The Ontario human-rights tribunal has dismissed the case of an eight-year-old boy with autism whose mother felt he wasn’t getting enough supports in the classroom, saying the school board took reasonable steps to accommodate the child.
Grayson Kahn was suspended and then expelled from his school in Guelph, Ont., in November after a series of incidents that culminated with him striking an educational assistant and leaving her with a concussion. Grayson and his mother’s plight was the focus of a Globe and Mail story earlier this year that highlighted the challenges educators and families across Canada face in integrating children with complex needs in the classroom.
At issue are important questions about how to balance the right to an education for students with behavioural issues with the need to keep them, other students and teachers safe. On Saturday, The Globe published a story on the growing problem of students acting violently toward their teachers.
Pupils are being repeatedly removed from classrooms because of disruptive children, families are increasingly asked to pick up their children early or keep them home for an indefinite period because of behavioural issues and other parents fear for the safety of their own children.
Lisa Kahn filed an application on behalf of her son with the human rights tribunal after Grayson’s expulsion. They alleged that her son was denied “meaningful access” to an education and that the Upper Grand District School Board discriminated against him because of his disability.
However, the tribunal’s adjudicator Brenda Bowlby said in a decision last month that Ms. Kahn failed to accept reasonable accommodations offered by the school board, including other school placement options.
“I note that parents do not have the right to dictate the accommodations which their children will be provided with to access education. While parents do have the right to provide input as part of the accommodation process – which Ms. Kahn did in this case – they must accept reasonable accommodations offered by the school board,” Ms. Bowlby wrote.
The human rights tribunal decision outlines a number of occasions in which Grayson was disruptive last year. On one occasion in his Grade 2 year, he threw a chair at another student and injured the child. Other times, he swore and physically hurt school staff. At one point, his class was evacuated for safety reasons and other classrooms had to to be locked to prevent him from entering them.
The adjudicator also wrote that Ms. Kahn showed inappropriate behaviour and used profanities toward staff. "On several occasions, this occurred in front of Grayson,” Ms. Bowlby wrote. She found that many parts of Ms. Kahn’s testimony “lacked credibility and reliability.” She also found that the testimony of Grayson’s witnesses was unreliable.
Grayson attended a French immersion program at John McCrae Public School. Prior to being expelled, the school board took steps to meet with his family, including bringing in experts such as a board-certified behaviour analyst to help Grayson manage his behaviour, the tribunal found.
Even after he was suspended, the school board took steps to help Grayson transition back, the tribunal found. The board formed a plan that would have Grayson attending school for a very short period – 15 minutes to start. Ms. Kahn rejected that plan. At one point, the board provided him with home instruction. They also attempted to have the family move Grayson into another school for a fresh start and so that Grayson could be taught in English “in order to remove French as a trigger.” But Ms. Kahn did not agree, the decision stated.
“The evidence establishes that, in rejecting the respondent’s repeated invitations to meet to discuss Grayson’s return to school, the applicant failed to engage in the accommodation process in any meaningful way,” Ms. Bowlby stated in dismissing the case.
Heather Loney, a spokeswoman for the school board, declined to comment, citing “privacy considerations.”
Ms. Kahn said in an interview on Monday that she was “disappointed” by the decision and was seeking a judicial review. Grayson is attending Oak Bridge Academy in Cambridge this year, a private school for children with special needs, she said.
“I think a lot of people were deeply disturbed by the outcome. We have been very public about our story. A lot of people feel hopeless that they really have no power over the situation,” she said, referring to other parents who have children with complex needs and struggle with the public education system.
The Globe’s weekend feature highlighted educators who say they are the targets of increasing violence, citing a number of factors, including mental-health issues, child poverty and the integration of special-needs students with complex behavioural issues into mainstream classrooms. The number of reported incidents is increasing, The Globe found, but gaps in the data make it difficult to determine which types of incidents are most frequent, why they’re occurring and the characteristics of the students involved.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which represents thousands of educational assistants, including the one who was injured by Grayson, had intervenor status in his case.
Harvey Bischof, the head of the union, said on Monday that decision focused on Grayson’s accommodations and not on the issue of balancing inclusion and safety. He said his members face “significant and rising levels of workplace violence.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that my members need better protection than they have right now from cases of workplace violence and it doesn’t change the fact that it probably also means that students need services that they are not currently getting that result in some of these incidents,” Mr. Bischof said.