A member of the community, responding to GAJE’s recent call for the government of Ontario to ameliorate its unfair funding policy in relation to children with learning disabilities, sent GAJE a reminder this week of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) policy on accommodating students with disabilities.
In 2003, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a comprehensive policy statement on the subject of ensuring that children with learning disabilities too receive the opportunity of an excellent education. The document was entitled Guidelines on Accessible Education. The province had also published a companion document, The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving Barrier-free Education for Students with Disabilities.
Both documents are available online at the OHRC website.
The OHRC categorically states: The Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees the right to equal treatment in education, without discrimination on the ground of disability, as part of the protection for equal treatment in services. Education providers have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.
Alas, as we know, in the severely financially strapped and now precarious Jewish Day School system, many, if not most students with learning disability cannot be accommodated, precisely because the funds needed to do so are lacking.
The OHRC also categorically states that under the Education Act, the Ministry of Education is responsible for setting out a process for identifying and accommodating disability-related needs in the publicly funded elementary and secondary school systems. The Ministry must ensure that all exceptional pupils can access special education programs and services without payment of fees. The Ministry is responsible for funding levels and structures, legislating procedures, and creating appeal and monitoring mechanisms.
Is it not the time, some 15 years after the guidelines were enshrined by the OHRC into a formal text, that the government apply its obligation to the schools outside the publicly funded ones? How can the government be so indifferent to the special-needs children outside the public school system?
The essence of the issue that troubled the Ontario Human Rights Commission was how to overcome the obstacle of disability in relation to children’s education. It was not how to differentiate among schools so that the obstacle can be successfully overcome. The fact that the Human Rights Code also acknowledges the legitimacy of accommodating religious education, where warranted, suggests that the government should be able and indeed must make every reasonable effort to integrate both of these vital human rights.
The government’s current funding policy however effectively precludes a child from access to reasonable accommodation in relation to a religious component to her education once she asks for reasonable accommodate as well in relation to her disability needs.
How is this fair? Indeed, it is not.
The year is 2017. It is now well past time that the government of Ontario also take seriously the spirit of the learning disability guidelines of 2003 promulgated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission regarding health support services for disabled students. The government should extend health support services to all of Ontario’s disabled students.
This is the moral thing to do. It is the correct thing to do.