Services for Handicapped Students
The Supreme Court finds that the suppression of a program for handicapped students in a school district in British Columbia is discriminatory.
On November 9, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the matter of Moore v. British Columbia (Education)1, in which it found that a young student, Jeffrey Moore, had been the victim of discrimination on the part of his local board of education, based on his handicap (dyslexia).
At issue was not a decision whether or not to integrate a handicapped student in a regular class, but rather the board of education’s decision to cease offering specialized services to handicapped students, due to budgetary constraints affecting the entire school district. The country’s highest court shared the view of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal that the school board had not demonstrated the necessity of closing the Diagnostic Centre, which allowed it to offer the young Moore the services that assured him of a place within the public school system. According to the Court’s reasons for judgment written by Justice Abella (in which the other eight justices concurred), the budget cuts decided on by the board were disproportionately made to special-needs programs, and the board should have at least undertaken an assessment of what alternatives existed, such as eliminating other programs, in order to be able to continue to provide services to handicapped students.
After noting that the school board had managed, following the budget cuts, to maintain certain discretionary programs, such as the Outdoor School, an outdoor campus where students learned about community and the environment, despite the fact that the operation of that program entailed costs that were similar to those of the abolished program that had benefitted Moore, the Court quoted with approval the following remarks of Justice Rowles of the B.C. Court of Appeal, in dissent:
“Without undermining the educational value of the Outdoor School, such specialized and discretionary initiatives cannot be compared with the accommodations necessary in order to make the core curriculum accessible to severely learning disabled student.”2
Justice Abella also noted that the school board “undertook no assessment, financial or otherwise, of what alternatives were or could be reasonably available to accommodate special needs students if the Diagnostic Centre were closed”.3
It was moreover for that reason that the Court refused to hold that the province of British Columbia liable for the discriminatory actions of the school board. It must therefore be concluded that if the school board had succeeded in establishing that no other possibilities existed for it than to cut the services the young Moore so badly needed, and that it had no choice but to do so because of underfunding by the provincial government, the latter could then have been found liable.
In concluding, the Court allowed the Moore family’s claim for reimbursement of the tuition fees it paid in order for their son to attend a private school until the end of high school, and awarded it half of the transportation costs incurred to convey him to that school, as well as the amount of $100,000 as moral damages.
This is obviously a decision of some significance for school boards across the country with regards to the financial analyses they must undertake each year in order to comply with the budgetary constraints that they increasingly are faced with.
1 2012 SCC 61
2 Paragraph 51 of the decision
3 Paragraph 52 of the decision