Every student in Ontario needs to have opportunities to learn and succeed. This does not happen when students are suspended because of mental illness beyond their control, or can’t take the courses they need because they use a wheelchair and the school does not have an elevator, or they are disciplined for not following the dress code because they wear a hijab in accordance with their creed, or they are bullied for being lesbian, gay or transgendered.
These are just a few of the many human rights barriers that arise regularly in schools today. Each of them has the potential to rob students of an equal opportunity to learn and succeed as members of our society.
School systems across Ontario must provide education free of discrimination, offer equitable treatment to all students and promote individual dignity, individualization and full participation. We are partnering with key stakeholders in the education sector to make sure that Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy – known as the Equity Strategy – is implemented in accordance with the Code.
The Equity Strategy includes a set of requirements and steps all school boards must take to achieve equity and inclusion. It’s designed to help school boards build human rights capacity and break down barriers to eliminate problems before they happen.
The OHRC is learning from the education sector and sharing resources and information. In the past year, we made presentations and worked with educators at school board conferences, training events, regional network meetings, Ministry of Education events, safe school conferences and in individual schools across the province. Presentation topics included: how to apply the Code when implementing the Equity Strategy, human rights issues in student discipline and accommodation based on disability and other grounds, including creed.
We’re currently designing a policy on human rights and student discipline, creating materials to help boards identify and remove potential barriers in their policies, and we’re building e-learning modules for teachers. We’re teaching everything from basic human rights to how to collect human rights-based data to advance human rights in schools.
We’re encouraged to see parents, communities and school boards working together with the Ministry to give all students the opportunities they need to succeed. The OHRC will continue to be a part of this exciting work, and to make sure every student has the chance to belong and succeed.