Today, readers are discussing Caroline Alphonso’s Saturday feature, Educating Grayson: Are inclusive classrooms failing students? The issue of inclusive classrooms has become a matter of fierce debate – and some educators wonder if inclusion has gone too far for students with very complex needs.
We asked readers to share their personal stories about inclusive education in the comments and received hundreds of responses. We’ve selected a few to share, and encourage you to explore the full discussion here.
In 2018, I retired after 17+ years as an Educational Assistant (EA) in elementary schools. Over those years my job changed dramatically; from helping students (with varying needs) achieve their potential in class, to keeping students with often volatile behaviours from being a threat to others while in a “regular” classroom. Most, if not all, children want to belong and succeed at school. Teachers and EAs also want to make this happen. Too often, I have seen principals and parents put their own interests and opinions ahead of the best interests of the student. It becomes a fight about which adult is right, and the student’s true needs get overlooked. It is a terrible waste, made even greater when “experts” are brought in to observe briefly, and then chime in on what is best.
Please, parents and administration, gather and listen to the student, and the teacher and the Educational Assistant together. Set a few goals, be consistent at home and at school, and be kind and respectful of each other. You will see improvements almost immediately. Unfortunately this rarely happens. - MacKenzie96
As the parent of a severely disabled child who went through the public education system, I have to agree with the parents of the non-disabled children on this one. We always knew our son would require a lot of extra support in order to attend school, and realized that a busy, noisy classroom full of 25 kids was not the ideal place for him. We were grateful that there were classes where he could benefit from working with experts in various disabilities, and in a setting where he didn’t have to participate or go along with a large group of children when he wasn’t feeling up to it. There was partial integration when possible, so he was able to interact with other children. Even though my son was not disruptive, the daily activities required to keep him comfortable and alive would have indeed been disruptive in a “regular” classroom setting, and it would have been unfair to those other children and the classroom teacher for us to insist in total integration as his “right”. - against the wind
Ms. Kahn is not wrong to want better services for Grayson. It is sad that services for children like Grayson are so limited. Underfunding special education programs pits parents against teachers and administrators. This undermines an education system that is the envy of the world (we rank #5 internationally according to the OECD). Please keep in mind that funding for education has been frozen for the last few years and special education in most boards has been cut. There are fewer Educational Assistants in my classroom than ever before. My fear is Mr Ford’s austerity measures aimed at health care system, social assistance and education will only make things worse. - Daysofmiracle
My last three years of teaching I had at least one or two students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis who were integrated. They were welcomed by their peers. When difficulties arose (leaving the classroom, shutting down if they realized that they were doing a different level of work than their peers, anger, swearing, and sometimes violent outbursts) we as a class, or I as a teacher would work through the issue. Students with ASD are also just kids. They have their own personality. Some are more charismatic than others and have an easier time navigating their peers and the system. Parents of children who have ASD are usually still grieving for the son or daughter they thought they had; they love their child, but they have a very unique and difficult path as a parent. The Public Schools of Ontario are doing an amazing job, but the job requires funding. That is the bottom line. - Cliffie
People should pay note to the statistic that roughly 16 per cent of children have special needs. That is almost one in five. My wife is a kindergarten teacher with the Toronto District School Board. In a class of almost 30, she has five kids with some form of autism - that’s consistent with the 16 per cent average. She has one Educational Assistant. With five children with special needs and only one EA, she cannot teach. All she can do is perform damage control. She has two kids who are violent. Parents of other children routinely report that their children are frightened to attend school - and with good reason. The situation in her classroom is every bit as bad as described in this article. No one should debate that every child doesn’t have the right to an education, but their right should not infringe on the rights of the other 20-30 kids in the classroom. Mixing kids with special needs might work, but not with existing staff levels. The kids with special needs in my wife’s classroom need almost 1:1 engagement and that’s not possible with one teacher and one EA. We’re facing a crisis. Why not continue the research on this subject, and look at staff absentee rates? Teachers are burning out. - Andrew Bell
As a parent of a special needs child, I have sympathy for others in the same situation, but it cannot extend to attempting to keep the child in school however disruptive and prone to violence that child might be. I also wonder how much the child is actually learning, particularly given that he is in french immersion. Finally, it’s unfair to the other kids.
My own child was high functioning and managed fine with the assistance of an Educational Assistant, but I would’ve been prepared to make alternate arrangements had circumstances warranted, both for his sake and the educators and other pupils. Sometimes parents have to accept that their child needs different educational support, and cannot be streamed in the regular system. One wonders whose needs are actually being met when the parents insist otherwise. - Huntsman57
The story mentions at the beginning that Grayson's mother would brace herself every school day for the phone call. I wonder if parents of Grayson's classmates also braced themselves for a phone call? It's one thing to be inclusive, it's another thing to make accommodations for a student whose special needs puts others at risk. Sometimes, the reality is: some students really do need specialized education. - Not the Alliance
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter.
Maybe instead of asking "what will it take to make this work" in the light of several decades of experimenting on our kids, educators might say, "Gee, perhaps this is the wrong approach for both groups of kids." - Kim Roblin
As a parent of a son with a disability, I can say for us, inclusion in elementary school didn’t work. My son didn’t have behavioural problems, but spent most of the day not having a clue what was going on. His EA support was often removed without warning and provided to kids who had behavioural issues instead. My son was quiet and well behaved and this doesn’t get support. He knows he has a disability. He has always known. He would have done so much better in a special classroom with more support and fewer kids. It is not “supportive” to condescend to kids with learning disabilities and force them to pretend they can follow what’s going on in a regular class. To say they do better around their ‘peers’? What does that mean? Only mainstream kids are suitable peers? In my experience, kids enjoy their peers when they fit in, and special needs classrooms are often a good place for kids to make friends with each other. We moved him to a private school. Many kids had disabilities. He was in a class of eight kids and he thrived. He’s 17 now and is still doing well, but is not “mainstreamed”. His friends are kids from his resource class. These friendships are just as valuable. - ap_64498577
Dear Grayson’s mother,
Your son is obviously not able to function in his regular classroom. Your refusal to consider the other options available to you (switching to English with supports or trying a therapeutic school) are not helping your son or the other 25 students in the classroom who are unable to learn because your son is constantly disrupting their learning. Who is benefiting from your instance on keeping your son in a regular classroom? Certainly not your son, who is currently expelled. Maybe it isn’t the school’s fault. Your son deserves an education, but one that is appropriate for his needs. Just because you want him to be okay in a regular class doesn’t mean he is. - fadodado
This is one of the best Globe and Mail comment threads in a long time. I am not, and have never been personally affected by this problem; however, I am finding the comments enlightening and enriching, particularly from those people personally affected. Some of those names are familiar to me from other threads; it is interesting to flesh out the lives behind the names, get a sense of what challenges they face in life. - Layla4
From the Comments is designed to highlight interesting and thoughtful contributions from our readers. Some comments have been edited for clarity. Everyone can read the comments but only subscribers will be able to contribute. Thank you to everyone furthering debate across our site.