This article is directed to Ontario voters, all those who will hopefully get out and vote tomorrow, Monday, October 25th, 2010. What I am asking is that when you mark your ballot for one or more school board trustee candidates, please vote only for those who have openly recognized that a “one size fits all” special education policy for children with special needs does not work.
To put it bluntly, full classroom integration, or mainstreaming as it is called in the U.S., is NOT usually about what is best for children requiring special education accommodations. Rather, it is primarily what is best for boards of education and the provincial government. In other words, it is about saving money.
Yes, I am a conservative and I don’t like large government and high taxes. But no, I don’t want smaller government and fewer taxes if it is at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society. There is an old expression: “pay now or pay later.” In special education, what that means is that we either spend what is necessary to educate and treat children now or we pay much more later through higher social assistance, criminal justice and health care costs.
When I was in private practice, I can’t begin to tell you the tragic stories I heard about kids being integrated into the regular classroom. While it may be politically incorrect to say out loud, the reality is, that even with the help of a teaching assistant, there are just too many children in a regular classroom for a teacher to give individual attention to a few. However, if a teacher does give individual attention to only a few, such as those with special needs, all the other children are short changed.
What I used to help parents fight was the lack of options, the lack of choice in the public school system, whether secular or Catholic. You see, it all depends on the child and the identified needs of that child, not some ideological notion of fairness that simply is not actually fair at all. If a child can thrive in a regular classroom, then by all means, assign them an assistant and integrate them. But, if a child has behavioural, attention and/or concentration problems, then he or she should be placed in a segregated environment, at least part of the time.
I also understand this situation as a parent. As a mother of a special needs child, we had to pull our son out of a regular public school when he was 13 years old in order to send him to a private, segregated, special needs school. Financially, it was tough. But, I would do it over again in a minute. He had been in a segregated primary special education class and then integrated for grade 6. By Grade 7, he was unable to cope. His teachers did what they could but he just could not concentrate and his behaviour was disrupting other students.
And, then there was the after-school bullying. Sure, in principle it makes sense that everyone get used to living and working with people with special needs, but unfortunately once a child is off the school grounds, it’s a jungle out there. Every day he would come home crying. Finally, the last straw for us was the day he arrived home covered in blood.
Eventually, after a long fight with the school board (where both my husband and I worked as teachers) and the provincial government, we got funding for him to attend a segregated independent school. As a result, he finished high school and is now a fully functioning adult — albeit receiving some disability benefits.
So, Ontarians, vote for the trustees who are willing to consider that integration is not applicable for every child with special needs, that some segregated classes are necessary. Moreover, vote for trustees that understand there needs to be recognition that public dollars may have to be spent when a child is identified as “hard to serve” (e.g., for specialized treatment like IBI or to send them to a private school or facility that specializes in dealing with their particular special need).