Press release: Dyslexia community responds to OHRC Right to Read Inquiry

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Dyslexia community applauds the Ontario Human Rights Commission “Right to Read” Public Inquiry

Toronto, ON – October 3, 2019 – Decoding Dyslexia Ontario and The Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association applaud the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) decision to launch the Right to Read inquiry into human rights issues that affect children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system.

Dyslexia is the most common reading disability, affecting approximately 6%-17% of children. That’s at least 2 children in every classroom who struggle to learn to read with little to no support. These students face many barriers, including lack of access to school psychologists for timely diagnosis and lack of access to systematic evidence-based reading instruction.

We know that students who struggle with reading can be identified as having a reading disability/dyslexia as early as kindergarten. The science of the reading brain indicates that appropriate reading instruction and remediation works best – takes less time and will produce better results – when provided early, before the end of Grade 1. However, across Ontario, most children are diagnosed with dyslexia after the third grade and very often are not provided with the scientific, evidence-based reading instruction they need to become proficient readers and successful learners in the classroom.

Harvard School of Education reports that, “Children with dyslexia are less likely to complete high school or pursue higher education and are at an increased risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Early identification of dyslexia is therefore critical for improving reading outcomes in children, and for preventing and ameliorating the socio-emotional problems that accompany reading failure” (Ozernov-Palchik and Gaab).

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has taken the bold step to look more deeply into the structural and systemic barriers that students with reading disability/dyslexia face on a daily basis in our public schools.

This inquiry offers an opportunity to bring to light the challenges our education system faces in teaching all children to read. We hope the inquiry will also identify solutions needed to ensure the right to an education for children with reading disability/dyslexia, which is guaranteed under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Quotes

“Decoding Dyslexia Ontario is incredibly grateful for the commitment of the OHRC to this human rights issue in our public education system. Generations of families and their children with dyslexia will be well-served by your work in this area. Our province will be reminded that equitable access to education is not a luxury, it is a right and that this right, afforded to all, is the cornerstone for the future development of Ontario and Canada as a whole,” says Annette Sang, MSW, Founder/Board member, Decoding Dyslexia Ontario.

“We hear heart-breaking stories from parents of students with dyslexia all across the province. We know that many children are struggling to be identified and to get the services they need to succeed at school,” says Lark Barker, president of Decoding Dyslexia Ontario. “The wait-to-fail approach for students with dyslexia is not acceptable in a province that guarantees the right to an education for all.”

“My great hope is that this will be a moment of reckoning for the culture of education in this province. And that the findings of the inquiry will lead our education system forward to embrace the science of reading and ensure that every child realizes their right to read,” says Alicia Smith, President of the Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

Contacts

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario

  • Lark Barker, President: (647) 400-6805
  • Annette Sang, Founder/Board member: (609) 933-8127

IDA Ontario

  • Alicia Smith, President Elect: (705) 427-9544

About

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario is a parent-led, non-profit organization concerned with the limited understanding of dyslexia with Ontario public education and education stakeholders. It raises dyslexia awareness, empowers families to support their children who are dyslexic, and shares best practices regarding identification, remediation and support for students with dyslexia.

The Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association is a non-profit charitable organization founded in June 2004. The branch is operated by volunteers, providing free information and support to individuals with dyslexia, their families and the teachers and professionals who work with them.

Social Media

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario

Website: https://www.decodingdyslexiaon.org/

Twitter: @dyslexiaOn

Facebook: DecodingDyslexiaOntario

Email: decodingdyslexiaon@gmail.com

Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association

Website: https://www.idaontario.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ONBIDA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ONBIDA

Email: info@idaontario.com

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario welcomes Right to Read Inquiry

Parent-led group welcomes Ontario Human Rights Commission “Right to Read” inquiry

Toronto, ON – October 3, 2019

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario applauds the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s announcement to launch the Right to Read public inquiry into possible discrimination by Ontario public schools against children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.

We hope that the inquiry will bring to light the systemic and structural barriers faced every day by thousands of children, from all walks of life, in public schools across our province. Further, we hope it will bring about increased awareness and support for alllearning disabilities.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, occurring in an estimated 6%-17% of the school population[1]. That’s at least 2 students in every classroom. It runs in families and knows no boundaries: anyone can be dyslexic no matter their sex, age, race, culture, socio-economic status or language. Dyslexia is not related to intelligence—meaning that these children are smart and able to succeed at school alongside their peers. And yet, they are denied access to the basic support and services that they need to learn.

Our organization, run by parents of students with dyslexia, hears from students and their parents everyday who are frustrated with the lack of awareness, services and support in our public education system. Many of these parents are also dyslexic and have experienced multigenerational discrimination.

Their stories are heart-breaking.

They tell us how they are being denied timely identification, assessment and effective reading instruction.

They tell us they are facing long wait lists for identification and assessment, and classrooms without interventions and accommodations to support their needs.

They tell us that they must pay for private psychological assessments, tutoring and private schools just to ensure that their children learn to read, write and spell.

Many others tell us that they can’t afford to pay for these services[2]–and they watch helplessly as their children fall behind their peers at school, and carry the heavy emotional weight that comes with it.

Though Canada considers itself a literate nation, there are too many children who are not learning to read proficiently. In 2018, the Council of Ministers of Education reported that: “…scores in reading literacy suggest some cause for concern. Over one in ten Canadian students do not meet the level of reading proficiency expected at the Grade 8/Secondary II level.”[3] EQAO testing shows a similar pattern.

All children can learn to read. It is the most important skill a child needs to learn to thrive in school and life. We can, and must, do better.

We encourage the Commission to look at the science. Research into the reading brain[4] provides clear evidence that a structured literacy approach is effective for teaching children with dyslexia, and benefits all students[5]. However, this approach is not currently available to all students in public schools province-wide.

We also know that early intervention (preferably in Kindergarten and before the end of Grade 1) works best, takes less time and produces better results.[6] Yet in schools boards across Ontario, most children are not diagnosed with reading disability/dyslexia until after the third grade, if they receive an assessment at all. In fact, most Ontario elementary schools restrict the number of assessments permitted per year[7].

For students dyslexia, “wait and see” becomes “wait to fail.”

These barriers lead to inequitable outcomes that impact the most vulnerable children in our schools.

The province’s own figures paint a troubling picture.

Children with dyslexia represent the majority of children–some 40%–receiving special education services. And yet, the 2019 EQAO shows that 53% of Grade 3 students in special education did not meet the provincial literacy standard[8]. In the Grade 10 Applied stream, where most struggling readers are found, only 41% of students met the provincial literacy standard. That is 50 percentage points lower than that of students in the Academic stream.

Students with learning disabilities are also more likely to drop out of school, be underemployed and unemployed, and experience mental health issues.

The current wait-to-fail approach for students with dyslexia is not acceptable in a province that guarantees the right to education for all.

We are grateful for the Commission’s commitment to pursue this human rights issue in our public education system. Generations of families and their children will be well-served by your work in this area. Our province will be reminded that equitable access to public education is not a luxury, it is a right. This right, afforded to all, is the cornerstone for the future development of Ontario and Canada as a whole.

Finally, for all the families struggling to get help for their children, we hope that this inquiry will help you feel less alone, give voice to your concerns, and lead to recommendations that will pave the way for change.

Related resources

Video: Faces of dyslexia (Stories of Ontario students with dyslexia)

Fact sheet: Inadequate Appropriate Special Education Service = Discrimination

Video: Presentation to accessibility in education town hall

Fact sheet: 14 dyslexia facts and figures

About

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario (DDON) is a parent-led, non-profit organization concerned with the limited understanding of dyslexia within the Ontario public education system. DDON raises dyslexia awareness, empowers families to support their children who are dyslexic, and shares best practices regarding identification, remediation and support for students with dyslexia.


[1] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (J. Fletcher et al, 2007, p. 105) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079378

[2] Parents fuming after 2.5 year wait for learning disability test

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.2918462

[3] PCAP 2016: Report on the Pan-Canadian Assessment of Reading, Mathematics, and Science https://cmec.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/381/PCAP-2016-Public-Report-EN.pdf

[4] Guinevere Eden, Dyslexia and the brain, video

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/video-dyslexia-and-the-brain

[5] Nancy Young, Ladder of Reading, https://www.nancyyoung.ca/research-and-links

[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/06/fixing-failure-model

[7] People For Education 2019 Annual Report https://peopleforeducation.ca/report/2019-annual-report-on-schools-what-makes-a-school/#chapter5

[8] Highlights of the Provincial Results, English-Language Students, 2018–2019, EQAO

http://www.eqao.com/en/assessments/results/communication-docs/provincial-report-highlights-literacy-2019.pdf

Discrimination in education: Ontario Human Rights Commission outreach

On April 9, 2018, the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Renu Mandhane, tweeted that all special education needs students must receive timely and appropriate services.

The Chief Commissioner opened the door; encouraging parents of children that have not received the appropriate and necessary services in their public education experience to contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre to report discrimination. 


Examples of potential discrimination, but not limited to:

→ School/school board fails to provide evidence-based reading instruction that a child with dyslexia needs to learn to read despite identified need; 

→ School staff member says that there is nothing that the school can do to help your child;

→ School/school board fails to provide the access to a psych ed assessment in a reasonable amount of time; 

→ Staff/school/school board suggests student not enrol, or exit, a specialty program (gifted, French immersion, IB);

→ School/school board fails to provide, or allow, the use of assistive technology in the classroom; 

→ School/school board sends your child home when supports are not available for them;

→ School fails to provide accommodations that support the success of the student in the classroom; or

→ Staff/school makes, or allows, jokes or derogatory comments about your child’s learning needs.


Human rights protections for students with learning disabilities in Ontario

The Ontario Human Rights Code states that provincial education services must provide timely and appropriate special education services so that special education students with a disability, including learning disabilities such as dyslexia, have equity in public education.

Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities (2018)

In public school, students with dyslexia should be provided appropriate special education services to be able to read. 

Additionally, once a student with dyslexia is taught to read in elementary school, the student should have equal opportunity to enroll and succeed in the high school academic stream so that post-secondary education is an option. Accommodations must be made available throughout a student’s entire educational experience. 

Moreover, students with dyslexia should be considered equally for specialty programs (French Immersion, Gifted, IB and Arts Schools) for we know that with appropriate accommodations, a student with dyslexia can reach their full potential and find success in school and in life. 

Finally, as per the International Dyslexia Association, appropriate evidence-based special education intervention for students with dyslexia should be based upon structured literacy: https://dyslexiaida.org/what-is-structured-literacy.


From the Supreme Court of Canada’s Landmark Moore vs BC Education Decision (2012)

“A majority of students do not require intensive remediation in order to learn to read.  Jeffrey does.  He was unable to get it in the public school. Was that an unjustified denial of meaningful access to the general education … and, as a result, discrimination?”

“There is no dispute that Jeffrey’s dyslexia is a disability. … the expert evidence [including the International Dyslexia Association] that intensive supports were needed generally to remedy Jeffrey’s learning disability, and that he had not received the support he needed in the public school system.”

“… a finding that Jeffrey suffered discrimination and was entitled to a consequential personal remedy, has clear broad remedial repercussions for how other students with severe learning disabilities are educated.”

The Supreme Court upheld the BC Human Rights Tribunal finding of discrimination against the local Board awarding:

 “… tuition paid for Jeffrey to attend Kenneth Gordon School and Fraser Academy, up to and including Grade 12, half of the costs incurred for his transportation to and from those schools, and $10,000 for “the injury to [Jeffrey’s] dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

Note: Jeffery Moore was in Grade 3 and unable to read when the decision was made to move to specialty private school


All children should feel like they belong at school, Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission (Globe and Mail, Sept. 2, 2018)