Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Full Classroom Inclusion for All is Discriminatory

Yude Henteleff QC is a distinguished lawyer and human rights expert whose detailed resume would represent a life time of accomplishment for several individuals. He is a founding member of a prominent law firm, has been legal counsel for Autism and Learning Disability Associations, been active as a mediator in human rights disputes, served on the Canadian Human Rights Commission and named to the Order of Canada. In November, 2004 he presented a paper at the Canadian Association for Community Living National Summit on Inclusive Education, Ottawa in which he asked "why full inclusion is being advanced in certain areas as the only way to effectively meet the diverse needs of all children with special needs." Mr. Henteleff provided a number of reasons for the emphasis on full classroom inclusion - including government cost consciousness. Full classroom inclusion is cheaper than providing a continuum of choices to accommodate all the needs of individual students with various disabilities. Mr. Henteleff also reviewed Supreme Court of Canada decisions in Law, Granovsky, Mercier and Eaton and concluded that "Imposing a standard, namely that the inclusive classroom meets all needs, is a perception not based on reality and is stereotypical. In other words, the standard takes the position that one environment meets the needs of all special needs children. By its very nature, such a standard is discriminatory,"

- Henteleff, Y. (2004). The fully inclusive classroom is only one of the right ways to meet the best interests of the special needs child. Paper presented at the CACL National Summit on
Inclusive Education, Ottawa, Ontario.

As the parent of a profoundly autistic 11 year old son I concur with Mr. Henteleff's conclusion. Conor is environmentally sensitive with severe communication deficits. Fortunately for my son when he returned from school with self inflicted bite marks on his wrists and hands the school and district officials were conscientious and cooperative in working out an accommodation to meet his needs. He has been educated in a separate quiet location and brought in to the mainstream classroom for limited periods of defined activity to interact with other students who also visit his area for interactive periods such as "reading buddies". Some other New Brunswick students with disabilities who might learn better in other or a mixed environment have not always been so fortunate.

As New Brunswick continues its review of inclusive education the advocates of the philosophy of full mainstream classroom inclusion for all continue their very aggressive lobbying to maintain the dominance of their philosophy over an evidence based accommodation of the needs of individual students with disabilities. The New Brunswick Association for Community Living performs many good deeds for persons with disabilities. It is also well financed and well connected in our province and advocates relentlessly for the view that all children benefit from full mainstream classroom inclusion. They have been the "partner and stakeholder of choice" for the Department of Education over recent decades. When the Mackay Inclusion Review development workshop days for teachers were held recently it was conducted as a partnership between the Department and the NBACL. Requests by the Autism Society to participate as an equal partner were ignored. The keynote speaker was Gordon Porter the distinguished Chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission who was himself a driving force behind the adoption in New Brunswick education circles of the philosophy of full mainstream classroom inclusion for all. The NBACL hands out awards to teachers who exemplify "best practices" in inclusive education - meaning practices consistent with the NBACL view of full classroom inclusion. At present, the NBACL is aggressively lobbying politicians to protect the status quo of the full classroom inclusion model.

I know that the NBACL leaders are good people with good intentions. I ask them to consider my son's experience and those of other profoundly autistic children and the possibility that the aggressive promotion of the mainstream clasroom for all philosophy has created a presumption in favour of the mainstream classroom that is at odds with reality, is discriminatory and in some cases harmful to the child. Parents and educators should have choices available as they work out the best ways to accommodate and educate children with a diverse range of disabilities and needs. They should not be forced into an environment which is unhealthy and counter productive for them.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

I couldn't agree with you more. My daughter is in a special kindergarten, and is semi-integrated in the mainstream.

That situation is ideal for her. I don't really worry about social engineering ideas about discrimination and stuff like that-- I want what's best for my child! And having her off in a special classroom at her own pace is best for her. She was in a regular classroom for three months. It was tough. The kids had to look out for her because of her impulsive behaviour. That's not right.