Sunday, October 31, 2010

Canadian plans to take case to Supreme Court, so schools will be forced to better accommodate students with learning disabilities

From The Vancouver Sun in Canada:

A North Vancouver father expressed disappointment with a 2-1 Court of Appeal ruling Oct. 29 that blocked his bid to force the school system to accommodate learning-disabled students.

But Rick Moore said he hopes to take the case to the nation's highest court in Ottawa.

"My hope is that we continue," he said Friday, minutes after the ruling, which upheld a lower court decision. "I'd like to go to the Supreme Court of Canada. I'd like it to be a national precedent."

Moore said it was frustrating because he began his challenge of the school system 13 years ago when his son Jeff, who has dyslexia, was in elementary school. Now 23, Jeff is a union plumber who is able to read because, Moore says, he and his wife pulled their son out of Braemar elementary in North Vancouver when he was in Grade 3 and the school had not yet taught him to read.

The parents, who have modest incomes, put Jeff in a private school known for helping kids with learning disabilities.

"It was never about Jeff," Moore explained in an interview. "He got the right kind of schooling and achieved his potential."

He did it for other families with learning-disabled kids who are not getting the proper help in the school system, he added.

"They have been waiting decades," he said. "There have been a lot of hollow promises over the years."

Moore said he was surprised when the premier outlined in his televised public address this week that the province will do more to help remediate students in need, promising every Grade 4 student would be reading, writing and doing math at a Grade 4 level within five years.

"I almost fell off my chair when I heard the premier talking about it," he said.

In 2005, Moore won his B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint. The tribunal found that the North Vancouver school district discriminated against Jeff and other severely learning-disabled students by failing to accommodate their disabilities.

The Ministry of Education and the school district appealed the finding to the B.C. Supreme Court, arguing the tribunal made errors in law when it sided with Moore.

The trial court quashed the tribunal's decision, ruling the tribunal had erred in finding discrimination in the absence of evidence of disparate treatment.

In a split ruling Friday, three judges of the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the B.C. Supreme Court decision.

"This case is not concerned with reviewing what services the government should have provided to most effectively deal with Jeffrey Moore's disability," said the written judgment by Appeal Court Justice Richard Low.

The judge found the proper question is not what a public school system should provide, which is a matter for Parliament and the legislature, but rather whether the failure to fund certain services amounted to an unequal and discriminatory denial of benefits.

"I do not think there is any basis for a finding of discrimination against the province in the absence of such finding against the school board," the majority ruling concluded.

In dissenting reasons, Appeal Court Justice Anne Rowles decided to reverse the lower court ruling that quashed the tribunal finding.

"In my opinion, the 'service' in issue is general education and not special education as found by the reviewing judge," the judge said.

"Reading is part of the core curriculum and is essential to learning. The accommodation sought by Jeffrey and other SLD students ... is not an extra 'ancillary' service; instead it is the way by which meaningful access to the service can be achieved," Rowles concluded.

The full decision is available online: