I promise you’ll be underwhelmed
What Inclusive Education Month entails
February is national inclusive education month in Canada!
Want to know what we do here in Manitoba to mark the occasion?
Our minister of education makes a declaration, posting a picture of the proclamation on social media.
What we need
Rather than an empty proclamation which leads to little or no meaningful change, we need year-long support and advocacy for all students.
When inclusion leads to exclusion
Our current process requires students (usually their parents) to “prove” they are disabled enough to require supports. This process is usually done by non-disabled, neurotypical bureaucrats who don’t (and can’t) understand the lived experience of the student they are reading about in a document or application form.
Instead, students should be given what they need to succeed and thrive, regardless of what paperwork they may have (or not have) to quality for accommodations and supports.
In order for this to happen, a lot needs to change. Like, a whole lot.
Firstly, we need to understand that many disabilities are dynamic: a person’s ability to learn and succeed varies each day, hour, perhaps every minute. We can’t evaluate or determine what supports someone needs and which ones are effective based on small snapshots of their day.
As always, a significant part of this comes from the need for increased funding and resources. We need completely different funding and training models for our public education system, better education for staff, and a lot more money for our schools.
If we don’t dramatically increase education funding in our province (and in many others), we’ll continue to repeat the same old cycles. Identify a problem, come up with grand solutions, then lack the funding and resources to fully carry them out.
The problems come up again, an advisory council is formed, they come up with new ideas, which may be great ones. Unfortunately councils do not have any authority to enforce their recommendations, and the government refuses to increase education funding, so the cycle starts yet again.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
Here’s how our “inclusive” education experience went in a Manitoba public school.
My son, at age 6, had a meltdown in his classroom.
We’d been trying to work with the school’s support team since the previous spring, when we found out our son has ADHD. They’d developed an IEP, which they were not following, and his needs were not being met.
It was only the beginning of October, and I’d already been in contact with the school, asking them when the supports and accommodations we had discussed at the end of the last school year were going to be put in place.
I kept being told the classroom teacher needed time to get to know our son in order to meet his needs. Admirable, but she had been included in the team meeting the previous spring, and given his IEP at that time.
So while it was wonderful (and necessary) that she wanted to develop a relationship with our son, that did not preclude the school from meeting his needs. The two were not mutually exclusive.
Despite our continuous advocacy efforts, our son was absolutely miserable. The school was not listening to him, to us, or seemingly, even their own clinical team. Recommendations made by their own clinicians were not being followed.
It’s no surprise, then, the meltdown happened — but it is a damn shame. This was four years ago, and I still shake from the flood of emotions when I think about it.
I am focused on moving forward, but there are two primary reasons why this is still so infuriating: 1. It was entirely preventable, and 2. My son was the one who suffered the most as a direct result of the school’s negligence.
It gets worse
The school’s proposed response to this preventable meltdown, one which was the result of my son’s building tension and frustration — all of which I tried to point out, my concerns pushed aside?
The administrator’s grand idea was to put my son in a separate room with nobody else except an Educational Assistant (EA).
No qualified teacher, no peers, no friends, no one. At the age of six, the principal put my son into a form of solitary confinement at school. He was not permitted to attend music class, phys ed class, nor join his peers outside for recess.
Sound completely illegal and against all policy and procedures?
Yet it was allowed to happen because the administrator was not fully honest with us about the extent of our son’s isolation. We were led to believe he was learning with EA support because he needed an accelerated curriculum, and because the classroom environment could be overwhelming for him at times.
We were not told he could not socialize with his classmates, nor join them in music or gym classes. The principal must have not been fully forthcoming with her senior administrators either, because I’m quite certain they would have put a stop to it.
We only found out by chance, when my son mentioned a really upsetting incident where he tried to go to music class and was turned away. At age six, humiliated in front of everyone, being told, “you can’t be here”, as he tried to enter the room.
My son loves music and loves music class. He loves phys ed and playing sports. He’s also a very social kid and likes being with friends. He’s now 10 years old, needs zero supports at school, and has lots of friends.
He’s also at a different school now (obviously).
They did nothing
I pushed and fought with them for longer than I should have, because I didn’t know what else I could do. The principal actually pushed back, making arguments as to why our my son should be kept in isolation, all because of a meltdown. At age six.
We’re not talking about a 16 year old throwing desks and throwing punches. We’re talking about a 6 year old, who was small for his age (not that it matters), becoming so overwhelmed by the intensity of his pain and frustration, that he could no longer control himself.
A student had been picking on him. My son loves lego and putting together complex lego creations. The classroom had free time where the students were allowed to play, and this was what my son gravitated towards. When students had to return to work, there was a “saving” shelf, where students could place their lego creations if they didn’t want them broken.
This was a great idea. In theory.
The same student, more than once, came and wrecked my son’s lego creation. (Of course, we only learned about this long afterward). Staff either didn’t notice, or didn’t care enough to do anything about it. Perhaps they were too busy, given a classroom of 30+ students for only two staff members.
I don’t know because the school did not communicate any of this information to us. If they didn’t have the time to keep track of things on the saving shelf, then they shouldn’t have had one, or it should have been out of the reach of children.
This ongoing bullying behaviour, compounded by everything else happening (or really, not happening) all piled on until my son could not take any more. I don’t blame him.
They learned nothing
Despite my months (and years, really) of advocating for my son and fighting with the school, nothing meaningful changed. I met with trustees, contacted our (then) minister of education, even made a presentation to the school board.
I still hear of students being excluded and isolated in the same school and in the same division.
I must add that, thankfully, our son is in a much better school and doing extremely well now. He’s a happy kid who doesn’t even mind going to school. He has a lot of friends and gets along really well with his peers.
In the past year and a half, we’ve only had one phone call from school over a minor incident. Our son is excelling.
Much of this is only because my husband and I had the resources to educate ourselves about our son’s rights, and the time and finances to advocate for him.
Not every family has that privilege, but every child deserves to have someone fighting for them with everything they’ve got. It shouldn’t be on the parents and children to solve the problems in our education system, it’s the responsibility of our provincial government.
Every child deserves to have someone fighting for them with everything they’ve got.
That provincial government left us to fight alone. I contacted the minister of education during this horrible time and received only a form response. No meaningful change has happened and it’s been four years with three different ministers of education.
This is what “inclusive” education looks like for families of neurodivergent and disabled students. Ever since our son settled in his new school, I have been working to support and advocate for other students and families and sadly, I continue to hear many stories similar to our own.
This is what passes for “inclusive” education here in Manitoba, and our minister is doing nothing to change this. We need to push harder, show our government that this issue is politically important, and that Manitoba families refuse to accept the ongoing mistreatment of our children in public schools.
Manitoba families and school staff, please join me in pressuring our provincial government to do better by our children and students. The loudest voices will be heard, so we must make ours impossible to ignore.
© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB
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More inclusive education month articles
If Inclusive Education Month Granted Wishes
What Inclusive Education Really Means