For immediate publication
Toronto - The Ontario Human Rights Commission has mediated a positive settlement with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. The four complaints arose from concerns that the application of school discipline policies was having a discriminatory impact on students from racialized communities and students with disabilities.
The settlement follows a Commission investigation. Through cooperation and good will, the parties reached a very positive agreement. It's terms will result in increased education and understanding around race and disability-related issues for the Board and the staff and students at its schools.
One of the key issues raised in the complaints was that mitigating factors were not being sufficiently considered before imposing a suspension or expulsion on a student. In one case, a student with attention deficit disorder asserted that his inability to sufficiently control his behaviour due to his disability was not considered nor accommodated before he was suspended. In other cases, students related that they were the target of racial or other harassment. Such mitigating factors need to be taken into account before determining whether any discipline or measures less severe than suspension or expulsion are more appropriate.
The Commission’s review of research in other jurisdictions shows that it is important for education systems to take into account the discriminatory impact that suspension and expulsion measures can have on racialized students and students with disabilities, particularly on students’ ability to complete an education.
As part of the resolution of these cases, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board has committed to undertake a number of measures ranging from anti-racism awareness and disability accommodation training, to sharing information on accessing the appeal process. Other initiatives include making alternative educational programs and services available to all students under suspension or expulsion, and working with the Commission to look at gathering statistics and ensuring measures undertaken respect the principles set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Commenting on the settlement, Chief Commissioner Keith Norton stated, “The right to a safe and secure school environment is paramount. At the same time, all involved in providing education services need to ensure that disciplinary measures are fair, effective and non-discriminatory.”
Norton further added that, “I am very pleased with this agreement that will see the Board implement comprehensive measures to ensure that all students, including those from racialized communities as well as students with disabilities, enjoy equal access to education services.”
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has raised concerns a number of times over the last few years that the application of the Safe Schools Act and related school discipline policies may be having a disproportional impact on racialized students and students with disabilities. In July 2005, the Commission took the next step of initiating complaints against the Ministry of Education and the Toronto District School Board in order to investigate and seek a systemic resolution of the issues more directly. These complaints are still in process.
For more information on the public interest remedies arrived at in this settlement, please also refer to the attached Backgrounder, or visit the Commission’s website.
Backgrounder: Public Interest Remedies
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Sr. Communications Officer
Communications and Issues Management
Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Education, Monitoring and Outreach Branch (PEMO)
Ontario Human Rights Commission