A recent interim decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario raises a question about the scope of the Human Rights Code’s application to publicly funded school boards.
The Tribunal held that it would hear an Application made by a parent against the Rainbow District School Board regarding the school board’s decision not to provide transportation for the Applicant’s two elementary aged children.
The students did not qualify for transportation, because their home to school distance did not meet the school board’s policy for transportation and the students did not have any disability or program related needs that required them to be transported. The Applicant was seeking to have her two children transported due to her disability related needs.
The school board sought to have the Application dismissed, arguing that the school board’s duty to provide services was to the students and not to the students’ parent. The school board’s policy included a statement indicating that:
Transportation will be provided at the discretion of the Director of Education or designate for injuries/medical conditions where the lack of access to school transportation presents a hardship for the parent/guardian.
This statement was interpreted by the Tribunal as creating a service relationship between the school board and parents of students. Moreover, the Tribunal found that the school board was providing a benefit to parents when it transports its students by bus. The Tribunal also held that the concept of services should be broadly interpreted and that,
…it was clearly the Legislature’s intent to ensure that all those with whom the respondent necessarily interacts in providing those services – including parents and students – are treated equally and without discrimination.
The Tribunal will proceed to hear the merits of the case in the near future. In the meantime, this case arguably increases the scope of the Code’s application, as it would be difficult to argue that a parent does not benefit from a student’s attendance at school each day for the school day, which might be creating a service relationship with that student’s parent if services are to be read broadly.