In MM v Thames Valley District School Board, 2022 HRTO 1431, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) recently dismissed an application brought by a mother against a school board where the mother alleged that the school board had discriminated against her on the basis of her family status and disability. The Tribunal held that the school board did not have a service relationship with the parent, and therefore could not have breached its duty under the Human Rights Code (the “Code”) to not discriminate in the provision of a service.
The alleged discrimination involved a “communication ban” imposed by the school board, restricting the mother’s communications to written exchanges with the principal, as a result of heated telephone disputes arising from the mother’s desire to transfer her son to a different school, the school’s boundary changes, French-language instruction, and the mother’s perception that the school was paying insufficient attention to her son’s learning needs.
The Tribunal has recognized that education is a service that school boards provide to students. The Code prohibits discrimination in the provision of services. The Education Act (the “Act”) specifically details the duties and powers of school boards, which include to provide educational services and accommodation to students. There are no analogous provisions in the Act which set out a service relationship between school boards and parents.
In Contini v Rainbow District School Board, 2011 HRTO 1340, the Tribunal recognized that in some limited circumstances, transportation may be a service provided to parents as well as students. In that case, the Tribunal considered an application brought by a parent with a mobility disability, and recognized under these specific facts that providing bussing to the family’s children may be a benefit, or “service,” to the parent.
Conversely, in RH v Kawartha Pine Ridge District School, 2012 HRTO 141, the Tribunal dismissed a parent’s claim that they were in a service relationship with a school board, finding that communications in the ordinary course between a parent and their child’s school did not constitute a “service.”
The Tribunal found that the case at hand was similar to RH v Kawartha Pine Ridge District School. It ruled that the natural and reciprocal exchange of information between the mother and school board was pursuant to the provision of educational services to the student (her son), as outlined in the Education Act, and did not form a service relationship between the mother and school board.
As the Tribunal found that there was no service relationship between the mother and the school board, it followed that the school board could not be found to have discriminated against the mother in the provision of a service under the Code.
While the Tribunal found there was no service relationship on the facts before it, we cannot rule out the possibility that the Tribunal may look to specific circumstances in the future where a service relationship may be found. However, school boards may generally rely on the principle, confirmed by the Tribunal in MM v Thames Valley District School, that their services with respect to education are provided to students, not parents, and the commensurate obligation not to discriminate in the provision of such services is a duty to students.
If you have any questions regarding the foregoing, please feel free to reach out to a member of Miller Thomson’s Education Law group.