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Human rights and inclusive education: continuing the connection

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Since 2005, the OHRC has been working with the Ministry of Education to build on the positive structural and policy changes reached in the “safe schools” settlement, which changed the way Ontario schools managed discipline. This is reducing the disproportionate effect that certain policies and practices have on racialized students and students with disabilities, among others. We are very pleased to advise that all of the terms of the settlement have now been implemented.

This past year, we also provided support as the Ministry implemented its Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in all Ontario school boards. As we move into 2012, the government is proposing additional amendments to address bullying especially based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity. These important systemic changes should help further prevent discrimination in our schools.

We continue to play an active role in education sessions across the province. In the past year, we regularly provided human rights training and/or keynote speeches at events hosted by the Ministry of Education, the Ontario Education Services Corporation (OESC), le Centre ontarien de prévention des aggressions (COPA), safe school networks, the Regional Equity and Inclusive Education Networks, and directly to schools and school boards across the province.

E-learning for teachers

The OHRC is working with teachers’ federations to develop an e-learning module for teachers, and is helping the Ministry of Education develop policy guidance on human rights and student discipline. This will help school boards and educators identify human rights concerns in board policies.

We will continue to train educators, monitor compliance with human rights settlements and work with the Ministry of Education to encourage collecting human rights-based data in Ontario’s public schools – this is a key tool that can help people understand and address disadvantage and discrimination.

British Columbia v. Moore

In March 2011, the OHRC intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in British Columbia v. Moore, a case involving a student who alleged discrimination because he was not given appropriate accommodation in education for his severe dyslexia. We intervened in this case to make sure that the area of “services” in human rights codes is given a broad interpretation. We argued that to prove discrimination, people who need accommodation do not have to show they were treated worse than others who needed accommodation. In the years ahead, we continue to focus on making sure students with disabilities are accommodated “to the point of undue hardship.”

Mentoring the next generation – taking our message directly to schools

As well as working towards systemic solutions, we are committed to working with individual schools and student groups. This approach offers us unique opportunities to share a human rights message with the decision-makers of tomorrow, as well as to learn first-hand about the realities students face today.

In the past year, we have worked with students in Media Studies and other classes at Parkdale Collegiate Institute. This included providing several classroom training sessions on human rights, and launching our Living Rights Project at a special Parkdale assembly.

We have also made connections with Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute, through the MAG-TDSB Co-op Partnership, and are currently serving as mentors to two Grade 11 co-op students. These students are learning about human rights, and equally important, are sharing what they learned with their friends and families. This personal networking can often make the difference in whether rights are simply nice words or they are actually lived and understood. We also hosted 60 Cedarbrae classmates at the launch of our Policy on competing human rights, and will continue to make co-op students a part of our human rights network.

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