The Right to Choose an Inclusive Education

June 29, 2020

At Inclusion Alberta, we are hearing from many more families than is typical that they are either being denied the choice of an inclusive education or being pressured to place their child in a segregated class for some or all of the day. Parents need to know their rights. If you are told your child cannot be included due to a lack of resources this is both unethical and discriminatory. Schools and school districts cannot use their budgetary challenges as the basis for denying a student’s inclusion.

These discriminatory actions by schools and school districts are very disheartening and adding to parental stress given children with developmental disabilities and their families have experienced more schooling challenges during the pandemic than many other children and families. We know schools often believe they can deny a child with disabilities an inclusive education on the basis of funding – but they are wrong. According to Alberta’s legal requirements governing schools and school districts and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, funding cannot be used as a basis for denying a child’s inclusion. As every student must be equally valued, school districts are required to allocate their resources equitably. Parents have the right to appeal a principal’s decision and/or challenge the decision in Court when inclusion is denied on the basis of limited resources.

Parents should be free to make an informed choice and this choice should be honoured. There is an overwhelming body of educational research over decades proving an inclusive education for children with developmental disabilities has better social and academic outcomes than a segregated special education. For example, the claim that in smaller special education classes students with developmental disabilities get more instructional time is a myth. The research shows students with developmental disabilities get less instructional time in special education classes than when included in regular education classes. Parents are also told their children will be safer in the special education classroom, but research evidence is the opposite – children with developmental disabilities are less safe when segregated. And the research shows that learning outcomes are often better for all students when children disabilities are included in regular classrooms.

The current government ran on a commitment to support parental choice in schooling and honouring the choice of inclusion by parents of children with developmental disabilities must be upheld. It is unfortunate that adding to the apprehension parents are experiencing with COVID-19 given the vulnerabilities of their children with disabilities, many parents will now have to go through the summer without the assurance that the support and resources to enable an appropriate inclusive education will be made available for their child, or that their choice for an inclusive education will be honoured.