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Province pursues special education changes

The province wants to create a more inclusive education system that covers special needs and regular students with one umbrella. However, this does not mean that special education students will be forced into regular classrooms.

The province wants to create a more inclusive education system that covers special needs and regular students with one umbrella.

However, this does not mean that special education students will be forced into regular classrooms. Rather, the shift means integrating two systems that currently run parallel to each other — special needs and education.

"The work ahead marks an incredible shift in the way we educate all of our children," said Education Minister Dave Hancock. "An educational culture that values the unique gifts of each and every child and a new approach to service delivery will enable us to better integrate and tailor supports to the needs of our children and youth, so that every student can achieve success."

Morag Pansegrau, chair of St. Albert Protestant Schools, is nervous about the "incredible shift" that Hancock is talking about and has questions about the word "inclusion" that permeates Friday's announcement.

The current education system allows parents to choose whether their special needs child learns in a segregated classroom or in an integrated setting, which provides for the best possible education, she said.

"For some children the complexity of a regular classroom is too much for them to handle," Pansegrau said.

That type of choice will continue as the province has no interest in forced integration, said Dianne McConnell, the province's director of special education.

Friday's announcement came a year after the province received a set of recommendations from its Setting the Direction Framework, which consulted with Albertans about the direction of special education.

Among the recommendations that the government has accepted is a call to shift from a dual system that keeps mainstream education and special education largely separate to one that takes responsibility for all students.

The province also wants to implement more professional development and support for teachers.

Funding concerns

Hancock said the shift could be accomplished without injecting any additional money into the system.

"Today's event is not about new funding. It's about the improved use and allocation of resources," Hancock said.

Dave Caron, board chair for Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, said additional funding is a key ingredient that needs to accompany any change because special needs has been underfunded for years.

"I'm hopeful that this report opens the door to the sorts of funding that is necessary to do a proper job," Caron said.

Caron is enthused that the province is moving to end the practice of tying special needs funding to students' "coding" or assessed need, which his board has been advocating for years.

"We have a number of kids that don't easily fit the coding boxes and if they don't … it's very difficult to get funding," Caron said.

McConnell said children will still be assessed and diagnosed but funding will be tied to outcomes not their assessment.

The province is setting up an advisory committee to guide the implementation of the framework.