Education is essential to the life of an individual and to a community as a whole. The school is one of the first places where children learn to relate and interact, and begin to develop a perception of themselves and of the world outside their homes.
In April 2007, after filing a complaint against the Ministry of Education, the Commission negotiated a settlement with the Ministry that related to its safe schools legislation, policies and practices. This settlement arose because of a strong perception that the zero tolerance approach of the Education Act was having a disproportionate affect on racialized students and students with disabilities.
Over the past year and a half, the Ministry has made progress in implementing the terms of the settlement, and changing policies and practices that should help the educational opportunities and experiences of many students who had faced barriers in the past. Examples of this progress include:
- Amending the Education Act so that principals and boards consider mitigating factors before suspending or expelling students
- Amending the Act to mandate the creation of alternative education programs for suspensions of longer than five days
- Hosting education sessions with staff across the province
- Introducing new Policy and Program Memoranda on topics such as progressive discipline
- Putting in a variety of guidelines and supports for anti-bullying initiatives
- Hosting a safe schools symposium in May 2008
- Creating areas in the curriculum to integrate anti-discrimination education, such as a new course in Equity Studies.
These parts of the Ministry’s agreement are important, systemic steps to prevent discrimination in our schools. The Commission looks forward to learning the details of the Ministry’s recent activities towards collecting race-based data to review the effects of suspensions and expulsions on students who are identified by Code grounds.
There is still more work to be done, but the Ministry and school boards across the province have made steps in the right direction. Creating safe and equitable schools where all students have an opportunity to succeed is only possible with the combined efforts of students, parents, teachers, principals and vice-principals, administrators, Ministry staff, politicians, and also the team at the Commission.
The OHRC remains committed to offering its resources and support. It will continue to monitor the settlement to see that these changes in structure and policy also translate into increased learning opportunities for all Ontario students.