OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a British Columbia school board discriminated against a severely learning disabled boy by not doing enough to give him the help he needed.
In their 9-0 ruling the judges sided with Rick Moore and his son Jeffrey, who is dyslexic.
The case began in the 1990s, when Rick Moore complained that the North Vancouver school district discriminated against Jeffrey, who was eight years old, in Grade 3 and unable to read.
Teachers knew of the boy’s disability and referred the case to a diagnostic centre for special attention, but the district closed the centre for budgetary reasons before he could enrol.
His father instead put Jeffrey into an expensive independent school which catered to students with learning disabilities. Jeffrey went on to attend a post-secondary institution and now works full-time as a plumber.
Moore complained to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal that the district had discriminated against his son by failing to accommodate his disability.
In 2005, the tribunal agreed, awarding the Moores the cost of tuition at the independent school, half the cost for his transportation to the school and $10,000 in damages.
The B.C. Supreme Court overturned the tribunal ruling and that decision was upheld by the court of appeal.
The Supreme Court, however, overturned the lower courts, restored the finding of discrimination and the tribunal award of tuition, transport and damages. It also awarded court costs to Moore.
“The tribunal concluded that the failure of the public school system to give Jeffrey the support he needed to have meaningful access to the educational opportunities offered by the board, amounted to discrimination under the (human rights) code,” Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the court.
She pointed out that the province’s School Act acknowledges that the very purpose of the school system is to enable all students to develop “their individual potential.”
“Adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury,” Abella wrote. “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.”
She noted that the school district did provide some help, but not enough.
“There is no doubt that Jeffrey received some special education assistance until Grade 3, but in my view the tribunal’s conclusion that the remediation was far from adequate to give Jeffrey the education to which he was entitled, was fully supported by the evidence.”
The high court said the rights tribunal took too broad an approach to the case on two fronts: ordering the province to provide systemic remedies for severe learning-disabled children and saying it would oversee implementation of the order.
“While the tribunal was certainly entitled to consider systemic evidence in order to determine whether Jeffrey had suffered discrimination, it was unnecessary for it to hold an extensive inquiry into the precise format of the provincial funding mechanism or the entire provincial administration of special education in order to determine whether Jeffrey was discriminated against,” Abella wrote.
“The tribunal, with great respect, is an adjudicator of the particular claim that is before it, not a royal commission.”