Ontario parents applaud US special education ruling

We, parents of dyslexic children, are delighted with the March 22, page A10, story in the Toronto Star, regarding the US Supreme Court’s ruling for a Denver CO boy whose public education was ‘essentially stalled’ whereby his parents pulled him from public school and enrolled him in a specialty private school where he would get the support he needed to thrive. The ruling in Endrew F. vs Douglas County School District states it is not enough for schools to offer minimal instruction for students with special needs. Instead, schools must offer an education program “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” and that the essential function of the educational plan is to “set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement.”  The US Supreme Court also ruled that the public school board would have to pay for the boys’ private school education since ‘minimal’ education targets for the disabled is not enough.

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The struggle to obtain appropriate education for a learning disabled child is all too common for Ontario families. Dyslexia, the most common learning disability, is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Children with dyslexia face frustration, sadness, anxiety, and unfulfilled potential when they are not provided with effective reading instruction.

Definition of Dyslexia – International Dyslexia Association

For parents of children with dyslexia, there is ample scientific evidence that their challenges can be greatly minimized if they are assessed early and that explicit and systematic phonics-based language instruction begins as soon as possible. As per the National Panel on Reading Report of 2000, this method of language instruction is scientifically proven to ensure that all young students become better readers with greater literacy skills; but it is the essential method to teach students that have some degree of dyslexia which can range from mild to severe.

Without early education services targeted specifically to their learning needs, Ontario school board and EQAO data clearly demonstrate achievement gaps: many these of dyslexic students will not be prepared to take academic-level courses in high school nor will they pass the Grade 10 literacy exam on their first attempt. Furthermore, they will become so discouraged with the whole education system that up to 30%* of them will drop out. The students that stick-it-out through high school will more-often-than-not be forced to take five years to graduate rather than four years like their classmates.

*Toronto District School Board – December 2010 Special Education: Structural Overview, pages 27 & 28.

*Ottawa-Carlton District School Board – February 2017, Equity Report, page 13.

If parents have the financial means, they’ll assess their child’s situation privately to decide whether to engage tutors; home school; or perhaps transfer to a private school that has the expertise to teach students with dyslexia. However, the majority of people in Ontario cannot afford this choice. If the student’s family is low-income or lives in poverty, if the parents did not graduate themselves because they too have dyslexia (dyslexia is known to be highly inheritable), the options are to beg the school for help. All parents of disabled children want education equity for their child – the right to maximize their child’s potential and this should be available in our public schools.

It has been five years since a similar defence for learning disabled rights to public education was put forth by the Supreme Court of Canada. In the Moore vs. British Columbia (Education) decision of 2012, Canada’s highest court stated: “…the reason children are entitled to an education is that 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.

ONBIDA Successful at Supreme Court of Canada in Moore v British Columbia (Ministry of Education)

Moore v. British Columbia (Education) 2012 SCC 61, [2012] 3 S.C.R. 360, 2012-11-09

With the recent ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States has defended the rights of students with learning differences to maximize their future potential. Moreover, if the local public education system cannot, or will not, prioritize the success of these students to have similar, equitable outcomes to the general student body parents have the right to have the public school system fund the private school education that will improve the outcome their disabled child. To paraphrase Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn) observation, the addition of the word ‘minimal’ to education targets created a ceiling more than a floor.

The Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees the right of all children access to education without discrimination on the basis of disability, and yet for so many children with dyslexia, this is not happening in the context of our publicly funded education system.

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario believes that reading is the most crucial skill a child can gain, necessary for a successful school and life experience. We encourage policy makers & decision makers from all three parties in Ontario to recognize this tragedy affecting the 1 in 5 children with dyslexia. Please ensure that Ontario’s education policy and actions protect the right to an equitable education for children with learning differences, including dyslexia, as the Supreme Court of Canada has required, and the U.S. Supreme Court has just done South of the border.

Links to news and articles on the decision:

U.S. Supreme Court Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, March 22, 2017

IDA Applauds Supreme Court Decision in Endrew F vs Douglas County School District

How a New Supreme Court Ruling Could Affect Special Education




Dear Premier Wynne,

Congratulations on your government’s December 5th commitment to develop an education accessibility standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This is an important step toward ensuring equality of education across our province and as representatives of dyslexia-focused organizations, we are pleased to see this development in Ontario.


You see, our children with dyslexia are, by definition, of average to above average intelligence but experience unexpected difficulty learning to read, spell & write. Dyslexia is a neurobiological difference that is hereditary and affects approximately 1 in 5 children in the general population. This means that in any class of 30 children, there will be 4 – 5 children who struggle to learn to read, spell & write because of dyslexia. Approximately 80% of those deemed learning disabled are students with dyslexia.


These numbers are shocking. Even more shocking is that the majority of teachers in our province are unprepared to teach reading to children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia can learn to read but require explicit and systematic instruction utilizing a structured literacy approach (including phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, as well as oral and reading comprehension). However, our colleges of education do not provide teachers with the type or depth of instruction necessary to allow teachers to effectively teach reading to this large portion of students in their classrooms.

The result is evident in the government’s own statistics. EQAO reports indicate that 51% of children who failed the Grade Three literacy exam went on to fail it again in Grade Six and again in Grade Ten. Children who do not learn to read and write early on continue to fail unless we provide them with the reading instruction that works. The recent consultation report on the Provincial Demonstration Schools highlights the challenges that our public education system faces in supporting this vulnerable population effectively.


Reading is the most fundamental skill that children must acquire in order to navigate their school experience. Yet, our organizations hear regularly that parents and their children struggle to receive assessments to confirm a diagnosis of dyslexia and to obtain, on this basis, the necessary interventions that could make the difference between school failure and success for a child. If our public schools cannot teach all children to read, where are families to turn to for help? Private tutoring, where available, costs $60 – $100 per hour, completely unaffordable for the majority of families in Ontario.


The social and emotional costs of failing to intervene for a child with dyslexia are enormous. Did you know:

  • Approximately 40% of children with learning disabilities experience mental health issues including anxiety and depression (Integra Program).
  • A recent piece of research out of the U of T indicates that children with dyslexia are five times more likely to experience abuse (Fuller-Thomson et. al).
  • Research in the U.S. and Canada suggests that our prison systems are full of people with low literacy, including many who are dyslexic. 65% of all inmates in Canada have achieved less than a grade 8 level of literacy (Literacy & Policing Project).


Consider the case of Quin as described by his mother. He is in Grade 4, has a formal diagnosis of dyslexia and his school in Ontario will not provide help for his reading and writing challenges:


A couple days after my little man was formally diagnosed with dyslexia, I found him at the kitchen table creating this poster. “Dyslexia. It’s not a disadilatee. It’s a Super Power. For the pepole who are  Dyslexik, Don’t give UP!” 


My heart sang. You see just days earlier my husband and I were so worried about giving him the label of “dyslexia”. But after sitting him down and talking to Quin about all the amazingly different ways his brain works, we said the words… “and it’s called dyslexia.” His face lit up! 


We were so worried about labelling him with the word “DYSLEXIA”, that it never occurred to us that he had already self labelled himself as “STUPID”. And by saying the word “dyslexia” we erased the word “stupid”.   


kw-letter-pic-2Or so we thought. The sad reality is, nearly one year after Quin created that poster he’s back to calling himself “stupid” and “dumb”, and this time, it’s the educational system’s fault.  


You see Quin’s school refuses to provide him with the proper intervention for his reading and writing, and more frustrating than that, our school board is one of the few boards that has an intervention program for kids with reading difficulties. Unfortunately, my son doesn’t have access to it. The school says that there’s not enough of a demand. This confuses me, because if the above stats are true (and they are) and Quin’s school has a population of 440 students, then surely Quin is not the only child in desperate need of a reading intervention program at his school. Children are falling through the cracks and the school system is failing them.


So, as Quin’s peers continue to excel and grow academically, my 4th grader sits stagnant at school, feeling ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’.  


Premier Wynne, this is just one of thousands of stories of children with dyslexia who are not receiving the education that they are guaranteed to under The Education Act. As a former Minister of Education, you know that this is not fair. This is a violation of human rights guaranteed not only under The Ontario Human Rights Code, but also under The U.N. Convention on The Rights of The Child and The U.N. Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Learning to read for a child with dyslexia is like providing an accessible ramp through the front door of a school for a child who must use a wheelchair – it is the key to ensuring that a child can access an education they deserve. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61.


Premier Wynne, we are hopeful that your efforts to develop an accessibility standard for education in Ontario will address the inequities that our children face in their schools everyday. However, children with dyslexia cannot wait. We ask that you act now to ensure that:

  • All children in Ontario are screened for dyslexia in Kindergarten and identified no later than the end of Grade One;
  • Equitable access to early & effective intervention is provided as soon as identification happens;
  • Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia & structured literacy methods is provided to all pre-service and in-service primary & elementary teachers;
  • The Ontario curriculum is revised to include explicit and systematic classroom instruction in structured literacy; and
  • Equitable access to accommodations & assistive technology is available for all students identified with dyslexia in Ontario.


Premier Wynne, let it be your legacy that you ensure that all children learn to read and thrive in the province of Ontario. We are happy to offer you our knowledge and expertise to ensure this occurs for the 1 in 5 students with dyslexia in our province.



Elaine Keenan, International Dyslexia Association, Ontario Branch

Annette Sang, M.S.W., Decoding Dyslexia Ontario