Inclusion at centre of Quebec negotiations

Teachers want more resources for special needs children

While teachers in several provinces are negotiating new contracts this year, Quebec’s may be among the most contentious, according to Serge Laurendeau, president of the Quebec Provincial Assn. of Teachers (QPAT), the union that represents English-language educators in that province.

He says one in five teachers in Quebec is quitting the profession because their workloads are too heavy, and the issues driving them to leave will be at the centre of negotiations.

“We have a level of burnout where teachers are just totally exhausted,” he says.

Laurendeau blames the movement toward full inclusion of special needs students for putting enormous pressure on teachers. Most of these students are integrated into mainstream classrooms in Quebec, regardless of needs. He says the money to support teachers, either in the form of teaching assistants or resources, has not followed.

QPAT is asking for more training, resources and services for teachers, as well as a limit on the number of special needs students per class. The union would also like to see some higher needs children returned to a separate classroom.

“We’re not opposed to integration,” Laurendeau says. “We’re just saying that first you evaluate the need and ability of the students. If there’s a possibility of integrating into one, two or all of the classes, then you do it, but you make sure that there are services that follow. That’s not what’s happening now.”

Laurendeau says the special needs issue is by far the one teachers are most concerned about.

“This is our major issue,” he says. “Training, immediate assistance for those students, appropriate material for them — all of these things need to be established.”

Laurendeau says while the union’s preference is to remove some special needs students from the classroom, teachers do expect more compensation when that is not possible. The difficulty, he says, is that the province wants to remove the “coding” that identifies students with needs.

“By removing coding, there’s no obligation to provide services to the staff,” he says. “We’re saying the code is the only guarantee we have that services will follow.”

The special needs issue is flaring up across the province. Recently, the head of the Fédération des Commissions Scolaires du Québec, which represents 61 French-language school boards, called for a summit on integration.

Provincial education minister Michelle Courchesne has indicated she would rather see the issue dealt with during negotiations.

A recent court decision involving a school board in Rimouski could affect those discussions. A human rights tribunal ruled the board contravened Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms by systematically discriminating against students with intellectual disabilities.

The tribunal said the school board didn’t take the necessary means to make it possible to integrate the boy, who has Down syndrome, into a regular classroom. The school board is appealing.

Laurendeau says class size is also an issue for teachers. He says there are as many as 32 students in some Quebec high school classes. The union would like to see that number reduced by three to five. QPAT would also like to see ratios implemented for adult education. Currently, there are none.

The union’s third major demand is greater job security. Laurendeau says about 45 per cent of Quebec’s teachers in preschools, elementary and high schools are on part-time contracts that must be renewed annually. He notes three-quarters of vocational teachers are without job security.

“These people need two jobs,” he says. “They teach mechanics and on the weekend they work in a garage.”

Public sector workers in Quebec, including teachers, are asking for an 11.25 per cent salary increase over three years. The province is offering seven per cent over five years, including two per cent for pay equity.

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