What Does Ableism Look Like in Schools? It Looks Like This!

When a teacher daily allows a student with a learning disability to fail their class, but does not even lift a finger to inform the case manager or parent, that is ableism and its discrimination. Disabled children failing, falling behind and being excluded without accommodations have become the normality of the education system. It’s so common, it is woven into the fabrics of the system.

They just invisibly slip through the cracks, while a detailed IEP sits in a student database system collecting digital dust.

The fact that the Ministry of Education intentionally doesn’t even track information regarding the human rights violations that are occurring across the province is an example of ableism. Disability issues don’t affect them, so they have the privilege to ignore it. Want to know how to systemically keep a marginalized group of people oppressed? Keep them off your radar to begin with. OH…and by the way…the group the people the Ministry of Education are intentionally oppressing, are disabled CHILDREN and their family unit.

What is even more profound is that these teachers who are discriminating are caring people. They love teaching and are inspired by the creations of their students. We think ableist teachers are lurking somewhere in the dark with DON’T CARE tattooed on them, when in fact that simply isn’t the case. When children are ignored and neglected in the education system by good teachers, that is obvious discrimination at its finest. The “other” students get their gifts, and the disabled students get left alone, left behind, and just….left.  There are lovely people out there in the world completely unaware of their own biases and the normality of disabled children failing, just blends in with the wall paper.  It’s not even a big thing. It’s just something that happens. Shrug.

This is very common in the education system, and the ableism these kids experience is then internalized, becomes part of their self-concept, self-esteem and identity. Want to know why kids turn to drugs and crime? Failure in the education system has been proven to be foundational in many of the peer reviewed journal articles. IT’s not that we do not know. It’s not that more studies are need to be done. We have all the information. Government is just biased, ableist and discriminatory and this shows in their government run and funded education system. It oozes out of the pores of all 60 school districts. It’s not obvious to the people who are not impacted by it. You need to look at the system and not just focus on what is there, but what is missing. Who is missing?

We need to flip this education system upside down and inside out. The future of their lives and our society depends on it.

Ministry of Education- It is time for anti-ableism leadership from your government.

Are we on your radar? Or will we continually be swept under the rug?

Why a Diagnosis?

I worked as a school secretary and one day one of the teachers needed support from the principal for one of her students in the class. The principal was new and so she quickly went to the student files, plucked out the child’s file, flipped through it to make sure there wasn’t something she needed to know and then flew off to the class.  I realized in that moment that I should have something written confirmed by my child’s professional of their diagnosis, and not just have this info in emails and verbal conversation. If anything happened at the school, a staff member would check the file and they would be aware.  Wow, I have been SOOOOO thankful that I had that exposure and followed through in making sure that documents were in place for both of my children.

As you can see HERE on the BC Human Rights Clinic page they state:

In a case called Matheson,[4] Ms. Matheson filed a human rights complaint alleging that she was subjected to abusive behaviour from a supervisor. She had a history of anxiety and panic attacks as well as depression. On two occasions during her employment, Ms. Matheson informed her employer that she was suffering from “stress.” However, she did not provide any medical information that said she had a mental disability.”

The Tribunal dismissed Ms. Matheson’s complaint, stating that “an essential element of a complaint of discrimination in employment on the basis of mental disability is proof that the complainant either had a mental disability… or was perceived to be mentally disabled by the employer.” Click HERE for her case.

Matheson’s case was dismissed because she did not inform her employer (school district) of her disability.  If we do not have a written diagnosis in their student file with the school, as a parent if you file a human rights complaint, the respondents (school district’s legal representation) will cite the Matheson case and your human rights complaint will be dismissed.

We have got to get our kids formally officially diagnosed by proper professionals or your child has no legal human rights ground to stand on.

We need this diagnosis for the following reasons:

  1. Legal human rights processes
  2. Application for disability tax benefits (if applicable)
  3. Navigating the health system for proper medical care
  4. Advocacy in the education system for proper accommodations
  5. Social and emotional reasons – so parents are not blamed for having poor parenting skills and they are able to find other parents who have children with the same disabilities and get support.
  6. For the child – so they understand why they are having specific challenges and they don’t blame themselves for the wrong reasons. For acceptance and self-esteem reasons.

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Here is the wisdom, lived experience, and reflections from parents of children in the education system across BC. Thank you to all who were willing to share.

It’s a diagnosis not a label. I find once my kids knew why things were hard they stopped labelling themselves “stupid, lazy, dumb.”

  • Anonymous

I think a diagnosis helps us to know ourselves….better. it’s been a breath of fresh air to me personally and has helped me forgive myself a bit easier. It’s also helped me identify things that work and don’t work.

