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.

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down nominee Neil Gorsuch’s decision on autism

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