Schools, Inclusion and Diversity

Within Saskatchewan schools, inclusive educational practice has evolved since the 1960s, particularly in the education of students with exceptional needs. The provincial motto From Many Peoples, Strength captures the understanding that the diverse background of Saskatchewan’s people has always been one of the province’s greatest assets. The classroom of today reflects the diversity in our communities. The first major step away from the institutionalizing and segregating practices that typified the pre-1960s was the establishment of separate schools in the 1960s: as an option to institutionalizing, a student with intensive needs could live at home and be educated at a special school during the day. Although exclusive in nature, the fact that the special schools were located within regular communities set the stage for the vast changes to took place in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, a variety of instructional settings and options were developed, from segregated programs located in institutions and special schools to regular classroom placements in neighbourhood schools. The 1980s witnessed a further emphasis on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the gradual merger of regular education with special education. Increasingly, collaboration was emphasized between regular classroom teachers and special education teachers on behalf of students with special needs. Although not without debate and controversy, inclusive education, collaborative program delivery, and the rights of all students to attend their neighbourhood/community school became the dominant theme and direction of the 1990s. The benefits of inclusion for students with special needs, non-disabled peers, teachers, and society in general became well documented and endorsed by learning theory and “action-based” evidence. As the 1990s ended, two studies, the Saskatchewan Special Education Review and the Task Force and Public Dialogue on the Role of the School, took place. Both committees reported recommendations that further characterized and defined preferred educational direction. Central to their recommendations was that Saskatchewan schools should be community-oriented and inclusive, and established through collaborative partnerships and shared accountability.

In response, Saskatchewan Learning reaffirmed the philosophy of inclusive schools and committed to support their development. The Minister’s Response to the Report of the Special Education Review Committee: Directions for Diversity (2000) defined an inclusive school as a supportive, caring, and responsive learning community. Within this context, diversity is viewed not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to enrich school culture and provide increased opportunities for appreciation of differences. Diversity is expected, welcomed, and respected. In 2002 the Children’s Services Policy Framework was distributed to all schools and divisions. In 2003, the Community Service Delivery Model was initiated to provide a mechanism and enhanced funding for service integration. Resources were produced in the areas of intellectual and multiple disabilities and inclusive education, reading difficulties and disabilities, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Components of the Caring and Respectful Schools Initiative include a conceptual framework to strengthen schools as respectful learning communities, and to enhance curriculum resources to support the personal and social development of children and youth. It outlines prevention, early intervention, and crisis response strategies for dealing with issues related to harassment, bullying, aggression, and violence. The initiative builds on the successful practices and programs of schools and communities across the province, and is a central component of SchoolPLUS.

Schools, as a social institution, have a critical role to play in ensuring that children and youth have the opportunity to achieve success in life. Saskatchewan Learning, school divisions, families, communities, and service providers work together to support all students. Through joint efforts, students are provided with a continuum of programs and services in the regular classroom, school, and home community.

Christine Boyczuk, Judy Cormier, Larry McGuire, and Kevin Tunney