ERIC Number: EJ703118
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2004-May-1
Reference Count: 4
In Canada: Litigating Literacy
Phi Delta Kappan, v85 n9 p714 May 2004
While Canadians tend to consider the American system to be overly litigious, they are catching up fast. Their own domestic set of plaintiffs is suing the agents of obesity and pollution, but actions pertaining to education seem to be spiking as well. A few of these cases are trivial. This morning's local newspaper reports that a judge has ruled that for one teacher to brand a colleague as "a [former Ontario Premier] Mike Harris-supporter" may have been vile, but it wasn't defamatory. But other cases are more substantial, including one that presents the tantalizing possibility that real redress of wrongs in education might be obtained through the courts. An action recently filed against the Ontario minister of education may succeed where other forms of advocacy and resistance have failed. Certainly, it will receive more attention than most protests. Nothing focuses the attention of a government like being sued. Nothing captures more media interest than the prospect of seeing a minister of the Crown in the witness box. Meet the plaintiffs. Matt is 17 and has Down's syndrome. He has been fully integrated into his Toronto high school, where he is performing "at his optimal level." He hopes to continue his education at a community college. Kristopher is 17 and profoundly deaf. He is on target to graduate from high school and wants to apprentice in a graphic arts program. Brian is a 16-year-old with a diagnosed "communications exceptionality." He is earning high marks in math and technical subjects, but just passing English. He wants to apprentice as an electrician. At 17, Jamie is an African Canadian enrolled in the "applied" (a.k.a. nonacademic) program, although she aspires, after graduation, to pursue a career in law. Their suit alleges that the ministry's requirement that, as a condition of graduation, all students must pass both the reading and writing components of the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT), or pass a special literacy course if they have failed the test twice, infringes on students' rights under Section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Each litigant has failed the OSSLT at least once or has been excused from taking it because of disability. None of them is expected to pass the test or the course in subsequent attempts, although each will earn the 30 credits that, pre-OSSLT, would have entitled them to a high school graduation certificate. Without that, none of these students can go on to postsecondary education of any sort, or apprentice any trade, or obtain a student loan. Along with thousands of other marginalized "failures," these demoralized students will be shoved into the unskilled (and often unemployed) work force. Little wonder that these students and their parents are determined to fight the OSSLT regime with all they've got.
Descriptors: Foreign Countries, High School Students, Graduation Requirements, Court Litigation, Reading Skills, Literacy, Writing Skills, Disabilities, Exit Examinations, Minority Groups
Phi Delta Kappa International, Inc., 408 N. Union St., P.O. Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402-0789. Web site: http://www.pdkintl.org.
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Canada; Canada (Toronto)
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms