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Quebec schools get failing grade for treatment of students with special needs

Quebec students with special needs face systemic discrimination: report
WATCH: The Quebec Human Rights Commission has found the organization of specialized services in Quebec’s educational system is deeply flawed. As Global's Anne Leclair reports, the commission is asking for more leadership from the education minister to better serve students with special needs and learning disabilities.

A new report by the Quebec Human Rights Commission gives the province a failing grade on the organization of educational services for special needs students.

READ MORE: Majority of families denied Quebec supplement for children with exceptional needs

The report shows close to half of the province’s students with special needs and learning disabilities aren’t graduating.

The commission is calling on the education minister to show more leadership while equal rights advocates are calling on the commission to stop dismissing complaints.

“You could call it an alarming situation,” said the Quebec Human Rights Commission’s interim president Philippe-André Tessier.

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“Forty per cent of them will not graduate.”

The commission has issued 22 recommendations, including a complete overhaul and reorganization of services for Quebec’s 200,000 special needs students.

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The study looked at five school boards of different sizes and languages and found that while the specialized educational tools often exist, they aren’t being used properly.

The findings also revealed that the agreement between the education and health and social services ministries is not working.

In wake of the report, Tessier said “we collectively can’t look the other way.”

READ MORE: Retraite Quebec admits mistake and awards exceptional needs supplement to West Island family

“We’ve issued 22 recommendations and we will ensure a rigorous follow up of these recommendations,” Tessier said.

“What we’re asking is for the leadership for the ministry of education.”

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Caught up in bureaucracy?

Equal rights advocates have been sounding the alarm over the lack of services for disabled students for years.

The Centre for Research Action on Race Relations is currently in the process of filing human rights complaints against school boards on behalf of five families. A fundraiser has been set up to try to cover the legal costs.

READ MORE: Lawyer calling on Quebec government to review criteria for ‘exceptional needs’ supplement

“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of children and parents who are caught up in the bureaucracy and the disconnect between the health care system and the school system,” CRARR’s Fo Niemi said, while calling on the commission to do more, and stop dismissing complaints.

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“Very few cases survive the filtering role that the commission gives itself and very few cases are being brought before the court on systemic discrimination based on disabilities.”

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Two of CRARR’s five complaints include Sam Kuhn’s twin daughters. Both have severe learning disabilities and while one has received private speech therapy thanks to a fundraiser, the other has yet to be assessed.

“The English Montreal School Board tells us to go private because there’s no therapist,” said Kuhn.

He switched one of his daughters to the French education system this year in hopes of getting access to services, but Kuhn claims the CSDM wasn’t able to offer anything more than the EMSB.

“They don’t have speech therapists so my daughter Simone is going to have to do Grade 1 again without any extra help.”

The families in question have set up an online fundraiser to cover the legal costs of their fight and hope the government takes action before their children hit adulthood.

“It’s an incredible waste of human potential of my two daughters,” Kuhn said.

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