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Right to Read backgrounder: What the community said

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February 28, 2022


Engaging with the public

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) received significant input from the public, and analyzed both quantitative and qualitative data. For example, 1,425 students, parents and guardians completed a survey on their experiences with learning to read and the impact on themselves and their families. The OHRC held four public hearings – in Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa, a community meeting in Kenora, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis engagements in London, Thunder Bay, Kenora and Ottawa. The OHRC also received written submissions from 20 organizations representing a variety of perspectives, over 1,000 emails and telephone calls, and many more engagements through social media. Here are some examples of what students and parents shared with the inquiry.


What students said:

“I have succeeded so far in spite of the “education” I received not because of it. It is because of my excellent family and friends that I have found success in university and at the end of high school…Had my parents not stepped in to help me, and fight the school on every issue, the school system as it is set up now would have failed me as it has with so many of my peers in a similar situation.”

“It saddens me to hear that these issues are still on going in schools. It has been nearly 10 years since I have left elementary school but most of the struggles I went through are still persisting…I made it to university but most others don't. I knew others with the same disability from elementary/high school and out of all them I was the only one to pursue higher education (one did not even graduate high school). Their future quality of life is highly likely to suffer because of this.”

“[He] had regular meltdowns after school from Grade 1 from frustration and fatigue. In Grade 3, he came home and told me that he was the "dumbest and stupidest kid at [name of school]." He tends to act out to avoid doing work that is too difficult for him and so he is often in trouble at school. In Grade 5, he developed anxiety and a facial tic. In Grade 7, he would refuse to go to school or go and hide in the bathroom because he had so much anxiety. In Grade 8, he was purposely acting out so that he would be sent out of the classroom because he could not do the work. He said his dream was to be able to read and do the same work as the other students.”


What parents said:

“My son's apprehension about going to school is because of the lack of support in the classroom and the lack of proper reading instruction based on reading science, not because something is wrong with him.”

“If my son felt excited about going to school, if he excelled in reading and was respected by the education system for his diverse cultural background (and given reading material that reflected this diversity), and was taught structured literacy approaches based on reading science, I would not have to even think of writing this survey. I expect more than "lowered expectations" from teachers and the education system…My son's ethnicity, Indigeneity and gender are things to be proud of and bring strength to him daily. Students need to see their ethnicity and Indigeneity reflected in their teachers, school staff, principals, trustees, the Ministry of Education, government, etc.”

“Ten months of the year, five days a week, our son goes to a place where he feels like a failure. It's a place that exhausts him because he has to work so much harder than neurotypical students to not even keep up. He has been called stupid by peers at school. That wears on his mental health and overall happiness. Not surprisingly, he is a completely different, far happier child during the summers.”

“He went from tantruming when asked to read a short levelled reader, to reading chapter books with a flashlight after bedtime. I can't help but reflect on where he would still be, and the resultant impacts to his mental health and to our family, if we hadn't been able to pay privately for what he needed.”

“I was a low-income, racialized parent in a generally White wealthy school…district and my concerns and verbal requests for testing…were never taken seriously. In retrospect, I also believe that I was at a disadvantage regarding what I suspect are [the school’s] expectations for children who are struggling readers: that the families in this district can afford private testing, expensive tutors, and private school tuition. This was a suggestion that teachers and administrators made to me again and again. They made me feel badly that I could not afford a tutor, as if it was my responsibility to teach [my child] to read, not theirs.”

“We are White, upper-middle class, a teacher and a child of teachers/principals. We know how the system works. We worked it as fast as possible and can afford the required supports outside of the school. It still took 2.5 years of active supports before we started to see progress. This should have started in Kindergarten.”

“It is starting to have an impact on my health. I do not sleep well and have now started to grind my teeth…I am doing self-care…but there is never enough time. All of my spare time is spent researching how to help him and educating the educators. It is exhausting.”

 “I migrated to Canada as a refugee…fleeing a brutal civil war…I am grateful that my son lives in a country where he is guaranteed an education and where he has the right to achieve his full potential, something that I was denied myself as a child. At the same time, my lack of experience with a formal education system made the process of understanding the [school board’s] bureaucracy, the institutional responses to [my child’s] learning disability, and the need to advocate for [my child’s] educational rights extremely stressful, perplexing, and frustrating. While I was in [Ontario city name], I often felt so despairing in the face [of] a system that is completely impenetrable and unresponsive. It is difficult to express just how exhausting it was to struggle for [my child’s] basic rights to education with no progress.”

“That’s a huge struggle because I want to spend my nights with him, enjoying him, but he fights me every night to read and do the program that I feel is best for him. So I don’t get to have those joyous nights as often because I’m constantly in a battle and it’s hard.”

“As a family, my older son gets only a fraction of the attention [my other child] gets as I am now responsible for teaching my child to read and write…My marriage is crumbling. My career has been put on hold. This has been devastating to put it simply. I don't care about the loss of wages, the trips we can't take, the things we can't buy – all I want is my child to have the same opportunities as others and the possibility of a bright future.”