On January 17, 2023, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released a new strategic plan for 2023 to 2025, entitled Human Rights First: A plan for belonging in Ontario. It centres around five priorities which include Indigenous reconciliation, the criminal justice system and the education system. In this School Board Update, we focus on the OHRC's priorities with respect to the education system.
In particular, the OHRC has stated its commitment to address systemic discrimination in the education system:
The OHRC will focus on creating an environment where all children in Ontario can reach their full potential. Building on the foundation established by the Right to Read Inquiry and its recommendations, the OHRC will engage with government, school boards and education institutions to implement changes that will eliminate systemic discrimination across education settings. Through this work, the OHRC will help make sure all children, youth and young adults in this formative system have a lived experience where in practice human rights are respected.
The OHRC's goal in the education sector is to improve the accountability of duty-holders and to address systemic discrimination. The OHRC hopes that this commitment will improve opportunities and outcomes for students disproportionately affected by discrimination. As noted, the OHRC will attempt to accomplish these goals by building on the foundation of the OHRC's previous Right to Read Inquiry.
The Right to Read Inquiry looked into the human rights issues that affect students with reading disabilities in Ontario's public education system. This inquiry was premised on the understanding that learning to read is a basic and essential human right. The Right to Read Inquiry found substantive concerns within the public education system when it came to supporting students with reading disabilities. As a result of the Right to Read Inquiry, the OHRC made a number of recommendations including, among other things, that:
- the Ministry of Education, faculties of education, and school boards explicitly recognize the term "dyslexia"
- school boards identify and track students by the type of learning disability/academic area that is impaired (for example, identifying that a student has a reading disability instead of a learning disability) and collect data specific to all students with reading disabilities (including students who have not been formally identified through an Identification, Placement and Review Committee)
- the unique needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners and multilingual students be addressed
- teachers be given adequate professional development to effectively implement screening and be given the necessary time to complete screening assessments
- training be implemented on accommodation, modification and the use of assistive technology for reading
The OHRC's new strategic plan will likely result in the OHRC reprioritizing these recommendations around equitable access for students learning to read. In order to assess progress, the OHRC will be measuring the percentage of school boards that have a plan to implement the Right to Read recommendations.
School boards may wish to refamiliarize themselves with the Right to Read report, review their training and professional development programs for teachers and staff, and consider their accommodation processes for those students who require additional supports in learning to read.
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