A BC family’s 15-year struggle for justice

Canadians who live their lives lawfully and honourably should not have to spend years fighting governments that accept their tax payments but refuse to offer services available to everyone else.

More than twenty years ago, Jeffrey Moore, a North Vancouver student in grade two, was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, one of the reading disorders affecting 10 percent of children. He was referred to the School District’s diagnostic centre but soon after, the facility was closed.

School officials said Jeffrey should move to a private school at the family’s expense because they would not provide the remediation help he needed. The Moore family moved their son but in May 1997, Rick Moore raised a complaint with BC’s Human Rights Tribunal, arguing son Jeffrey had been denied education “customarily available to the public.”

The Tribunal concluded in 2005 that failure to meet the boy’s educational needs constituted prima facie discrimination. It recognized budget problems but found cuts were “disproportionably made to special needs programs” and the District had made no assessment of reasonably available alternatives.

The School District and the provincial education ministry petitioned for a court review. In 2008, the province’s Supreme Court quashed the decision and, two years later, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.

The Moores continued their legal fight and in 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada found in their favour, unanimously deciding the Human Rights Tribunal’s decision was restored. The Moore family’s 15-year long fight ended in victory. Jeffrey, now an adult, successfully completed his education and qualified as a journeyman in the building trades.

The high court decision reminded BC school officials of an important principle stated in the BC School Act preamble:

The purpose of the School Act in British Columbia is to ensure that “all learners . . . develop their individual potential and . . . acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy”.
This is an acknowledgment by the government that the reason children are entitled to an education is that a healthy democracy and economy require their educated contribution. Adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury. For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.

The decision criticized North Vancouver School District for disregarding its fundamental duty to students:

…the District 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.
The failure to consider financial alternatives completely undermined the District’s argument that it was justified in providing no meaningful access to an education for J because it had no choice. In order to decide that it had no other choice, it had at least to consider what those other choices were.

Although the Supreme Court of Canada decided this landmark case in a definitive way, children with learning disabilities are still not adequately served.

In late 2017, Rick Moore spoke to a conference organized by the B.C. Parents of Special Needs Children advocacy group. CBC reported:

Moore feels that the Ministry of Education is failing to take leadership on and acknowledge responsibility for students with special needs.
He said the system is currently reactive, waiting for children to show harm before providing any additional services.
Instead, he wants kids entering the public school system to be automatically tested so any special needs can be identified early and supported.
Moore said that some students wait up to two years to get diagnostic tests, which are needed to access services.

It seems that limiting psycho-educational investigations of individual needs has been a way the education system rationed access to special needs programs. (No assessment, no designation, no special services offered.)

A North Vancouver parent told me in the last year that her young son had a learning disability and problematic behaviour because of extreme frustration. His school’s resources were so strained that a formal evaluation was impossible without substantial delay.

Despite the Moore case, the parents were forced to move their son to a private school offering specialized instruction and supervision. The family is struggling, financially crippled by the $2,400 monthly tuition. But, they know it’s a necessity for their boy to have a chance at future success.

This is not good enough.

As American social reformer Frederick Douglass said:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

douglass 175

Or, as the Fram Filter service man said:

fram 150
You get two choices when you buy a car.
You can look after it right…
Or, you can neglect it.
…But the choice is yours.
You can pay me now.
Or pay me later.

Categories: Education

5 replies »

    • Because there have been rather few personnel changes at senior levels of the Education Ministry, fewer policies have been altered than many people hoped. Money remains in short supply and the capabilities of BC public schools have been systematically degraded over years.

      Even if Minister of Education Rob Fleming has the best intentions, his options are limited, at least in the short term. However, I think it’s inexcusable that some of the senior officials who took extraordinary measures to undermine the Vancouver School Board remain in place. They are also responsible for rationing special education services.

      The system is wealthy enough to pay huge salaries and benefits to the most senior administrators. It’s the needy young children and their families who get shortchanged.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. The Moore case was certainly precedent-setting. Sadly, it took a lot of time and effort and didn’t carry much gravitas for future cases.

