Depending on how the previous years have gone, thinking about the next school year can certainly trigger our own internal alarm systems. Fighting for inclusion, a fair and equitable education, and one that is free from discrimination for our children, can be challenging at times. It can feel like the system is against us. Remember that there are pockets of positivity and support that also exist. Knowing your rights and the rights of your child is especially empowering and can help reduce some of the anxiety.
Inclusion seems to be happening on an individual level by luck and chance around our province, and not systemically. We are all crossing our fingers that our kids win the ‘lottery’ and get placed in the classes of those amazing teachers who just “get it”.
But we don’t need to just hope to survive the year based on luck.
Understanding your child’s human rights in the education system and advocating with those in mind is an extremely powerful approach. The more you understand how the duty to accommodate applies to your child in school, the stronger your advocacy impact will be, and the more empowering the experience can be.
It is not uncommon for school staff and teachers to not fully understand how human rights apply to education. It isn’t something that they are taught before, or when, they begin working in the system.
Wondering if your disabled child is experiencing discrimination at school, all comes down to the question: Is your child “accessing their education, equitably”? So, what does that mean exactly?
It means they have a right to an equitable opportunity to receive and participate in education. This does not mean that they are given the exact same as everyone else. Equity means that they are given what they need so they have a chance to learn and show their learning.
Here are some examples of your child’s rights that are supported by the Human Rights Code, under the duty to accommodate:
- Your child’s IEP supersedes a teacher’s classroom autonomy and classroom management decisions. Which means, your child’s IEP is the priority over their personal teaching opinions and how they like to run their classes. IEPs are very important.
- Your child has a right to go to school and not be exposed to discrimination-based harassment. (Bullying connected to their disability, race, gender, etc.)
- They also have the right to be in a positive school environment.
- Your child has a right to receive reasonable accommodation so they can access their education. Which means, if your child is struggling or failing, they are not accessing their education and they are not receiving reasonable accommodation. Document the failing and the struggle that they are experiencing. The more evidence you have, the more effective your advocacy will be. A child struggling and failing is an indication that the accommodations that the school provides, or lack of, is not working. It’s their responsibility to make this work.
Here are some examples of your rights and responsibilities that are supported by the Human Rights Code.
- You have a right to be consulted on your child’s education. The school has the final decision as to what reasonable accommodations look like for your child, but they must consult with you and at least consider the information you offer about your child. This needs to be meaningful consultation.
- Both you and the school have a duty to co-operate in good faith. Which means respectful language on both sides and no dirty parlor tricks from the school system. I would suggest you review the code of conduct that will be posted on your school districts website, and they need to follow that as well.
- You have a responsibility to facilitate the implementation of accommodation decided by the school. You can facilitate and still keep advocating.
Through the School Act, you have a right to appeal if you do not agree with the final decision of the school. This is a much faster process than the current Human Rights Tribunal process. The School Act and the Human Rights Code are two separate legislation Acts. Processes are different. Goals are different. Outcomes will be different.
Filing a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal means that your child has experienced harm that is connected to their disability. It’s about harm that has already occurred, and harm that you will need to have evidence of. More blog posts on this will be coming in the future.
Advocacy is a skill that can be developed.
Some resources I recommend are: