Great leap forward: Right to Read inquiry

ohrc right to read image

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Right to Read inquiry is personal. Our school board here in Ottawa is one of 8 boards that will be a focal point of the inquiry looking into discrimination against children with dyslexia in Ontario public schools. Many families in Ottawa, and across the province, have been celebrating this as a great leap forward.

At my house, we sat and watched the inquiry launch video (link below) in complete silence, hanging on to every word, barely able to hold back the tears.

We’re not alone. In talking to other parents, there has been a huge sense of hope, relief and excitement in response to the inquiry. Finally –– after decades of educational ignorance, inaction and abuse — an important protector of human rights is shining a light on the experiences of students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.

From what I’ve heard, the Commission has been inundated with personal stories.

Right to Read inquiry

The Commission announced their inquiry on October 3, 2019, stating that:

“Reading is a fundamental skill that students must have to navigate their school experience and their later lives. Our public schools should be able to teach students to read. Yet, this may not be the reality for students with reading disabilities.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is concerned that Ontario’s public education system may be failing to meet the needs of students with reading disabilities (dyslexia and other learning disabilities that affect reading).

The OHRC is conducting the public inquiry to find out if these students have meaningful access to education as required by the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also recognizes the right to an inclusive education system directed to the full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth.”

Scope of the inquiry

The OHRC will inquire into potential human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public schools, including:

  1. Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Whether Universal Design for Learning, an approach to education that meets the diverse needs of every student, is being applied within Ontario’s reading curriculum and in classroom teaching methods
  2. Mandatory early screening: Whether all students are being screened for reading difficulties in kindergarten (or in Grade 1, where a child does not attend public school for kindergarten) using scientific evidence-based early screening tools
  3. Evidence-based reading intervention programs: Whether students who have been identified as having reading difficulties through mandatory early screening or psycho-educational assessment have access to timely, scientific evidence-based reading intervention programs
  4. Accommodation: Whether students who have been identified as having reading difficulties through mandatory early screening or psycho-educational assessment have access to timely and effective accommodation and assistive technology.
  5. Psycho-educational assessments: The role of psycho-educational assessments and whether students have access to timely and appropriate psycho-educational assessments where needed (in addition to mandatory early screening for reading difficulties)

The inquiry will take place over the next year; and will look directly at 8 school boards:

  1. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board
  2. Keewatin-Patricia District School Board
  3. Lakehead District School Board
  4. London District Catholic School Board
  5. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB)
  6. Peel District School Board
  7. Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board
  8. Thames Valley District School Board.

The OHRC is asking for students, parents and educators to participate — so please share your story! At the end of the inquiry, they will release a report with recommendations.

OHRC_Reading Disabilities_InfoFlyer_2019_EN_1

Ottawa school board: Your silence speaks volumes

That our school board (Ottawa) is part of the inquiry is a validation of the experiences of many families, over many generations.

Both my daughter and I were educated in the same school system — and were both failed by it — 40 years apart.

We didn’t have much knowledge about dyslexia 40 years ago — but we do now. So why aren’t we applying this knowledge in the classroom? (that’s one of the questions the inquiry hopes to answer).

We have shared our story, and it was included here in the OHRC voices from the community document:

“We as parents don’t expect the world from our schools. But we did expect she – a smart, curious, creative girl – would get the same opportunity to learn as her peers. This has been denied [to] her. And she is not alone. In every class, she had at least one, maybe two or three classmates with dyslexia or another learning disability. They all struggled. Sadly, our story is not unique.” ~Parent of 12-year-old

The Ottawa school board nor our local trustee has spoken publicly about the inquiry. I’ve also not been able to get any media coverage here in Ottawa (though we’ve seen lots of coverage in other communities).

I’m disappointed but not surprised by this non-response. Even as the inquiry proceeds, we continue to struggle every day for better services in our schools.

Despite that, the inquiry has given us a much-needed shot of energy. Right now, I’m enjoying the fact that finally someone recognizes that there is a problem, and is doing something about it.

Watch the launch of the Right to Read inquiry

Representatives of Decoding Dyslexia Ontario and the International Dyslexia Association – Ontario branch were included in the OHRC inquiry launch (and I’m proud to have been involved in preparing for this) — kudos to the Commission for being so inclusive:


Read Decoding Dyslexia Ontario’s response to the inquiry.

Media coverage

Human Rights Commission launches public inquiry into the right to read

Great leap forward – Billy Bragg

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