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Submission of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to the Standing Committee on Social Policy on Bill 98, Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023

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The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) supports the proposed Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act (“Bill 98”), introduced by the Minister of Education on April 17, 2023. If passed, the Bill and future regulations have the potential to create a strong foundation for government, school boards, and duty-holders in the education system to help meet their human rights obligations.


1. OHRC involvement in education

For over 20 years, the OHRC has exposed and challenged systemic discrimination in education by releasing policies on accessible education; making submissions and recommendations to government; engaging in litigation to support vulnerable groups; and using its other powers under Ontario’s Human Rights Code (“Code”).

Despite these efforts, the OHRC continued to hear concerns about students’ experiences in Ontario’s public education system, particularly related to the largest education exceptionality in Ontario – reading disabilities.

In 2019, the OHRC launched a public inquiry focusing on whether students with reading disabilities have meaningful access to education as required under the Code. In February 2022, the OHRC released its Right to Read inquiry report.

It is important to note the recommendations will also benefit students with other disabilities, Black and other racialized students, Indigenous students, multilingual students, and students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

The OHRC has studied, investigated, and litigated matters involving systemic anti-Black racism in education for decades. The struggles stemming from systemic anti-Black racism in education impedes and stifles progress for many Black communities across Ontario for generations. Recent studies show the problems have reached a critical state. The recent rise and increased visibility of anti-Black racism in Ontario has heightened calls to combat these issues. In January 2023, the OHRC announced its plan to tackle anti-Black racism in education by identifying and developing solutions for Black students’ well-being, achievement, and belonging, which the government and duty-holders should adopt.


2. OHRC’s Right to Read public inquiry report

The inquiry considered systemic issues that contribute to human rights concerns, including the need for standards; consistency and monitoring; improved data collection; and better communication and transparency with parents and students.

The inquiry calls for critical changes to Ontario’s approach to early reading, in areas such as curriculum and instruction, screening for reading difficulties, reading interventions for all students who need them, accommodations and professional assessments.

The report includes 157 recommendations to the Ministry of Education, school boards, and faculties of education on how to address systemic issues that affect the right to learn to read.  


3. Ministry of Education response to Right to Read inquiry

The OHRC is pleased with the Ministry of Education’s immediate and sustained response to the Right to Read inquiry. Since February 2022, the Ministry of Education has been implementing some of the OHRC’s key categories of recommendations. The Ministry’s positive steps include:

  • Revising the elementary Language curriculum to align with evidence-based approaches to early reading that emphasize explicit and systematic instruction
  • Releasing a guide for teachers with information on foundational reading skills
  • Mandating universal evidence-based screening requirements to ensure students in early grades are developing the necessary foundational skills and, if not, receive early interventions in reading
  • Increasing funding for reading interventions and professional assessments to support struggling readers with evidence-based approaches

Introducing Bill 98 is the latest positive step from the Ministry of Education that aligns with the OHRC’s recommendations concerning systemic issues in education.


4. Ontario’s education system needs more consistency

The OHRC is pleased to see that Bill 98 lays the groundwork for an education system unified with a focus on improving student outcomes in the important life-long skill of reading.

The OHRC’s Right to Read inquiry found that there was a significant lack of standardization in approaches to supporting students with reading difficulties across Ontario. The inquiry found that students’ experiences vary widely based on where in the province they go to school, and even which school they attend within a board. The OHRC recommended that Ontario establish consistency and provide clear guidance on how all boards should approach early reading.

Setting standards for early reading does not undermine school board authority or educator autonomy. Educators deserve consistency and support to implement evidence-based approaches with their students. They want to do the best for their students. Educators see and must respond to the academic and mental health challenges that many students face when they fail to learn to read. Our inquiry heard from educators that the lack of clear and consistent guidance is an additional burden, as they often are left to figure out the best approaches on their own. They must also deal with the downstream effects of failing to respond well to early reading difficulties such as increased need for accommodations.

While there is a need for school board autonomy to respond to unique local needs and diverse populations, teaching early reading is a skill that needs standardization to make sure every student can receive the instruction they need, no matter where they live in the province. The approaches recommended in the inquiry work for all students.

