Safe schools settlement reached with Ministry of Education



    TORONTO, April 13 /CNW/ - A settlement reached this week between the
Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Ministry of Education will
promote school safety while ensuring that all students, including students
with disabilities and racialized students, are given the opportunity to reach
their full potential.
    Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall stated, "I am very pleased that the
Ministry has agreed to undertake a number of actions that will directly
benefit students starting this September. These will result in a safe learning
environment, fair discipline policies and equal access to education for all -
what we all want for our schools and our students. The Commission will be
working with the Ministry to implement the terms of the settlement."
    The settlement follows a Commission-initiated complaint filed against the
Ministry in July 2005, which alleged that the application of school discipline
legislation and policies were having a discriminatory impact on racialized
students and students with disabilities. Commission concerns were based on
submissions received during the Commission's Racial Profiling Inquiry, its
consultation on disability issues in Ontario's education system, and an
external report prepared for the Commission, which supported these concerns
with evidence from Nova Scotia, the United States and Britain.
    As a result of the settlement, the Ministry has agreed to initiate or
continue developing measures that will promote compliance with the Ontario
Human Rights Code. These include:

    
    -   acknowledging the widespread perception that the Act has a
        disproportionate impact on students from racialized communities and
        students with disabilities

    -   confirming the concept of 'zero tolerance' has no place in the
        legislation, regulations or policies

    -   considering the application of progressive discipline as an
        alternative to suspensions and expulsions

    -   requesting expanding the regulations on mitigating factors and
        requiring principals and school boards to consider such factors prior
        to suspending or expelling a student

    -   providing students who have been suspended or expelled access to
        alternative education opportunities

    -   supporting the collection of data on suspensions and expulsions and
        making this information available

    -   requiring significant training initiatives for principals, vice-
        principals and teachers on anti-racism, anti-discrimination, cultural
        awareness and disability accommodation along with training on
        amendments to the safe schools provisions

    -   working with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to
        promote, advertise and recruit teachers from racialized communities,
        persons with disabilities and other under-represented groups

    -   holding a provincial Safe Schools Symposium with participation by the
        Commission following passage of any amendments, and

    -   annual reporting to the Commission on progress of the agreement until
        completed.
    

    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 at www.ohrc.on.ca to read the settlement.

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    Backgrounder
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    
                     Human Rights Settlement Reached with
                    Ministry of Education on Safe Schools
    

    The Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Ministry of Education
have finalized a settlement of a human rights complaint initiated by the
Commission against the Ministry and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)
in July 2005. A settlement was reached separately with the TDSB in November
2005.
    The settlement deals with the application of the safe schools provisions
under the Education Act and related school discipline policies. It contains a
number of specific timelines that will benefit students in time for the new
school year.

    Background to the Complaint

    The Commission has long stated that it supports the objective of ensuring
schools are safe, but has raised concerns about the discriminatory effect of
the application of this legislation on racialized students and students with
disabilities:

    
     -  A report released by the Commission in July 2004 identified that
        research from the United States, Great Britain and Nova Scotia has
        demonstrated the discriminatory effects of mandatory school
        discipline policies and documented similar experiences of students,
        educators and front-line community workers in Ontario.

     -  In a public submission to the TDSB's Safe and Compassionate Schools
        Task Force in April 2004, the Commission called upon schools boards
        and the Ministry of Education to acknowledge the situation and take
        appropriate action, including collecting and analyzing data on
        expulsions and suspensions in order to monitor and safeguard against
        any discriminatory effect.

     -  The Commission also learned of concerns of a disproportional impact
        on students with disabilities during its consultation on disability
        issues in Ontario's education system and made these concerns public
        through its Consultation Report The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving
        Barrier-Free Education for Students with Disabilities and its
        Guidelines on Accessible Education.

     -  Submissions received by the Commission during its Racial Profiling
        Inquiry further corroborated concerns about the application of the
        safe schools provisions to racialized students.

