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Right to Read: public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities

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Right to Read | An inquiry snapshot

October 26, 2020
A new OHRC video provides a snapshot of the progress of Right to Read, the OHRC’s public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system. The video also features the real-life experiences of students and parents, who attended public sessions across Ontario in the past year, and artwork submitted by students to the inquiry. 


Reading is a fundamental skill that students must have to navigate their school experience and their later lives. Students with reading disabilities have the right to learn to read. Yet, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is concerned that Ontario’s public education system may be failing to meet the needs of students with reading disabilities (dyslexia and other learning disabilities that affect reading).

On October 3, 2019, the OHRC announced a public inquiry into potential human rights issues that affect students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system. 


About the inquiry

The Right to Read inquiry has reached out to hear from parents, students and educators across the province about their experiences, challenges and concerns arising from their experience in Ontario’s public education system.

The inquiry is also assessing whether school boards use scientific evidence-based approaches to meet students’ right to read. The OHRC is assessing school boards against five benchmarks that are part of an effective systematic approach to teaching all students to read:

  • Universal design for learning (UDL)
  • Mandatory early screening
  • Reading intervention programs
  • Effective accommodation
  • Psycho-educational assessments (if required).

The OHRC selected the following eight school boards to assess their compliance with their obligation to provide equal treatment to students with reading disabilities. These boards provide a representative sample of boards across Ontario:

  • Hamilton Wentworth District School Board
  • Keewatin-Patricia District School Board
  • Lakehead District School Board
  • London District Catholic School Board
  • Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
  • Peel District School Board
  • Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board
  • Thames Valley District School Board.


Update: the Right to Read inquiry

The OHRC has made solid progress on its Right to Read inquiry. The evidence-gathering phase is mostly complete, and the inquiry team is now analyzing the large amount of data, information and documents received and drafting a final report.

Collecting information and data

The inquiry team has received and is analyzing documents, data and information from all eight Ontario English language public school boards and the Ministry of Education (MOE) and has asked questions and done follow-up interviews where needed. We extend our appreciation to the school boards and MOE, given the challenges they faced with COVID-19 and other issues.

We have also received and reviewed documents, data and information from Ontario’s 13 English-language faculties of education.

Connecting with the public

The OHRC used various ways to get public input. For example, 1,425 students, parents and guardians completed an online Qualtrics survey and shared their experiences with learning to read and the impact on themselves and their families. As well, 1,770 educators (teachers, teacher candidates, special education teachers, school and board administrators), private tutors, and other professionals (such as Speech-Language Pathologists, psychologists and pediatricians) completed a survey targeted to educators.

We have also received over 1,000 telephone calls or emails, and many more engagements through social media. Also, 20 organizations representing a variety of perspectives made written submissions.

The OHRC hosted four public hearings – in Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. At each public hearing, up to 20 speakers or groups of speakers shared their experiences. We heard from students, families, educators, service providers (such as private tutors and a child welfare agency), and other professionals. Over 600 people attended the hearings. All but the Brampton hearing were live streamed, and all hearings are archived on the OHRC’s YouTube channel.

As well, 25 people attended a public meeting in Kenora. Unfortunately, we were unable to host planned meetings in Barrie and Hamilton due to the Emergency Order prohibiting public gatherings due to COVID-19.

The OHRC held Indigenous engagements at the London, Thunder Bay and Kenora Indigenous Friendship Centres, and met with representatives of an Inuit organization in Ottawa. Further Indigenous engagements planned for Barrie and Hamilton could also not take place due to the pandemic.

Expert assistance, research

The OHRC continues to work with Dr. Linda Siegel, an international authority on reading disabilities, to assist with the inquiry and analyze the information received. We have also conducted extensive research to understand scientific research and best practices in other jurisdictions.

Looking at COVID-19 and education

The unprecedented closure of schools has been difficult for all students. The OHRC has heard from stakeholders that students with special education needs and other vulnerabilities have experienced unique and compounded challenges, that their circumstances have not consistently been considered and addressed, and as a result they have fallen even further behind than their peers.

Some specific concerns have been raised in the context of the Right to Read inquiry. We have also heard from members of the OHRC’s Education Advisory Group, as well as from disability rights organizations. 

The OHRC wrote to the Ministry of Education and school boards, calling on them to establish plans and programs to systematically and consistently address the needs of students with disabilities for the 2020–2021 school year. The letter included concerns and recommendations related to:

  • Technology
  • Personal contact
  • Professional services
  • Screening and assessment
  • Instruction
  • Specialized programming
  • Identification, Placement, and Review Committees (IPRCs) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the duty to accommodate
  • Summer learning programs
  • Shared legal responsibility

Next steps

The inquiry team is currently analyzing the information received and drafting a final report. The report will address concerns with how Ontario’s public education system meets the needs of students with reading disabilities. These concerns relate to curriculum and teaching, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations and psycho-educational assessments.

COVID-19 and other factors have delayed some elements of the inquiry. A final inquiry report, which will include detailed findings and recommendations for government and education stakeholders, is now planned for release in Spring 2021. 


OHRC update: COVID-19 pandemic and the Right to Read inquiry

Data requested from school boards and faculties of education

Since the OHRC launched the Right to Read inquiry on October 3, 2019, it has requested documents, data and information from a representative sample of eight English-language school boards and all 13 Faculties of Education in Ontario. It has received information from the school boards and faculties of education.

The OHRC anticipates that its continued engagements with school boards, the Ministry of Education and other education sector stakeholders may be delayed, as they focus on addressing strategies for students’ continued learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The OHRC continues to work with its expert Dr. Linda Siegel, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, as best as it can in the current circumstances.

Engagement with students, parents, guardians and educators

Thousands of students, parents, guardians, teachers, educators and other professionals have engaged with the OHRC through its online surveys, four public hearings (Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa), one community meeting (Kenora), three Indigenous listening circles (London, Thunder Bay and Kenora), organization submissions, emails, meetings, telephone calls, artwork, and social media.

Legal authority for collecting personal information

Section 31 of the Code allows the OHRC to collect information as part of conducting a public interest inquiry. This collection is also consistent with s. 38(2) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). The OHRC recognizes the importance of protecting personal information, protecting human dignity and maintaining public trust and confidence. We will take all reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is treated confidentially and is only used for the purposes it was collected for, and to prevent unauthorized access, use or disclosure of your personal information as directed by the FIPPA. For more information see our Protection of personal information and privacy safeguards policy.

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