Better integration plan needed for special-needs students: coalition

Posted on March 12, 2011 in Education Policy Context

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March 10, 2011.   By Brenda Branswell, Montreal Gazette

A Quebec teachers’ union has spearheaded a new coalition to draw attention to what it says isn’t working with the integration of students with special needs in regular classrooms.

The coalition, which includes the Association des pédiatres du Québec, is calling on the Quebec government to fix a situation that it says has become “unacceptable.”

“Our federation isn’t against integration,” said Pierre St. Germain, head of the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, which represents about 32,000 teachers.

“What causes a problem, in our view, is the dogma of inclusion in a regular classroom and its impact on the students and also on teachers.”

Teachers are at the end of their rope and students with difficulties are struggling, he said.

“It’s not normal that a parent has to pay for support services for their child when those services should be provided first and foremost by public schools,” St. Germain said.

“It’s not normal that a child must wait two or three years to have access to services, to get help. It’s not normal that we ask the teacher to do everything.”

The FAE said it was joining with others Thursday to ask the public to support its actions and to put pressure on the Quebec government “so that it recognizes that the regular classroom can no longer include all types of students nor offer all the services.”

It wants the government to guarantee resources for the public network as of pre-school along with enough adapted services to help struggling students, St. Germain added.

The launch of the coalition comes days before the provincial budget, which is expected to be tabled next week. It is essential that the government provide specific measures to help students with learning difficulties and better support teachers in their work, St. Germain said.

He also noted that Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp will have to make serious decisions in the coming months about the organization of services for students with special needs.

“It’s important that we guide her in her choices,” he said.

Quebec’s teachers unions reached new collective agreements last year, but they agreed to keep negotiating on the thorny topic of integration, looking at issues such as class composition.

St. Germain invited the public to join the coalition dubbed “Pour une intégration réussie” (for a successful integration) by signing up on its new web site.

The FAE has said integration in its current framework isn’t working and is hindering the learning of other children.

“We want the creation of special classes when we need them,” said St. Germain, acknowledging that means more than exist at present.

“Usually, we go ahead with the integration of students,” he said. “It’s more the dogma of inclusion that prevails without regard necessarily for the children’s real difficulties.”

“We’re not in the midst of saying that only special classes are required. It takes special classes where it’s necessary.”

The coalition’s position worries a group that represents the disabled, which fears it would result in less integration and more special classes.

“We are very fearful of that,” said Thérèse Colin, with the Alliance Québécoise des Regroupements régionaux pour l’Intégration des Personnes Handicapées.

“Over the past few years the integration of handicapped students — for a lot of categories of disabled people — decreased,” Colin said.

“The law in Quebec provides that the main orientation is to integrate children in regular classrooms. And often it’s not tried before proposing other things,” she said.

However, the alliance agrees with the coalition about the lack of resources, Colin said.

“As long as we don’t have resources for the child, we risk derailing integration.”

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