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Right to Read: public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities

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Background

Reading is a fundamental skill that students must have to navigate their school experience and their later lives. Students with reading disabilities have the right to learn to read. Yet, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is concerned that Ontario’s public education system may be failing to meet the needs of students with reading disabilities (dyslexia and other learning disabilities that affect reading).

On October 3, 2019, the OHRC announced a public inquiry into potential human rights issues that affect students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system. 

About the inquiry

The Right to Read inquiry is reaching out and hearing from parents, students and educators across the province about their experiences, challenges and concerns arising from their experience in Ontario’s public education system.

The inquiry is also assessing whether school boards use scientific evidence-based approaches to meet students’ right to read. The OHRC will assess school boards against five benchmarks that are part of an effective systematic approach to teaching all students to read:

  • Universal design for learning (UDL)
  • Mandatory early screening
  • Reading intervention programs
  • Effective accommodation
  • Psycho-educational assessments (if required).

The OHRC selected the following eight school boards to assess their compliance with their obligation to provide equal treatment to students with reading disabilities. These boards provide a representative sample of boards across Ontario:

  • Hamilton Wentworth District School Board
  • Keewatin-Patricia District School Board
  • Lakehead District School Board
  • London District Catholic School Board
  • Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
  • Peel District School Board
  • Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board
  • Thames Valley District School Board.

 

OHRC update: COVID-19 pandemic and the Right to Read inquiry

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is working hard to continue its Right to Read inquiry.

Data requested from school boards and faculties of education

Since the OHRC launched the Right to Read inquiry on October 3, 2019, it has requested documents, data and information from a representative sample of eight English-language school boards and all 13 Faculties of Education in Ontario. It has received information from the school boards and Faculties of Education and begun the process of following up for further information and clarification.

The OHRC anticipates that its continued engagements with school boards, the Ministry of Education and other education sector stakeholders may be delayed, as they focus on addressing strategies for students’ continued learning in light of current school closures.

The OHRC continues to work with its expert Dr. Linda Siegel, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, as best as it can in the current circumstances.

Engagement with students, parents, guardians and educators

Thousands of students, parents, guardians, teachers, educators and other professionals have engaged with the OHRC through its online survey, four public hearings (Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa), one community meeting (Kenora), three Indigenous listening circles (London, Thunder Bay and Kenora), organization submissions, emails, meetings, telephone calls, artwork, and social media.

However, due to social distancing requirements and prohibitions on gatherings due to COVID-19, community meetings planned for Barrie and Hamilton in April 2020 have been cancelled.

The OHRC’s online survey for students, parents and guardians will remain open until April 15, 2020. Anyone having difficulty or who needs help completing the survey can contact the OHRC at 416-314-4547 and leave a voicemail, or email legal@ohrc.on.ca. The OHRC will continue to monitor emails and voicemail messages related to the inquiry, although there may be some delays in responding.

The OHRC continues to work on a survey for educators and other professionals. It has encountered some delays and anticipates launching this survey on the OHRC website in late April 2020.

Next steps

The OHRC’s engagements to date underscore the importance of continuing the Right to Read inquiry. The OHRC has already heard concerns from across the province about how Ontario’s public education system meets the needs of students with reading disabilities. These concerns relate to curriculum and teaching, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations and access to timely and appropriate psycho-educational assessments.

The OHRC remains committed to moving forward with the Right to Read inquiry and intends to release a final report with findings and recommendations in the Fall of 2020.

The OHRC will monitor and respond to evolving circumstances and provide updates on its website.

Get involved

We invite students, parents and guardians to complete an online survey, or make a written submission to the OHRC at legal@ohrc.on.ca.

Legal authority for collecting personal information

Section 31 of the Code allows the OHRC to collect information as part of conducting a public interest inquiry. This collection is also consistent with s. 38(2) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). The OHRC recognizes the importance of protecting personal information, protecting human dignity and maintaining public trust and confidence. We will take all reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is treated confidentially and is only used for the purposes it was collected for, and to prevent unauthorized access, use or disclosure of your personal information as directed by the FIPPA. For more information see our Protection of personal information and privacy safeguards policy.

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