On a wider societal scale: .for ADHD, there’s so much stigma, misinformation, out there it’s hard to feel comfortable disclosing..

I ask myself why would I hide my identity/diagnosis? Why do I feel so scared of sharing?

Obvs cuz we are likely to be met with incredulity of “you aren’t that disabled” or they treat you as less than, and that is hard because-as XXXXX said they have power over us.

What they do with that information is the concern….the biases that come into play when they have that information in hand.

But I also know that being loud and proud and dispelling the myths of the neurodivergence I personally have, perhaps can help open the doors for folks around me.

However, I don’t speak from an intersectional voice (I mean not just “being female”). And as such I hope to be an ally to those who do and amplify their voices.

Because there’s even more work to be done there.

My hope is one day everyone can be loud and proud about themselves.

  • Chantelle Movay

And yet WHY should we have to make our private medical information public/known to people who have power over us in order to get support and accommodation? The idea that we have to out ourselves to be able to make a claim is problematic.

  • Anonymous

Our son was diagnosed in 2018 and since then we have seen a world of difference. Because of his formal diagnosis, we were able to get him the support he needed at daycare (1:1) and now in school. He lacked social skills and would only parallel play with his peers but because of his Supports & EAs he has flourished and now plays really well with his peers. The diagnosis has also given him access to speech therapy within the school, an IEP and other tools/resources to help him succeed.

  • Elena Lawson

Human Rights expects this in order for you to be entitled to accommodations. I know that is why it is critical and needed. As for my own child, in general professionals have never been able to give accurate recommendations. People can see “autism” and think they know what my son needs. But then surprise PDA, you actually don’t know shit.

  • Anonymous

I am relieved that you bright this to light. Accommodations and supports/ language/ professional and so on will never be enough. For our family it has been lifesaving – literally. We have found the most inspiring family’s that we could ever ask for. I am grateful for that. 😊

  • Anonymous

Having an early diagnosis for our older child led to assessments and diagnoses for all of us. That has led into participating in groups with others who started traveling the road before us and getting recommendations which, we wouldn’t have heard otherwise. I can’t imagine what family life would be like for us now without that first diagnosis and learning about other options to parenting from mainstream expectations. It’s hard enough as it is, but that would have been awful. In fact, I’m not sure our marriage would have survived. I’m not sure how my partner would have survived mental health crises. Having diagnoses has led to support options through their online school which would not have been available otherwise and which we wouldn’t have been able to provide out of our own limited finances.

  • Anonymous

We had our youngest diagnosed in grade one despite all the comments of “don’t give her a label” from relatives, friends and school admin. It was by far the best thing we ever did to put us on a path of understanding and acceptance. It has led to success in academics and my daughter has become a strong advocate for her needs. There are still some road blocks because of the severity of her Learning Disability but she is well equipped to find solutions to her issues.

  • Cathy McMillian

Without documentation of dx, we run the risk of trying to reinvent the wheel every year. Let’s channel the energy and hopefully the enthusiasm to what works. As well, if everyone could get accommodations by saying junior needs extra time or a scribe or oral exams …. We have to have a measurement or standard

  • Shannon Saunders

Socio-economic privilege provides access to diagnosis. Families in lower classes, disproportionately single parent households, are not provided with this same access. There are additional attitudinal barriers and medical bias that plays into even accessing the inequitable public system, along with personal barriers that are not supported (eg. difficulty navigating fragmented systems). BIPOC children are more likely to be written of as a behavior or family problem, without access to robust multidisciplinary assessment. Assessment and diagnosis are important for many many reasons. But using it as a gate to equity and support puts our most vulnerable families at risk.

  • Anonymous

A diagnosis made it easier for my child to qualify for accommodations in university. Without those accommodations he would struggle to succeed.

  • Anonymous

We missed out on so much due to lack of knowledge of dx and teen attempting suicide and spending 3 weeks in hospital as a result. I’m soooooo very mad at family doctor, psychiatrist, walk-in-clinics, counselors, school, and MCFD. Since dix, I have learned so much more

  • Anonymous

I value this as a way to deflect personal views..refer to medical i always said..but had teachers say we are the professionals..sigh..and another district learning support principal say we dont need reports to know what your child needs..had psychologists come to school to vocalize need..no go on supports..went online..but if we wanted to fight. Yes. Diagnosis would help. Thanks for your efforts..i feel our situation was uniquely bizarre..but sought to leave ir rather than put our girl as psychologist recommended.take her off the battleground..

