Families head to court challenging the provincial government’s treatment of disability in faith-based schools | Edvance Christian Schools Association
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Families head to court challenging the provincial government’s treatment of disability in faith-based schools

Written on May 27th, 2009

Lawsuit uncovers $10 M unspent annually allocated for faith-based school students with a disability

Eight families with children who have a disability and attend faith-based schools are headed to the Ontario Divisional court May 27-28 in a lawsuit against the Ontario government for discriminating on the basis of disability and religion.

The Ministry of Health allocates $14.4 million for students who have a disability in all of the province’s faith-based schools each year, yet the lawsuit has found information that only $4.5 million is spent.

Since 2000, the Ministry of Health has funded seven services for students in all schools, including occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy. But for students who are visually impaired, hearing impaired or have learning disabilities money is flowed through the Ministry of Education, which does not fund faith-based schools.

If the Ministry of Health would include these three categories in its list of approved disabilities, these children would be able to receive support in the school of their choice, notes lawyer Allan Kaufman, who is representing the eight families.

“This is not a case where we’re asking for money to be clawed out of the public system,” Kaufman previously told the OACS News. “We’re simply saying, ‘Spend the $14.4 million. We can use that money badly among the Christian, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and other religious schools.’”

The lawsuit was filed in 2007 to argue this is a bureaucratic distinction that penalizes the children and violates their rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that they are to receive equal benefit of the law regardless of their disability.

At a recent Queen’s Park press conference, chairman of the Multi-Faith Coalition Ira Walfish said it is an arbitrary and discriminatory policy that means for some families they have to choose between religion and disability.

“Our argument here is you can’t pick and choose, you can’t slice and dice disability,” said Walfish, noting that all disabilities should be funded.

“All families with disabled children will benefit from this case because it is a test case, any family that has a child in a Christian school that has a learning disability, is deaf or hearing impaired, is blind or visually impaired will benefit from the proceedings,” said Kaufman.

A panel of three judges will be hearing the test case at Ontario’s Divisional Court in Toronto May 27 and 28. A judgment is expected to be released within four to six months.

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