8 families head to court May 27 and 28 to challenge the government’s treatment of disability
TORONTO — Eight families who are suing the provincial government for discrimination based on religion and disability have a May 27 and 28 court date, announced yesterday at a Queen’s Park press conference.
The lawsuit was launched in 2007 against the provincial government for religious discrimination and violation of children’s rights according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“In faith-based schools students with special needs are forced to make a choice that is between their religion and a disability,” said Ira Walfish, chair of the Multi-Faith Coalition.
“For that reason eight families have come together, two of which you see here, to challenge this arbitrary and we feel discriminatory government policy which is forcing our parent body with special needs children to make such a heart-wrenching choice,” said Walfish, noting that the court action is a last resort.
Since 2000, through the Ministry of Health, the government funds certain services for students in all schools, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy. But for students who are visually impaired, hearing impaired or have learning disabilities funding is through the Ministry of Education.
Because the Ministry of Education does not fund faith-based schools, students enrolled in these schools receive no government support and therefore it is up to the school or the parents to ensure the proper resources are available.
“It is more than ironic that the government appears to fully understand the value of providing all special needs children in the public and Catholic school system with the resources they need in order to attend school,” said Walfish.
For 14-year-old Dayna Blustein the lack of government funding at United Synagogue Day School resulted in her leaving the school in Grade 6 to attend a public school. She says she noticed “a huge difference” between the resources available in the two schools.
Dayna wears a cochlear implant to assist with her hearing, and says while in the independent school her parents had to pay for resources. At the public school she has an itinerant teacher for the deaf, who provides in-servicing to her regular classroom teacher, and the school funds and arranges for classroom modifications and support devices.
“I really don’t think it’s fair that in the Province of Ontario they don’t pay for my disability, and I don’t get the chance to go to the school as I choose, and I think something should be done,” said Dayna.
Dayna’s case shows that when enrolled in the public system the resources are funded, so the government may as well pay and allow her to attend the school she chooses, notes Allan Kaufman, the families’ lawyer.
Kaufman says they have found the Ministry of Health allocates $14.4 million each year for students who have disabilities in Ontario’s faith-based schools and approximately $10 million of this money is unspent each year.
The reason this money is unspent is because the government excludes these three disabilities from funding, says Kaufman.
“Our children in faith-based schools really should not have to care whether the money comes from the Ministry of Tourism as long as it flows to through the system for their special needs, but the Ontario government is clinging to this distinction of what is health and what is education,” Kaufman said.
Max Greenberg, 13, attends Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto and says his learning disability takes him more time to process information. He says it is not fair that children should have to fall behind when there is government money available to help.
“It’s not right that school is far harder for us than it could be because the government discriminates against us,” said Max.
The test case will be heard in Ontario’s Divisional Court in Toronto May 27 and 28 by a panel of three judges.
- Related Stories:
Family with deaf child finds much better supports in public school
Families head to court challenging the provincial government’s treatment of disability in faith-based schools
Multi-faith coalition and families of disabled children sue provincial government