As this school year ends, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) takes this opportunity to reflect on what it heard concerning the challenges faced by students, parents, educators, and administrators in Ontario’s public education system.
The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) protects everyone from discrimination and harassment based on numerous grounds, including disability, gender identity and expression, race, and religion. In schools, following the Code means that every student has the right to a learning environment free from discrimination, harassment, or other expressions of hatred — an environment where everyone feels safe to learn, thrive, and be themselves. It is essential that all children — including, 2SLGBTQIA+ children, children with disabilities, Black children, Indigenous children, Jewish children and Muslim children, for instance — feel that their school is a place of inclusion, belonging, and support.
Similarly, all educators and administrators, including elected officials in the education system are entitled to those same rights. Not only should they feel safe and supported in their roles, but these individuals are duty-bound by the Code to uphold these principles and work to create this environment in schools.
Education professionals work tirelessly every day to create an environment of safety and inclusion essential to learning and well-being. The OHRC has learnt that educators have faced many violent incidents this year, significantly impacting learning environments and classroom management. A recent survey conducted by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) revealed that more than three-quarters of ETFO members have personally experienced violence or witnessed violence against another staff person, and members are reporting that the severity and number of violent incidents have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council of Directors of Education has also noted that in recent months, administrators who have supported the rights and freedoms of 2SLGBTQIA+ people have been targeted during public board meetings. These incidents are deeply concerning and harmful, and underscore the systemic issues and gaps within Ontario’s publicly funded education system.
The OHRC sees a safe workplace and learning environment for students, educators, and administrators as paramount to upholding Ontarians’ human rights. So, it encourages parents, community organizations, and members of the public to support work aimed at recognizing everyone’s right to be free from hate, discrimination, and harassment in schools.
The OHRC remains committed to building awareness about the consequences of hate on people’s right to be free from discrimination and harassment and will continue to hold duty-holders accountable to protect those rights and create this environment.
The OHRC reminds every Ontarian of their responsibility to treat one another the way they wish to be treated. That means every Ontarian is accountable for conducting themselves responsibly in everything they do. That is the core of human rights values.
Let us use the summer as a time for reflection on how we can take action to ensure our children can attend schools free from hate, our educators are safe to teach acceptance and inclusion, and everyone, including the administrators is safe to uphold the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Have a safe and happy summer.