We are seeing many headlines lately about the state of inclusion in our schools. The consultations of the province’s proposed new French language framework shone a light on the streaming problem in English prime classrooms. Also, recent comments by former Education Minister Dominic Cardy that inclusion is about children being, “within the school and not the classroom” are concerning and misleading.
We need to stop talking about how we define inclusion and instead focus on how we support our schools and classrooms to meet the needs of all children.
This is not an inclusion issue. It’s a resourcing one.
Inclusive education is a human right and also a powerful approach that recognizes and values diversity, promotes equal opportunities and creates supportive environments for all students. Currently, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s inclusion policy (Policy 322) allows for the flexibility for students to take a break from their classroom if it’s what they need. We do, however, continue to face inconsistencies of the interpretation and application of the policy. The other failure is how inconsistently resources are funded and deployed, at the right time and intensity.
Separating children within a school is not inclusion, it is segregation. It would effectively dissolve the years of hard work of families that led to New Brunswick’s leadership as the first jurisdiction in Canada to legislate inclusion and cement the basic human right of the child to be educated in their community school, alongside their peers.
We have seen significant progress in schools where there are adequate, diverse supports in the form of qualified, trained paraprofessionals:
- The addition of Behaviour Intervention Mentors, Social Workers, Occupational Therapists etc., have resulted in a decrease in 60% of partial days; and
- The number of violent incidents in New Brunswick schools have been reduced by 40% over the past two years.
This model of support is showing good results. It deserves additional resources and evaluation to demonstrate its effectiveness over time. We have seen an alarming pattern of removing supports when we see improvement, once again leaving our teachers stranded.
As outlined in the Department’s Moving Forward report which examined inclusion, 50% of teachers and educational assistants have not received training on Policy 322. The recommendations in Moving Forward are the next steps. The global review of Policy 322 has been done. Now we need to implement the plan.
Every time the system fails a child, inclusion is blamed. This simply needs to stop. We can explore creative strategies such as co-teaching models, where two teachers can support each other and the needs of their students in the classroom. Smaller classrooms would be a huge step forward in supporting our educators.
We need more hands around the table and more training for those hands.
While removing the child from the classroom may seem to be the simple fix, it is not the long-term answer. It’s the last resort, not the first. And, when students need flexibility in their day, we need to be working together to better activate the supports in an intentional, proactive and responsible way.
Inclusion NB’s goal is to continue to advocate for our students and families and work collaboratively with the Department and educators on a student-first, solutions-based approach where everyone has access to the tools and supports they need to be successful.