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Inclusive Education (K-12) Policy

Policy Issue

All students in BC, including those with special needs, are entitled to receive a quality publicly funded inclusive education. A Ministerial Order directs students with special needs to be placed in regular classrooms as the first option. Research shows that when students are included in regular classrooms they make greater overall academic gains than do their peers with similar disabilities in segregated classrooms 1. To ensure the success of inclusion, students must have the necessary supports to learn in the regular classroom and participate in school social activities.

The benefits of inclusion extend to all students. Typical students experience gains on many fronts: opportunities for new learning, improved values and attitudes related to human diversity, more developed interpersonal skills, as well as greater maturity, self confidence and self esteem 2.

While some school boards throughout BC have adopted an inclusive education philosophy, others have not. Despite the Ministry of Education mandate that students be educated amongst their peers, children are being placed in alternate settings or removed because of inadequate supports. As well, many teachers report that they feel unprepared to educate students with special needs in inclusive classrooms. Students must have access to a range of supports including: technological supports, specialist itinerant teachers, educational support teachers, teaching assistants, speech therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, behavioural therapists, and psychologists.

Due to inadequately supported inclusive education practices some parents feel compelled to accept placement of their children in segregated classrooms.

The secondary school system has not been as proactive as the elementary system in adopting inclusive education practices and protecting the rights of all children to meet their intellectual, social and career goals in classrooms alongside their peers. Many secondary schools still practice a segregated model of education for students with special needs.

Students with special needs are better prepared for the adult world when they continue to receive a supported, inclusive education in secondary school. The current emphasis on social goals assumes that students with special needs cease to benefit from an academic or career education. This results in students leaving school unprepared for adult life and facing unemployment.

Graduation practices for students with special needs often come under review. While some students with special needs may not meet the current graduation requirements, they are entitled to have their accomplishments publicly acknowledged in a similar manner as their typically developing peers.


To ensure that all students with special needs have access to an inclusive education.


The fundamental right of children with developmental disabilities to receive an education was the issue that first mobilized parents in the 1950s to create their own local associations. At the time, a widely held belief was that children with developmental disabilities could not learn. The government, therefore, accepted no responsibility to educate these children. Parents of children with developmental disabilities, understanding the potential of their children to learn and grow, responded by creating their own schools in places like church basements and private homes. In 1955 parents formed a provincial body, BCACL, and over the decades have steadily advocated for changes in government laws and policies so that their children achieved their right to be educated.

Government slowly accepted its responsibility to contribute funding to parent-run schools and eventually agreed that public schooling should be made available to children with developmental disabilities. Although the first educational programs developed by school boards throughout the province were segregated, with more emphasis on care-taking than education, they laid the groundwork for parents and others to call for the inclusion of children in general education classes. The Ministry of Education has been committed to a policy of inclusion since 1989 when legislation was passed recognizing that the former practice of educating students in segregated classes was ineffective.

Fiscal pressures and the requirement for balanced budgets are causing school boards to look for ways to save money. Many school districts have cut programs and supports to students with special needs over the last few years. The previous practice of targeting funding for special education ensured a minimum level of student support. School districts were accountable to show that targeted funds were actually spent on special education. The elimination of these targets has put the provision of supports for students with special needs at risk.

Policy Statements

  1. The Ministry of Education must maintain legislation, policy and adequate funding to support inclusive education.
  2. The Ministry of Education must ensure that all school boards practice inclusive education.
  3. All teachers in BC should receive adequate levels of training, professional development and ongoing support to ensure the success of students with special needs.
  4. Teachers must retain primary responsibility for the implementation of the student’s educational plan and be provided with access to adequate professional supports to ensure the student’s success.
  5. Students with special needs should be educated in classrooms with their typical peers and be provided with the necessary supports to meet their intellectual, social, physical, emotional and career development goals.
  6. If a student is removed from the classroom setting, the school and the child’s team must ensure a plan is put in place in a timely fashion that addresses the issues with the intent to return the student to the classroom.
  7. Students with special needs should be acknowledged for their school achievement with a provincial certificate of school completion and their accomplishments should be recognized with awards along with their peers.

1 Katz and Mirenda (2002)

2 Katz and Mirenda (2002)