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Montréal, July 19, 2018 - The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is being taken to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission for engaging in systemic discrimination based on disability, language and social condition towards children with learning disabilities and autism and their families.

Sam Kuhn and his wife Lynn Buchanan, the parents of an English-speaking girl with a learning disability, Simone, claim that by failing to provide a psycho-educational assessment of their child's needs, and by telling them to pay from their own pocket for such evaluation, the EMSB is denying their daughter a service which is essential for the child's education. The school board has also deprived their child of her right to French immersion, thereby reducing her future chance of successful integration in Quebec society.

Simone was born in 2011 and has been diagnosed as having a learning disability and “moderate-severe reception language delays.” In 2016, she started kindergarten at Roslyn Elementary School in Westmount, a school administered by the EMSB. She began to show difficulties learning French. Her parents requested formal Psycho-Educational Assessment (PEA) to evaluate her situation from which to develop an Individualized Education Plan for her. The school refused for unspecific reasons, and told them to get a private PEA. Since the family is of low-income, it cannot afford to pay for a private assessment.

The family considered enrolling Simone in Hampstead Elementary School or Westmount Park Elementary School, both English-core schools also under the EMSB. However, Hampstead, like Westmount Park, did not offer speech or occupational therapy and adequate special education support, and also told the parents to pay for a private PEA. As well, Hampstead stated that instead of French immersion, it could only offer an English-reading program to Simone because of her difficulty with learning French in addition to English.

Discouraged and concerned about the lack of education integration services, the parents enrolled Simone in the Annexe Charlevoix under the Commission scolaire de Montréal, where she could get a PEA, after a waiting period of two years.

The quagmire does not end there. A speech language pathologist suggests that given Simone’s intellectual disability in her primary language, it is very difficult for her to acquire and excel in other languages, including French. The pathologist recommends sending her to Vanguard School, which offers French and English programs for youths with severe learning disabilities. However, Vanguard School requires a PEA.

Finally, last month, the Annexe Charlevoix agreed to expedite a PEA and offered to develop an Individual Education Plan for Simone.

“We struggled and lost almost two years in the EMSB system, trying to get adequate psycho-educational support for our child, without any success, because the EMSB failed to provide the specialized services we need, and because we are too poor to pay for a private evaluation,” said Kuhn. “In short, if you’re poor and on welfare, your child is condemned to second-rate or no services, and that is simple systemic discrimination,” he added.

“Two years in the life of a child with learning disabilities can produce long-lasting adverse effects on her development,” Kuhn said.

“EMSB Commissioners owe us parents a public explanation as to why there is no adequate special psycho-education support for my daughter,” he added. “As a matter of fact, the Quebec Education Minister owes us an obligation as to why there is a two-tiered system in English-language education for children with disabilities - one for those who can afford private pay-per-use assessment, and the other for those who can’t afford it,” Kuhn insisted.

For CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi, the situation is all the more concerning due to the fact that English-speaking children with learning disabilities are effectively deprived of adequate special support services and French immersion, which will have long-term negative effects on their lives.

“In addition, it appears that some EMSB schools for disabled children also have a significantly high numbers of children who are racialized and of immigrant background,” Niemi noted. “It looks like the best kept secret of our English-language education system.”

CRARR is filing on behalf of Simone’s parents a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, in which it is seeking material, moral and punitive damages for the family. CRARR also asks the EMSB to take measures to “expressly end and prevent discrimination, both intentional and systemic”, and to “adopt an education equity policy and program to support and integrate children with intellectual and learning disabilities.”

It is also urging parents in a similar situation to file civil rights complaints against the EMSB.

The United Nations is undertaking this year a review of Canada's performance on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. CRARR will work with parents of autistic children to bring these issues to the UN’s review process.