School officials sound off on North Van discrimination case

NANAIMO – Educators think Supreme Court of Canada decision won't result in immediate changes here.

Local education stakeholders think a recent court ruling that found a B.C. school district discriminated against a dyslexic boy when it cancelled a special education program will not have any immediate impact here.

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said the district does not believe the decision requires any immediate changes here, but it will give the district a better understanding of what is required when considering changes to programs.

Current policies require extensive community consultation on any proposed changes in services, including school closures, she added.

In the early 1990s, Jeffrey Moore, who suffered from severe dyslexia, was referred to a special education program run by the North Vancouver school district.

But because this program was being closed – consistent deficits during this period led to wide-scale budget cuts in the district – his parents enrolled him in a private school specializing in teaching children who had learning disabilities.

Moore’s father, Frederick Moore, filed a human rights complaint against the school district and province alleging that his son had been discriminated against because of his disability.

The Human Rights Tribunal concluded that Moore was not given the support he needed to have meaningful access to the educational opportunities offered by the district.

This decision was reversed by the B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal, but a finding of discrimination was restored by Canada’s highest court.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision states that the special education assistance Moore received was inadequate to give him the education to which he was entitled, as the intensive remediation he required was only available outside of the public school system.

The decision also noted that while the district was facing serious financial constraints, there were other options for cuts, and when it made the cut, the district undertook no assessment of alternatives or what would be available to special needs students.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the district has a number of programs to support special needs students and is now using response to intervention, a method of academic intervention to provide early assistance to children who are having difficulty learning.

“I’m confident we’re doing the best we can to meet student needs,” he said.

“None of our students are going to be in the situation where they aren’t provided with the most appropriate learning support they need. If they’re not able to manage a regular program, then you have to build a program around them.”

Alana Cameron, president of the District Parent Advisory Council, said she feels the district is on the right track because of the new academic intervention model and is doing what it can with the resources it has.

“Districts are only given so much money from the government,” she said. “You can’t squeeze blood from a stone.”

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the decision could mean more deliberations by trustees before cuts are made.

“I think what it may do is empower parents to question more,” he said.

Provincial underfunding is making it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of all learners in the public education system, added Green.

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