    Readers might find some insider information useful, regarding special services in public schools:

    From my nearly 40 years as a public school teacher, I can say that there has long been a practice of delaying psychometric testing. Without this testing, done by a qualified professional, special services cannot be offered to a student. (The Ministry of Education sends audit teams around the province to check district records and will pull funding in cases of improper accounting.)

    In some cases, it’s the parents who don’t want a label put on their child. More often, it’s from a lack of funding and testing personnel. As well: once tested and identified, you need to fund the extra services for the child. If money is tight, you don’t want to add more to the pile, so kids can be underserved for years.

    Thankfully, in cases that are profoundly obvious (i.e. chronic health), such children can start kindergarten with supports in place. Local health authorities help in identifying such students before they reach school age.

    For the less profound, such as a child with a severe reading problem, it will be grade 1 at a minimum before they are tested for special needs (with parental approval); more likely grade 2 or 3. In the meantime, if the school has a learning assistance teacher, the child can be getting support through that channel.

    If you’re not two years behind in a skills area, you’re not considered having a special need… thus, a child has to spend a few years without specialized help before funding might be available. I can see some logic in this practice, as you don’t want to misidentify and waste resources — but early intervention can be money well-spent.

    In the school districts I’ve been involved in, all kindies get a basic screening test, done by kindergarten teachers in the May, June or September, prior to school entry. (There’s also vision and hearing testing done, by the local health unit.)

    It’s a rare child who can read at this age — but not recognizing the first letter of their name, or any letters or numbers at all, is a big flag. Not knowing the names of basic items would be another flag. If the school has more than one kindie class, the ‘flagged’ kids are usually shared evenly between the teachers.

    Kindergarten year-end tests will show growth — or concerns — for each student and this information is passed on to the grade 1 and learning assistance teachers.

    Note: I was retired but have been resurrected, part-time, since the Supreme Court of Canada restored 2002 contract language for BC public schools. Funding for staffing of special needs teachers and SEAs (special education assistants) seems invigorated. If it continues, I am hopeful that more kids will be getting the help they need and deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the insider information Mr. Stewart; it is useful and your invigoration assessment offers some hope.

      It is a shame however that it took the Supreme Court of Canada to order that reinvigoration in the face of extreme resistance on the part of our government and its institutions entrusted with the shaping of our children.

      It is also a shame that the same Supreme Court of Canada had to essentially order our government and its institutions to live up to their statutory commitment to all children in British Columbia in the Moore case. Moe Sihota and Joy MacPhail were the education ministers of note when the Diagnostic Centre was closed and the North Vancouver School District didn’t bother to explore alternatives. But successive education ministers must have approved the legal resources used to fight the notion that society has a duty to ensure all children have an equal opportunity to achieve their potential.

      Given the results in these cases and in light of debacles like the BC Rail trial, health ministry firings, Boessenkool “investigation”, Boss Power payout, etc., the quality of those legal resources should be severely questioned. Either the Ministry of Attorney General is serially giving bad legal advice or its advice is being ignored by government on a continuing basis. Something is very wrong in there. Unfortunately the current government has shown a lack of the mettle required to deal with it and we can no doubt expect more of the same.

      The fact that a student could have gone from grade one to a university degree in the time it took for the family to achieve justice is an enduring feature of our system and that too must be corrected. Justice delayed is justice denied. So why the delay?


  2. You can pay me now or you can pay me later. The problem is most politicians think only in election cycles, so by the time the child’s life has been destroyed and costing the “system” a hundred thousand a year or more, its some one else’s problem.

    School board frequently don’t care nor does the ministry. Children are in school for approx. 12 years. Then the problem goes away and most parents don’t have the energy the Moores did. The “system” will simply outwait the parents and the child. Now if courts started awarding parents money for their troubles and the discrimination things would improve quickly.

    “the other problem is the MSM simply doesn’t cover these types of issues as “news” instead we get the mind pap from the U.S.A.

    Liked by 2 people

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