     -  The Commission's 2005 Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial
        Discrimination confirm that individuals, organizations and
        institutions can be held liable for failing in their duties to take
        appropriate action to address human rights issues of which they are
        aware, or ought to be aware.
    

    The Commission initiated the complaint against the Ministry of Education
and the TDSB to seek a systemic resolution of the issues. In a November 2005
settlement, the TDSB accepted and acknowledged the widespread perception of
the discriminatory effect of the application of current school disciplinary
legislation and policies and agreed to measures to address the concerns
raised. In addition to a number of other commitments, the TDSB undertook to
collect and analyse data on suspensions and expulsions to determine the extent
to which safe schools legislation is having an adverse impact on individuals
protected under the Code. The Commission also mediated a positive settlement
in four complaints against the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

    Key Terms of the Ministry Settlement

    The comprehensive public interest settlement reached with the Ministry of
Education builds on these positive steps at a provincial level. Highlights of
the settlement include commitments that the Ministry will:

    
     -  continue a comprehensive review of the safe schools provisions of the
        Education Act;

     -  request amendments to the relevant regulations to include mitigating
        factors and require principals and school boards to consider
        mitigating facts prior to suspending or expelling any student. The
        mitigating factors are:
           a) whether racial or other harassment was a factor in the
              student's behaviour;
           b) whether the principles of progressive discipline have first
              been attempted;
           c) the impact of suspension or expulsion on the student's
              continued education;
           d) whether the imposition of suspension or expulsion would likely
              result in an aggravation or worsening of the student's
              behaviour or conduct;
           e) the age of the student;
           f) in the case of a student with a disability, whether the
              behaviour was a manifestation of the disability and whether
              appropriate accommodation, based on the principle of
              individualization, has first been provided; and
           g) the safety of other students.

     -  consider proposing legislative amendments requiring the application
        of progressive discipline, such as in-school detentions, peer
        mediation, restorative practice, referrals for consultation, and/or
        transfer, before use of suspension and expulsion;

     -  support the efforts of school boards that are prepared to collect
        data on suspensions and expulsions and their impact on Code protected
        students through hiring an independent, expert and qualified
        researcher to work with school boards to develop best practices and
        data collection methods that are consistent with the Commission's
        Guidelines for Collecting Data on Enumerated Grounds Under the Code,
        ensure parent, student and community input into data collection best
        practices and report back to the Ministry. Upon the completion of
        the research, the Ministry will re-examine its existing position on
        race-based data collection;

     -  request approval for development of a policy regarding alternative
        education programs for students who are expelled or on long term
        suspensions (more than five school days);

     -  invest in resources for teachers and guidance counsellors to inform
        them of strategies for teaching racialized students;

     -  provide principals, vice-principals and trustees responsible for
        expulsion hearings/suspension appeals with training on anti-racism,
        anti-discrimination, cross-cultural awareness and accommodating
        students with disabilities as well as training on how to apply
        discipline in a non-discriminatory manner;

     -  propose through the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
        that post-secondary institutions that provide teacher training and
        certification actively promote, advertise and recruit teachers from
        racialized communities, persons with disabilities and other under-
        represented groups of persons within Ontario;

     -  implement measures for enhanced parental involvement in bullying
        prevention, safe schools, student behaviour and health;

     -  hold a provincial Safe Schools Symposium with participation by the
        Commission following passage of any amendments to the safe schools
        provisions of the Education Act; and

     -  report back to the Commission on progress at the one-year anniversary
        date of the Agreement and at one-year intervals until completed.
    

    The Commission looks forward to seeing these commitments fulfilled and
will follow up with the Ministry in this regard. As well, the Commission
continues to deal with complaints filed by individuals against school boards
across the province.
    For a copy of the full Terms of Settlement as well as related policies,
submissions and reports, please visit the Commission's Website at
www.ohrc.on.ca.




For further information:

For further information: Jeff Poirier, Manager, Communications, (416)
314-4539; François Larsen, Director, Policy and Education, (416) 314-4532


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