HALIFAX: While more support for inclusive education was applauded, the manner in which it will be implemented was questioned.

On May 2, the provincial government announced that students across the province will have access to 173 more inclusive education specialists, teachers and non-teaching staff this September.

“This is another expansion of supports for students as part of our new model of inclusive education in Nova Scotia,” said Zach Churchill, Minister, Education and Early Childhood Development. “We are changing our entire approach to inclusive education. And, it’s not just about more funding and more people – we’re changing how we work, so all regional and school staff share best practices and problem solve together to support the achievement and well-being of all students.”

Of the 100 additional student and classroom supports, 60 will be education assistants and 40 will be child and youth care practitioners. Of those, 10 will go to the Conseil scolarie acadien provincial (CSAP). Of the 70 specialist teachers, eight will be allocated to the CSAP. The CSAP will receive one parent navigator, one school psychologist and speech language pathologist, as well as one student health partnership nurse.

Paul Landry, regional executive director of the Strait regional centre for education (SRCE) told The Reporter they are “very excited” about the additional supports.

Landry explained that in the SRCE, 13.5 new full-time equivalent positions (both teaching and non-teaching positions) were part of the provincial announcement, which includes: two teacher assistants; three child and youth care practitioners; one Mi’kmaq student support worker; one pre-Primary inclusion coach; two guidance counsellors; one Autism teacher specialist; one resource teacher; one community outreach worker; one school psychology/speech language pathologist; and one part-time student health partnership nurse.

“Staff in these new positions will work in partnership with our teachers and administrators to enhance supports for our students,” Landry said. “As always, student achievement and success is at the core of our decisions.”

“I am excited to see the infusion of additional resources to support inclusive education in Nova Scotia’” said Sarah Shea, former chair, Commission on Inclusive Education and co-author of the Students First report. “The focus on increasing direct services to students and on building skills and capacity in the education system workforce fits with the vision laid out by the commission.

“Major changes such as those being undertaken take time. It will be important to evaluate the impact of changes as they take place and to build on successes.”

This year’s $15 million in inclusive education funding includes more than $3 million for training and development. Government is also partnering with Autism Nova Scotia on a pilot program to train education assistants on working with students who have autism.

“We are very encouraged to see the diversity of positions and training partnerships in this announcement,” said Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia. “Building diverse and multi-disciplinary teams that work in collaboration with classroom teachers, along with enhanced training opportunities will benefit all students.”

This will be year two of a five-year rollout of changes for inclusive education. In 2018-19, 191 positions were added to schools. The new supports bring the total to 364 new, inclusive education positions added to the education system.

NDP Education critic Claudia Chender welcomed the additional supports but said the province needs to plan how they are implemented.

“The investment in additional staff will help move our education system in the right direction, but without a clear plan that includes built-in oversight and accountability, there is no transparency around how the Liberal government is implementing the inclusion report,” Chender said.

Without an executive director in charge of inclusive education and in the absence of a framework that includes new behaviour, mental-health, and autism strategies, Chender questioned how truly inclusive the education system can get.

“We continue to hear from parents who say the situation is not improving,” she added. “Today’s investment in more staff is spread very thin and it is still not clear what Minister Churchill’s plan is to address all the recommendations of the inclusion commission.”

For a full list of the positions go to: https://www.ednet.ns.ca/inclusiveeducation.