Dawson Metropolis guardian sues training division over alleged particular training failures
A parent in Dawson City is suing the Yukon education department about the alleged lack of inclusive education resources at Robert Service School and across the territory’s education system in general — something she argues is denying her child the right to an education.
The lawsuit was initially filed to the Yukon Supreme Court last year but has been amended three times since, with the most recent version submitted late last month.
The parent and child’s identities, as well as any specifics related to the child’s disabilities, are covered by a publication ban.
The parent told the CBC she’d spent the better part of a decade meeting with education officials as well as going through the education appeal tribunal to get adequate learning resources for her child to no avail.
“I would go in and we would have meetings and then nothing would get done… My experience after that was that those were empty promises and there was no change,” she said.
“And so eventually I decided that I needed to escalate it into a lawsuit with the [Yukon] Supreme Court because it was clear that the appeal processes within the Education Act are insufficient to solve this problem.”
The Yukon education department has not filed a statement of defense yet.
In an email, spokesperson Kyle Nightingale wrote that the department knows “we have work to do on improving inclusive and special education in the Yukon to better support all students to succeed at school” and is “currently doing this important work” but declined further comment .
The Yukon Association of Educational Professionals, with the support of Autism Yukon and the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon Center for Learning, has applied for intervenor status in the matter.
Learning assistance teachers not allocated based on need, lawsuit claims
While the lawsuit lists problems specific to Robert Service School, such as the shuttering of the occupational therapy room and an absence of any data collection to identify and follow up on students’ needs, it also takes aim at alleged systemic issues with special education across the territory.
Learning assistance teachers, according to the lawsuit, play a “critical function” in consulting on students’ needs, coordinating individualized education plans (IEPs) and mobilizing education resources.
However, the statement of claim alleges the education department doesn’t allocate funding for those teachers based on the specific needs of schools, but on a “standardized ratio of full-time equivalent teaching positions per total student population.”
The ratio, the statement of claim argues, is insufficient and is disadvantageous for rural communities with smaller student bodies, resulting in understaffing and a “failure to deliver coherent and effective Special Education services in rural communities.”
The child, the lawsuit says, has been “adversely affected by this failure,” as have other children with disabilities in rural Yukon.
The statement of claim also slams the education department’s “unofficial policy” of considering students who may be capable of earning a high school graduation diploma ineligible to receive an IEP, “even when such students present with learning, communicative, behavioral, physical or multiple disabilities .”
“The defendant’s policy is forcing parents into a double bind, where they must either prematurely accept reduced expectations for a student’s maximum potential, or be denied access to the legal protection and the Special Education services accessed through an IEP,” the lawsuit argues.
As well, the statement of claim says the education department has failed to issue guidelines for the implementation of special education in the Yukon, as laid out in the territorial Education Act.
“Instead, department officials … circulate unpredictable, insulated, and fragmentary directions to school staff which interfere with the fulfillment of their statutory duty to provide equitable educational opportunity to students with disabilities,” the lawsuit claims, noting an overall lack of transparency, clear communication and appropriate policies.
‘There needs to be action’
All of the shortcomings, the statement of claim alleges, amount to breaches of both the child and parent’s rights to life, liberty and security as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the parent’s right to nurture, care for and make decisions for her child and the child’s right to receive a free education in their home community that meets their needs.
It also alleges the closure of the occupational therapy room at Robert Service School, which disproportionately impacted students with disabilities and the alleged failure to allocate learning assistance teachers, issue special education guidelines or evaluate the needs of students at Robert Service School violate the section of the Charter protecting equality rights.
The statement of claim makes several asks of the court, including declaring the unofficial IEP policy of no force and effect and injunctions mandating the education department to address all the alleged Charter issues.
The parent said she hopes the lawsuit will result in change for not just her child, but for children across the Yukon.
“You just get a lot of kind of frontline educators doing the best they can, which is great, but doing the best they can within a system that structurally has not provided them with the resources or the training or the time to be able to dedicate to [learning] how they need to accommodate that student,” she said.
“There needs to be action… That is really kind of the drive behind why I’m doing this and what I hope to see.”