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VJ v. Thames Valley District School Board: Private School Costs as a Remedy for Discrimination?




A recent decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has significant implications for students with disabilities and their families in Ontario public schools. In the case of VJ v. Thames Valley District School Board, the Tribunal addressed the issue of whether it could grant the tuition fees and associated costs incurred for attendance at a residential private school as a remedy if it ultimately found that the school board did not fulfill its obligations under the duty to accommodate.


Section 1 of Ontario's Human Rights Code provides that every person has the right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods, and facilities without discrimination. In this case, the student claimed that the school board failed to provide her with the necessary supports to accommodate her disability, and as a result, she had no choice but to enroll in a private school in New York that specialized in education for students with learning disabilities.


The Tribunal's remedial powers are set out in section 45.2 of the Code. This section allows for an order directing the party who infringed the right to make restitution to the party whose right was infringed, other than through monetary compensation, for loss arising out of the infringement. This includes restitution for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

The applicant in this case sought, under section 45.2(1)1, the tuition and associated costs she incurred for attending the private school. The Tribunal noted that before it could make any award, it must first find that the respondent school board failed to fulfill its obligations under the duty to accommodate. If it does so, the Tribunal has the power to award the applicant the costs she incurred for attending the private school. However, the Tribunal emphasized that it must first hear the evidence and determine whether the circumstances are appropriate for such a remedy.


This decision has important implications for students with disabilities and their families in Ontario public schools. It confirms that the Tribunal has the power to award the costs of attending a private school as a remedy if it finds that a school board has failed to fulfill its obligations under the duty to accommodate. This means that students who are forced to attend private schools because their needs are not being met in public schools may be able to recoup some of their costs, providing some financial relief for their families.


The decision also highlights the importance of fulfilling the duty to accommodate in Ontario public schools. The duty to accommodate is a crucial aspect of the Human Rights Code and ensures that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against and are able to access the same services, goods, and facilities as everyone else. In the case of students with disabilities, this means providing them with the necessary supports and accommodations to allow them to meet their potential in school.


If a school board fails to fulfill its obligations under the duty to accommodate, it may face consequences such as the award of costs incurred for attending a private school. This serves as a reminder to school boards to prioritize the needs of students with disabilities and ensure that they receive the accommodations and supports they require.


Overall, the decision in VJ v. Thames Valley District School Board is a significant development for students with disabilities and their families in Ontario public schools. It confirms that the Tribunal has the power to award the costs of attending a private school as a remedy if a school board has failed to fulfill its obligations under the duty to accommodate. This decision emphasizes the importance of fulfilling the duty to accommodate and serves as a reminder to school boards to prioritize the needs of students with disabilities.

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