In its Right to Read report, the OHRC explores historical and current challenges, such as colonialism and ongoing oppression, and how these challenges impact the experience of discrimination and effect of trauma and the associated impact on the ability to learn to read. The OHRC makes specific recommendations to address these barriers as well as the unique needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners.


5. Bill 98 responds to OHRC recommendations on setting standards

Systemic issues and barriers require a systemic response. Bill 98 allows the Minister of Education to set provincial priorities to focus boards in fundamental areas of student achievement, like reading. The Bill requires school boards to report on progress towards these priorities and enables the Ministry to assist struggling boards by deploying personnel to support school boards when needed. These provisions, coupled with recent Ministry investments to boost literacy, directly respond to some of the OHRC’s inquiry report recommendations. For example:

Recommendation 133: The Ministry should implement measures to monitor and assess whether students at risk for reading disabilities/dyslexia and students identified or diagnosed with reading disabilities/dyslexia receive the same level and high quality of special education programming and support no matter which school board they attend. The Ministry should ensure consistency across the province. If any inconsistencies are found, the Ministry should take steps to address them and align all services with standards based on the scientific evidence.


6. Bill 98 is consistent with OHRC recommendations on transparency and communication

Bill 98 directs school boards to increase engagement and reporting to parents. It requires school boards to publicly post a multi-year Board Improvement Plan that reflects the minister’s priorities for student achievement and to update parents on its progress twice a year. These provisions respond in principle to the OHRC’s recommendations concerning the need for improved transparency and communication:

Recommendation 151: School boards, schools and educators should communicate effectively with students and parents (in a plain-language, accessible format that invites action, and that is translated into languages that reflect the school community) through regular mail and/or electronic mail, on board and school websites, and through information sessions, about:

a. Screening, interventions, accommodations and professional assessments for students with reading difficulties

b. When, how and why boards and schools will provide these services

c. How students and parents can request these services

d. How the school will update parents (and students, where appropriate) on how the services are progressing (for example, how and when it will issue progress reports on interventions and accommodations)

e. Community advocacy organizations that offer support to students with reading difficulties, and their parents

f. Resolution options with the teacher, school, and board (including the board human rights office, if applicable), and at the Special Education Appeal Board, Special Education Tribunal and Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, for disputes about screening, interventions, accommodations, or professional assessments.

Recommendation 136: All Board Improvement and Equity Plans should include data on reading/literacy achievement and the actions the board will take to respond to areas of concern. Data on reading/literacy achievement should be based on standardized measures of reading described in this report. These actions the boards will take to respond to areas of concern should be consistent with the findings and recommendations in this report. Boards should take steps to monitor implementation of these plans at the school and teacher levels. The Ministry should review all Board Improvement and Equity Plans annually to make sure these requirements are met and should require boards to take corrective action if their plans do not appropriately address reading/literacy achievement and identify actions that are consistent with the findings and recommendations in this report.

Recommendation 137: All board Special Education Plans should include detailed information about the elements identified in this report, including how classroom instruction incorporates evidence-based, explicit and systematic tier 1 instruction in foundational word reading and fluency skills; universal early screening (including when students will be screened, what screening tool will be used, how the results will be used to provide tiered interventions and how data from screening will inform board planning and decision-making); early and later reading interventions (including what interventions are available, the criteria for accessing them, how the their efficacy will be monitored); the process for accommodations and modifications and available accommodations (including available assistive technology and how it use will be supported); and professional assessments (including the criteria and process for referring students for assessments, evidence-based psychoeducational assessments for potential reading disabilities; how wait lists will be managed and current average wait times for assessments).

Special Education Plans should also lay out the board’s Response to Intervention (RTI)/Multi-tier Systems of Supports (MTSS) tiered approach to instruction, screening, and intervention, and should break down service delivery models by type of disability (including information about interventions, supports and programs for students with reading disabilities/dyslexia). The Ministry should review all board Special Education Plans annually to make sure these requirements are met and should require boards to take corrective action if their plans do not appropriately address these issues in a way that is consistent with this report’s findings and recommendations. The Ministry should monitor implementation of these plans.


