Update on the Right to Read inquiry
April 30, 2021
The OHRC has made solid progress on its Right to Read inquiry. The inquiry team has received documents, data and information from the eight representative Ontario English language public school boards and the Ministry of Education (MOE). We have also received and reviewed documents, data and information from Ontario’s 13 English-language public faculties of education. The evidence-gathering phase is now complete, and the inquiry team and OHRC’s experts are analyzing the large amount of data, information and documents received and drafting a final report.
This report will address concerns with how Ontario’s public education system meets the needs of students with reading disabilities or at risk for these disabilities in areas such as curriculum and teaching, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations and psycho-educational assessments. Inquiry findings will also help other students (low-income, racialized, First Nations, Métis and Inuit, newcomer, English Language Learners, other disabilities etc.) who are not realizing equitable opportunities to succeed.
The challenges of the pandemic, including unprecedented closures of schools and shifts to online learning, have been difficult for all students. Since April 2020, the OHRC has met several times with education stakeholders to discuss urgent needs of students from Code-protected groups, especially students with disabilities. These discussions led the OHRC to send letters to the Minister of Education and Ontario school boards outlining a range of concerns related to school closures, virtual learning and return-to-school plans.
The Chief Commissioner has met with the Minister of Education to discuss these issues and potential recommendations stemming from the Right to Read Public Inquiry. The inquiry team continues to have discussions with senior staff at the MOE. We have shared information about our research, what we have been learning in the inquiry and potential recommendations. We will continue to engage with the MOE and others including to encourage them to proactively begin addressing the concerns arising from the inquiry, even prior to release of the final report.
COVID-19 and other factors have delayed some elements of the inquiry. A final inquiry report, which will include detailed findings and recommendations for government and education stakeholders, is now planned for release in fall 2021.
Right to Read | An inquiry snapshot
October 26, 2020
A new OHRC video provides a snapshot of the progress of Right to Read, the OHRC’s public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system. The video also features the real-life experiences of students and parents, who attended public sessions across Ontario in the past year, and artwork submitted by students to the inquiry.
To access subtitles/captions in French: click on the video; click on settings; click on the subtitles arrow; click on French (Canada). The subtitles will change to French.
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 has reached out to hear 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 is assessing 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.
Collecting information and data
The inquiry team has received and is analyzing documents, data and information from all eight Ontario English language public school boards and the Ministry of Education (MOE) and has asked questions and done follow-up interviews where needed. We extend our appreciation to the school boards and MOE, given the challenges they faced with COVID-19 and other issues.
We have also received and reviewed documents, data and information from Ontario’s 13 English-language faculties of education.
Connecting with the public
The OHRC used various ways to get public input. For example, 1,425 students, parents and guardians completed an online Qualtrics survey and shared their experiences with learning to read and the impact on themselves and their families. As well, 1,770 educators (teachers, teacher candidates, special education teachers, school and board administrators), private tutors, and other professionals (such as Speech-Language Pathologists, psychologists and pediatricians) completed a survey targeted to educators.
We have also received over 1,000 telephone calls or emails, and many more engagements through social media. Also, 20 organizations representing a variety of perspectives made written submissions.
The OHRC hosted four public hearings – in Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. At each public hearing, up to 20 speakers or groups of speakers shared their experiences. We heard from students, families, educators, service providers (such as private tutors and a child welfare agency), and other professionals. Over 600 people attended the hearings. All but the Brampton hearing were live streamed, and all hearings are archived on the OHRC’s YouTube channel.
As well, 25 people attended a public meeting in Kenora. Unfortunately, we were unable to host planned meetings in Barrie and Hamilton due to the Emergency Order prohibiting public gatherings due to COVID-19.
The OHRC held Indigenous engagements at the London, Thunder Bay and Kenora Indigenous Friendship Centres, and met with representatives of an Inuit organization in Ottawa. Further Indigenous engagements planned for Barrie and Hamilton could also not take place due to the pandemic.
Expert assistance, research
The OHRC continues to work with Dr. Linda Siegel, an international authority on reading disabilities, to assist with the inquiry and analyze the information received. We have also conducted extensive research to understand scientific research and best practices in other jurisdictions.
The OHRC has also engaged a second expert, Dr. Jamie Metsala. She is a Professor of Education and the Gail & Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Learning Disabilities at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. Dr. Metsala is an expert in the psychology of language and reading, dyslexia and learning disabilities, psychological assessments, and has taught English language arts methods to pre-service teachers.
Looking at COVID-19 and education
The unprecedented closure of schools has been difficult for all students. The OHRC has heard from stakeholders that students with special education needs and other vulnerabilities have experienced unique and compounded challenges, that their circumstances have not consistently been considered and addressed, and as a result they have fallen even further behind than their peers.
Some specific concerns have been raised in the context of the Right to Read inquiry. We have also heard from members of the OHRC’s Education Advisory Group, as well as from disability rights organizations.
The OHRC wrote to the Ministry of Education and school boards, calling on them to establish plans and programs to systematically and consistently address the needs of students with disabilities for the 2020–2021 school year. The letter included concerns and recommendations related to:
- Personal contact
- Professional services
- Screening and assessment
- Specialized programming
- Identification, Placement, and Review Committees (IPRCs) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the duty to accommodate
- Summer learning programs
- Shared legal responsibility
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.
- Terms of reference
- Right to Read inquiry into reading disabilities backgrounder
- Right to Read flyer
- News release: OHRC to engage educators and professionals for its Right to Read inquiry
- Letter to deans of 13 Ontario faculties of education
- News release: OHRC marks Human Rights Day with call for student art, poetry and media
- News release: OHRC to engage communities for its Right to Read inquiry
- Letter to Board Chair and Director of Education for eight selected school boards
- News release: OHRC launches Right to Read inquiry
- Inquiry launch videos:
- Voices from the community
- Voices from community partners
- OHRC initiatives related to disability and education
- Section 31 Human Rights Code
- Letter to the Minister of Education, school leaders on respecting the rights of students with disabilities
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