-Anonymous

The arguing over why certain things were happening and why our child’s behaviour was being blamed on a personality flaw at school was putting our marriage under incredible strain. It was eating away at our son’s self esteem and identity. Once we got a diagnosis everything changed. Not only was he diagnosed but it led to my husband being diagnosed. We all understood and could learn and advocate. The blame and guilt game ended. Proper diagnosis is so essential for life.

  • Anonymous

long story short having documentation changes much of nothing when it comes to public school system. At the end of report from psychologist was around 10 recommendations, a big one was my kid needing 1:1 ea, bell to bell, never happened. Another was he should attend full days of K, never happened. That during school work he should have someone to scribe and or read for him, that happened when convenient for staff. Basically none of the recommendations were used. I had a OT spend an entire day at school, he had lots of good ideas and he too had recommendations, school didn’t follow any of them. His IEP, really was a piece of paper that brought in funding to the district. When my kid was in gr 5 he was at a gr 2 level academically, they tried telling me he was grade level. They say what you want to hear, when your gone, well sadly kids are not treated very well.

They destroyed his self esteem. Two mths in gr 5 I pulled him out of public school, he is about to graduate in a couple weeks and with his Dogwood diploma and he is a A/B student. All of his success no thanks to public school.

Anonymous

Case Decisions and Reports Connected to Education

NEW PAGE ADDED

I have added a new page under Education Advocacy and this it it!

These are some of the cases and reports that have crossed my path. This is not a list of the ONLY cases. To search for cases go to CANLII

For step by step instructions on HOW to search click HERE and scroll to the lower part of the page.

REPORTS

Advocacy Fatigue: Self-care, Protest, and Education Equity 2015 CanLIIDocs 212

Canadian Human Rights Commission, Left Out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools, Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2017 CanLIIDocs 3489

CASES – In BC and across Canada

Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61 (CanLII), [2012] 3 SCR 360

Hewko v. B.C., 2006 BCSC 1638 (CanLII)

School District No. 44 (North Vancouver) v. Jubran, 2005 BCCA 201 (CanLII)

Independent School Authority v Parent, 2022 BCSC 570 (CanLII)

Board of Education of School District No 43 (Re), 2013 BCIPC 20 (CanLII)

British Columbia (Education) (Re), 2018 BCIPC 2 (CanLII)

Sollitt v. Trillium Lakelands District School Board, 2013 HRTO 1128 (CanLII)

The Student v. The School District and others, 2019 BCHRT 217 (CanLII)

Steele v. School District No. 36, 2014 BCHRT 276 (CanLII)

Aslin v Edmonton Catholic Schools, 2021 AHRC 186 (CanLII),

https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/emsb-discriminated-against-child-with-learning-disability-rights-commission

MacKenzie v. Howe Sound School Dist. No. 48 (No. 2), 1997 CanLII 24743 (BC SC)

SJ v Parkland School Division No 70, 2019 ABQB 470 (CanLII)

Gould v. Regina (East) School Division No. 77, 1996 CanLII 6807 (SK QB)

Tsai and Tsai v. B.C. (Ministry of Education) and another, 2004 BCHRT 386 (CanLII)

Kelly v. UBC (No. 3), 2012 BCHRT 32 (CanLII)

L.B. v Toronto District School Board et al., 2017 ONSC 2301 (CanLII

HB v. Halton District School Board, 2018 HRTO 1729 (CanLII)

Rezaei v. University of Northern British Columbia and another (No. 2), 2011 BCHRT 118 (CanLII)Edit”Case Decisions and Reports Connected to Education”

Ableism Policy? Why should we care?

**UPDATEIT PASSED unanimously by all trustees. (Board meeting April 12th, 2022)

The North Vancouver School District has put a new notice of motion for an anti-ableism policy.

This is the type of willingness to discuss the uncomfortable topics that we need in our school trustees and I applaud them for providing their community the opportunity to write in or in-person to share their thoughts on this topic.

See Agenda

See Board Package

Below is my written submission and I already received appreciative emails from the Chair of the Board and Co-chair of DPAC.

The meeting is tonight! I highly encourage people to email the trustees, even if it’s just a brief message of support.

To get their contact information click HERE

I hope this motion passes!!

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Our society holds very outdated views of what disability means and looks like. One may think the ridiculous outlandish discrimination is a thing of the past, and that we have evolved into a new way of living that includes inclusion and equality. Why do we need a policy on ableism?

Let me assure you, as a disabled person and an active member of the disability community, I am here tonight to tell you. We have a very long way to go. People’s attitudes towards disability is one of charity, pity, and annoyance. I am either God’s mistake, or part of God’s plan and my purpose in life is to teach all of you a lesson about patience for your own personal growth and self-actualization.

