part-time because of behavioural or developmental issues. We hear from a parent and educational studies professor about just how inclusive — or not — the education system is, and what they think needs to change.

New Brunswick will review this fall if more can be done to accommodate students with special needs

The New Brunswick government will start to assess if inclusive education is serving its true purpose and whether more can be done to accommodate students with special needs this fall. Parents and teachers say this policy could provide a framework for other provinces, like B.C. and Ontario. (Brenna Owen/CBC)

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An Ontario professor, who has worked in special education for decades, says a lack of framework is short-changing students with special needs on their time in the classroom. 

Children who have intellectual disabilities are often simply sent home when complications arise at school, said Sheila Bennett, the associate dean of education at Brock University.

"We don't have any way of thinking about doing that with kids who we assume are going to stay in school all day. But with a child with a disability, we somehow have this different set of assumptions," she told The Current's guest host Matt Galloway.

The New Brunswick government recently announced that in September it will start tracking the number of students attending school part-time due to behavioural or developmental issues. The goal of this effort — the first of its kind in Canada — will be to assess if inclusive education is serving its true purpose and whether more can be done to accommodate students with special needs.

New Brunswick's inclusive education system currently has children with special needs learning in the same classroom as their peers. This model has been in place for more than a decade.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the New Brunswick government plans to track the number of students on partial or reduced days starting in September. (CBC)

In a 2018 survey for Community Living Ontario, Bennett examined how much time students with special needs spend in the classroom in an inclusive education system. There were 280 online surveys, sent to parents of children with special needs in or recently graduated from the Ontario public school system, included in her analysis. 

Bennett said the results suggested that students are disproportionately excluded from the classroom, with many participants reporting their child had been told to come in late or leave school early. 

"Of an average of six hours a day, some of [the students] were losing up to 3.86 hours per day of schooling," she said.

The reasons school administrators parents with ranged from the absence of educational assistance to the student in question having a "hard day" or it was "too much for them," said Bennett. 

If there's any notion that segregating children out is a solution to these types of problems — that is not a solution.- Sheila Bennett

Despite the gaps in the system, the former special education teacher believes that inclusive education is the way forward.

"If there's any notion that segregating children out is a solution to these types of problems — that is not a solution," she told Galloway.

"The real solution is thinking of a system that's much more nimble and much more flexible in being able to provide the support where it's needed, when it's needed, to build the capacity in teachers and in school communities with good leadership so that we can anticipate things are going to happen. Put supports in place and then, you know, keep our promise that school is for all children."

Not unique to the east 

Nicole Kaler is a board member of BCEdAccess, a support organization aimed at parents and guardians of students with special needs in British Columbia. Her 18-year-old daughter, Maya, has autism and "significant needs." 

Maya's experience in school mirrors the findings of Bennett's study, Kaler asserts.

She recalls having to check her phone first thing each school day to see whether the educational assistant trained to help Maya — of which she said there was only one in the school — would be in that day. If not, she'd have to keep Maya home.

Kaler explained she had to bring in outside help, on her own dime, so that Maya has a constant support with her in the classroom.

Nicole Kaler said she had to hire outside support to ensure her daughter, who has autism, can attend school each day in B.C. (sebra/Shutterstock)

"Are we effectively sustaining and supporting our schools so that they can be inclusive? We're just not," Kaler argued, but said she is excited that New Brunswick is taking a closer look at classroom exclusions, who they're affecting, and why it's happening. 

"When you start looking at who isn't there then you start to be open to why, and when you start to be open to why then you can fix the issues. I think that's our biggest problem right now: we're calling our schools inclusive or we're trying to call them inclusive but they really aren't. And it's a difficult thing to admit but unless you admit it you can't actually target the issue."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel. Produced by Jessica Linzey and Idella Sturino. 


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