7. Bill 98 helps address OHRC’s recommendations on teacher education

Bill 98 would amend the Ontario College of Teachers Act to specify that teacher education programs must be aligned with the Ontario curriculum particularly with respect to math, reading and literacy and any other element prescribed by the regulations. This amendment sets the groundwork for alignment with the OHRC’s recommendations with respect to teacher education:

Recommendations 48 – 55: The OHRC recommends that the Ontario College of Teachers Act regulations should be amended to require that all Primary and Junior teacher applicants take a half-course (three credits) that focuses on critical components of word-reading instruction to support all students in becoming proficient readers. Teacher education programs should address the importance of word-reading accuracy and efficiency for reading comprehension; how accurate and efficient word-reading develops; how to teach foundational word-reading and spelling skills in the classroom and the importance of teaching foundational word-reading skills to promote equality for all students. The OHRC further recommends that teacher education programs better equip teachers who are qualified to teach Kindergarten to Grade 6 to deliver the critical components of word-reading instruction and identify, instruct, and support students with word-reading difficulties.


​​8. Bill 98 is a positive first step in accountability

Bill 98 anchors reading as a fundamental provincial priority and has the potential to ensure that all students in Ontario have equal access to evidence-based approaches.

Ontario students deserve consistent, standardized approaches and universal access to the same level and quality of services and supports regardless of which school or school board they attend, and whether the language of instruction is English or French.

Ontario’s highly decentralized approach to education, including special education, leaves decision-taking on key components of the right to read to the discretion of 72 different school boards and school authorities with little centralized guidance and few standards. One board told the OHRC this means that “not all boards are rowing the boat in the same direction.”

Bill 98 has the potential to change the education system for the better. When it comes to meeting the right to read, Ontario needs consistency and stability. This means clear, mandatory standards related to curriculum and instruction, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations, and professional assessments. It requires ongoing monitoring and better accountability within the education system. And, importantly, it requires stable, enveloped, yearly funding.


9. Code obligations of education officials

The OHRC is aware that many duty-holders across the public school system have made efforts toward advancing and maintaining the human rights of everyone by using resources which address discrimination, including anti-Black racism, homophobia, and hate. However, it continues to hear about the increasing violence targeted at education officials for doing human rights work. Bill 98 needs to account for the experiences that education officials, including Directors of Education, are currently facing while doing human rights work while adhering to the obligations set under the Code. In addition to hiring diverse Directors of Education, it is critical that those appointed to these positions be adequately supported to carry out their roles.


10. Ontario must address the need for greater data collection

The OHRC has identified data collection as an important tool to protect and promote human rights. Data collection is often necessary to make sure all groups benefit equally from services. In education, data collection and analysis allow school boards and the province to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of special education services and supports, and to take steps to measure student achievement and outcomes, particularly for students who come from Code-protected and disadvantaged groups.

Currently, the lack of data collection, analysis and reporting is a major accessibility barrier in Ontario’s education system. Although more school boards have started collecting student demographic data, gaps still exist in the collection of data regarding staff and administration.

Data collection is critical for understanding the experiences and outcomes of students, particularly, Indigenous, Black, and other racialized students, and in addressing systemic discrimination in education. Regardless of the data collection method used, the people on whom the data collected, and the broader public in general, should be advised of why such information is being gathered and its potential uses.

Disaggregated race-based data is critical to understand the experiences of and outcomes for students. It allows for the examination of the experiences and outcomes of students, including but not limited to suspensions, expulsions, program of study, graduation rates, drop-out rates, confirmation in postsecondary education, and intersectional with special education identification. This type of data can help identify gaps and limitations that need to be addressed to ensure equity and accessibility for all students.

The OHRC urges Ontario to implement all the recommendations in the Right to Read report related to data collection to increase equity, improve student achievement and outcomes and for better decision-making [Recommendation 139 to 150].



The OHRC renews its call for its inquiry recommendations to be faithfully adopted by Ontario, school boards and others. The OHRC also urges the careful consideration of the impact that anti-Black racism in education has on both students and educators in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system. The OHRC will continue to work with the Ministry of Education and other education partners to ensure that this Bill, if passed, creates positive and long-lasting change.