In a consultation over the summer of 2009, the OHRC heard that students continued to face problems arising from school discipline policies. Parents worried that the discipline their children received did not take into account the individual circumstances of each student, and the students who needed support the most were at risk of being left behind. That’s why the OHRC has worked hard to build on its partnerships in the education sector and to find new ways to bring a human rights focus to schools across Ontario.
Especially positive is the work underway to implement the Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy (Equity Strategy) in all Ontario public school boards. The OHRC gave advice on the Equity Strategy, which calls for school boards to develop and apply equity and inclusive education policies and procedures by September 2010. School boards have to look at their practices to remove systemic barriers to education and hiring, and take steps to make sure they offer a positive school climate that fosters equity, inclusive education and diversity. The end goal is for the principles of equity and inclusion to be embedded into Ontario’s public schools.
But what do equity and inclusion really mean? They might mean a student with developmental disabilities learning alongside their friends in a regular classroom, instead of being set apart. They might mean adjusting exercise routines to include girls who wear hijabs, or not stereotyping students’ interests and skills by assuming certain cultural groups will be good at math or basketball. Equity and inclusion involve setting up a system where all students have the opportunity to belong and to succeed.
While the Equity Strategy is being implemented, we continue to provide support to key stakeholders like the Ontario Education Services Corporation (OESC), the Ministry of Education, Inclusive Education Branch and Regional Equity and Inclusive Education Networks.
The OHRC has also provided human rights training to large groups of school boards at events organized by the Ministry of Education, the Safe School Network, regional Equity and Inclusive Education Networks.
This work will continue in 2010 and beyond. Future plans include developing an e-learning module for teachers, a policy and guidelines for “Human Rights and Student Discipline” and a barrier-review tool-kit that school boards can use. The OHRC will continue to train educators, monitor compliance with human rights settlements relating to student discipline and work with the Ministry of Education to promote collecting human rights-based data in Ontario’s public schools.