Friday, November 16, 2012

Shame on Me and Shame on Us

A lot of attention has been given to the recent ruling at the Supreme Court of Canada.  It recently ruled that school boards in Canada must provide adequate services to children with disabilities and cannot justify not providing those services due to budgetary pressures.

From the Supreme Court Decision:
This declaration of purpose is an acknowledgment by the government that the reason all children are entitled to an education, is because a healthy democracy and economy require their educated contribution.  Adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury.  For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.   

The synopsis of this ruling is that Jeffrey Moore had dyslexia, and the school board did not provide adequate help.  As a result, Moore went to a private school.  The SCC is awarding his family full costs, and the school board has to pay.  It will be interesting to see what implications this has for ABA provision in Ontario schools.

The Globe and Mail does not concur:
The Supreme Court of Canada has opened a Pandora’s box for public school boards by finding that a British Columbia school district discriminated against a dyslexic child when, during a financial crisis, it closed a special-education centre that provided him intensive help in learning to read. From here on, schools, school boards or provinces could be forced to bleed other programs to meet court-ordered educational standards for special-needs students.
And it concludes:
It makes the court’s unanimous ruling more out of touch that the boy’s public education unfolded between 1991 and 1994, during and after a recession marked by across-the-board restraint, and finally, the overcoming of Canada’s deficit. Many political choices went into those years, and similar choices await today; governments, accountable to voters, should be the ones making those choices. The court overstepped its authority.
I'm ashamed of us for thinking this way.  This is the old mantra, it costs too much, and we can't afford it.  Yet, as I have written before, no one seems to mind that we spent billions of dollars at the end of someone's life in hospital instead of acknowledging death is imminent... no one would allow that.  So why do we allow school boards to write children off because of cost?

Most of all, I'm ashamed of myself.  Ashamed that, without children on the spectrum, I would have agreed with the article.  Shame on me.

Why is this decision such a victory?  Another quote from the Toronto Star, on education in Ontario:

Denise Martins, the principal at Danforth Collegiate, said the school is doing the best it can based upon the staffing provided to us. The school’s support program includes one full-time and one part-time teacher, a child and youth worker and special needs assistant, and a social skills class runs over the lunch hour.

But Ford says it’s not the school or teachers that are to blame; she faults the board for not providing adequate resources. She says her son is being bullied by other students.

Other parents echo Ford’s frustrations with Ontario’s school system: one mother says she stopped working because of daily calls to pick up her son; another spent the night washing ink off her Grade 9 son after he was accosted by older boys; some parents decide to transfer their children to private school, spending thousands in tuition.
Here's the reason why school boards should not be able to hide behind budget constraints... as quoted by Ms. Martins.  They are "doing the best based on the staffing provided to us."  That's a cop-out.  This SCC decision says that children are entitled to an education, and "the school board's best" may not be adequate anymore.

This decision does not reverse Auton, but it least it gives us hope for children getting what they need for a real education in school.


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