I am not the sum of everyone’s limiting beliefs, attitudes and biases.

I am a person, just like any of you.

I am a wife of 20 years, a mother of two teenage children, a friend to many, and I am just a part of the spectrum of human variation to myself. My husband is also disabled, and so are my two children. Everyone in my immediate family has invisible disabilities, and if you looked at our family picture you would have no idea. We all have a mix of either stuttering, ADHD, anxiety or learning disabilities. My husband has a very well-paying job in a senior engineer role at a videogame company, and I am currently working on my second degree at SFU, this time in criminology.  I am not listing all of our accomplishments in life, because frankly we have done a lot.  And yet…everyone in my family has had to endure ableism. For my husband and I, it had a huge impact on our childhood growing up and what we believed about ourselves and what was possible in life for us.

At a disability workshop for adults, the presenter asked if anyone has seriously considered killing themselves and got as far as an actual plan. Every single disabled adult raised their hand.  

Being disabled isn’t the hard part in life. It’s dealing with the ableism.

When I was completing my first degree in human relations, I was in a psychology class on child development. When a 4-year-old girl is told by an adult, I think your dress is pretty. Her brain development does not allow her to understand that the adult can think she looks ugly and her stress is still pretty. Her brain tells her, she is pretty too. Children who are disabled get told through intentional or unintentional messages that they have an ugly dress, hundreds of times a day. They learn, that they are ugly too.

All of these attitudes and beliefs about disabled people are based on myths, misunderstanding, and false information. We are not talking about the laws of gravity here. Ableism can change. It’s preventable. Establishing anti-ableism policy communicates expectations, standards and accountability that vulnerable children need to have for their human rights and quality of life. You have an opportunity to be leaders in your community, and leave a powerful intention for inclusion that will be a legacy for this district and any future Trustees who follow.  This policy is not going to cost you anything, and it will raise awareness about ableism that needs to occur first, before we can even begin to change our own belief systems. The children in your school district NEED this policy.

With the start of this policy, you are turning the wheels of that change. We need to all work together so that every child is told that they have a pretty dress, and they feel in their heart, that they are pretty too.

GROUNDBREAKING BC HRT – ACCEPTS PARENT ADDED ON CHILD’S HR COMPLAINT

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has accepted a parent to be added to their child’s human rights complaint and the Supreme Court of BC upheld the decision.

The Human Rights Tribunal finds the complaint novel, as the parent loss income due to needing to take a leave of absence from their work to deal with the stress of their child not getting the accommodations they needed at school. The parents complaint is that she was discriminated against due to family status and claims she suffered various financial, physical and emotional impacts. For details see paragraph #11 & #12 in the case below.

This paves the path for many other parents who need to take a leave of absence/quit their jobs or experience any adverse impacts due to the discrimination or exclusion their children experience at school and their disabilities not being accommodated under the human rights code.

Read all of the details in this case posted today on the BC Supreme Court website. Link below. April 8th, 2022.

https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcsc/doc/2022/2022bcsc570/2022bcsc570.html

The State of Human Rights Violations in BC Education

Below are the results of an FOI request. This request went to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance.

As you can see below, the Ministry of Education does not track any financial information related to human rights complaints in their school districts. After speaking with an employee in the finance department of the Ministry of Education, this person confirmed that they don’t request that information from the districts. They have no idea how much money school districts are spending in human rights complaints, either employee or student.

From the Ministry of Finance, I received this below information that will be posted on the public FOI disclosure site within the next 10 days. Here – https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/search?id=4BAD1D13C68243D1960FECBBF7B8B091&q=FOI

I received full disclosure of my request. These two FOI requests, cost me $20.00, with the new fee system.

As can see, the ratio between lawyers’ fees spent on the complaints compared with settlements, is quite wide.

Almost 4. 5 million dollars mostly in lawyers fees in 10 years. Yet, only approx. $750,000 of that in settlements.

Why are settlements for human rights violations so low?

Why is the Ministry of Education not interested in tracking or being aware of any of this data? They fund the districts, but they don’t want to know how they spend their money on human rights violations?

If you went to see how much money your district is spending on Harris & Co, a law firm most school districts use, the Ministry is aware of at least that, you need to look on your districts budget information and you will find a Statement of Financial Information. Go the very end of the report and you will see a list of all of their expenses and if they have spent more than $25,000 to Harris & Co, it will be listed. These are lawyers fees that they are spending, and depends if they are human rights complaints or for other, it will come out of their operational or capital accounts.

This is a topic that deserves further exploration. Any investigative journalists out there interested?????