Do Ontario Schools Have to Teach Teenage Parents?

teenage parents


Ontario’s publicly funded education system has been set up to provide additional assistance for children who face challenges or barriers to their ability to receive an education.   That assistance is mandated by the Education Act, several regulations, several Ministry Policies, and Policy/Procedure Memorandum, which are binding on school boards.


Ontario Private Schools are almost completely unregulated, so there is little explicit help for students in special circumstances.


However, neither pregnancy nor parenthood are, in themselves, identified grounds for a student to access Ontario’s special education resources.  The Ministry of Education has a program called the “Single Parent Initiative”, but it only encourages Boards to be mindful of parent/students and leaves the actual implementation to the individual school boards.  Unlike other areas of disadvantage, there are no specific systems in place to assist teenage parents in school. 


The following are the (antiquated) available identifications that formally entitle children to additional special education resources through the Identification Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) process:

Categories of Exceptionalities for Ontario Students:

  • Behaviour: Behaviour disability, mental health affecting behaviour (good or bad), socialization issues, anxiety disorders, PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, etc.
  • Communication: Autism, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Speech Impairment, Language Impairment, Learning Disabilities
  • Intellectual: Gifted, Mild Intellectual Disability, Developmental Disability
  • Physical: Physical Disability, Blind and Low Vision
  • Multiple: Multiple Exceptionalities (2 or more prominent)

None of these apply directly to teen parenthood.  However, becoming a parent while a teenager is not normative behaviour and it usually occurs in a context of other challenges.  The education system may already be attempting to address those issues that contributed to the circumstances or the pregnancy may lead to more active intervention.  However, the special education system does not specifically recognize, or fund, assistance for teenage parents. Obviously, single parenthood can affect mental health, which would entitle a student to some form of special educations assistance, although that would be for the mental health issue, not for the parenthood issue.

Bullying is another challenge faced by teenager parents.  Ontario’s Education Act and initiatives by the Ministry of Education are designed to combat bullying.   Section 1(1) of the Education Act sets out that bullying is behaviour that occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived powers imbalance between the victim and the bully and identifies “family circumstances” as a factor that can create that imbalance.   Section 170(7.2) requires the Board to provide programs interventions or other supports for students who have been bullied.   Again, there are requirements that the Board accommodate many of the concerns that arise from teenage parenthood, but there are no specific requirements for the Board to accommodate the teenage pregnancy or parenthood.


In the absence of the specific requirement for accommodations in the education system, a parent/student may have to access the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if a school refuses to provide some assistance.   The relevant claim of discrimination in this context is discrimination on the basis of “Family Status”.   Discrimination on the basis of Family Status occurs when a parent/child relationship cause a person to be negatively impacted. 

 

Not every treatment of a single parent will be discriminatory and give rise to relief before the Human Rights Tribunal.   The test for whether a parent has been discriminated against is set out in the HRTO decision in Misetich v Value Village Stores Inc. 2016 HRTO 1229 at para 54-57:

  1. To establish that the student (the Misetich case actually related to an employee) has suffered discriminatory treatment, the student must establish not just a negative impact on a family need, but an impact that results in a real disadvantage to the parent/child relationship and the responsibilities that flow from that relationship.  Assessing the impact of the impugned rule is done contextually and considers the other supports available to the applicant such as before/after school daycare, family support etc.
  2. Once the applicant proves discrimination, the onus shifts to the respondent to establish that the applicant cannot be accommodated to the point of undue hardship. At this point, whether the applicant cooperated in the accommodation process is considered. The applicant is obligated to provide the respondent with sufficient information regarding their family-related needs and work with the respondent to identify possible solutions to resolve the conflict. In school related HRTO matters, this last requirement is where many students and parent falter when they are not cooperative with the school board.

There are no HRTO cases related allegations against a school board for discrimination based on Family Status.  There is a case involving a college student: Ananda v. Humber College, 2017 HRTO 611.  However, in that case, the student failed to establish that, even though he was his mother’s primary caregiver, her needs were of a sufficient extent to require the accommodation he was seeking (permission to take more than 6 years to finish his nursing program).


However, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has specifically considered the special concerns of parents enrolled in educational programs.  The commission has given directions about the importance of accommodating parents in their educational programs in its policy on breastfeeding.   Challenges faced by teenage parents are the legitimate subject of a human rights case where students suffer actual disadvantage related to being a parent and attempts to work out the problems with the school to create appropriate accommodations have failed. 

 

The HRTO has broad jurisdiction to grant relief that exceeds just monetary awards.  It can make mandatory orders that require School Boards to do, or not to do, specific things.  So, it can require a School Board to provide specific accommodations to a child.   However, the monetary awards, while not capped, tend to be lower than in court.   In addition, the HRTO’s Rules of Procedure do not give it the power to award costs.  So, parents who use lawyers to navigate the HRTO’s process or to assist them at the hearing, which is like a trial, may have difficulty coming out ahead financially and may have difficulty getting help navigating the process.   Still the Human Rights Tribunal process is simpler and less costly than Court.


HRTO has a Child and Youth Division (CYD) for cases involving children.   Cases related to alleged discrimination experienced by children are diverted to adjudicators and mediators who have special expertise in children’s issues. Since most cases of discrimination against children somehow involve schools, because school is the institution with which children most frequently interact, CYD sees a lot of cases involving children with special needs and their schools.  For these cases HRTO often draws on adjudicators from the CFSRB and OSET, so they understand the school system well. 


In addition, the CYD adjudicators are prone to decide that any case involving discrimination affecting a child needs to be resolved quickly for the same reasons that court cases centred around children should be resolved quickly:  time passes slower for children and having a negative experience drag on can negatively impact a child’s development.   The HRTO does have an expedited process.


When going to the HRTO in relation to a child with special needs, it is important to immediately apply for the expedited process both to make sure the process goes quickly and to ensure that the case is assigned to the CYD.


While there is ability to bring interim motions for both procedural issues and “Interim Remedies” (temporary order that last until the full hearing takes place), the usual first step is a mediation.  Those mediations can happen really quickly, possibly within a month of bringing the application, for CYD cases. As the CYD mediators are familiar with the school system, they can be quite helpful in resolving issues and “building bridges” between the family and the educators to try to prevent hard feelings from preventing the implementation of any solutions and to assist a positive learning environment.  In addition, if the claim has any merit, school boards can be very motivated at mediation because they do not want to be the subject of a HRTO decision stating that they maltreated a child with special needs.


Keep in mind that being a child with special needs  does not guarantee success at the HRTO.  The following is the test at the HRTO:

  1. Has the applicant established that he was denied meaningful access to his education because of a prohibited ground of discrimination?
  2. If so, has the School Board established that the reason the student was denied meaningful access to education was because he or she was unable to fulfill the requirements necessary to do so because of his or her disability or that the requirement that prevented his meaningful access to education was reasonable and bona fide?
  3. If so, has the School Board established that it was unable to accommodate the applicant?

 

See: Kahn v. Upper Grand District School Board, 2019 HRTO 1137 (CanLII) (http://canlii.ca/t/j1w8w )

Ontario Family Law Podcast


7 - Custody of the Children - what it means and how it is decided

10 - Child Support - Who Pays and How Much?

In addition to challenges with the education system, and perhaps education law matters, teenage parents often face many family law issues, such as child support and parenting rights and responsibilities (formerly child custody) cases.  There are lots of more information on this site about Family Law issues, including the Ontario Family Law Podcast, several videos and many answers and tips for Family Law problems in the Question and Answer Blog

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You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of child custody, moving with the children, child support, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. 

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But, it is always best to discuss your situation with a top family law lawyer to get advice that is specific to your situation.  Certified Specialist in Family Law, John Schuman, is known for his concern for children in separation and divorce and has won many child custody cases.  To contact John, call 416-446-5869, email him , or fill out the form below. (Please note we cannot provide legal; advice by email.) You can use the same form to comment on this page.


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