TORONTO – The University of Toronto has decided to implement a policy that could place students with mental health issues on a mandatory leave of absence if the school deems it necessary.
The policy, which drew criticism from student groups and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, was approved by the school’s governing council at a meeting Wednesday evening.
Under the new rules, which will be reviewed every three years, a mandatory leave would be considered if the university’s administration becomes aware of a student who poses a risk of harm to themselves or others and mental illness is believed to be involved.
Those who’ve spoken against it say they’re concerned a medical professional would not be adequately involved in university decisions to place students on leave, and they’re worried about how the school will accommodate students with mental health issues.
According to the university, the policy states that a regulated health professional will be consulted as part of the consideration of a mandated leave of absence.
“The policy emphasizes that the mandated leave of absence is not to be punitive,” Sandy Welsh, the university’s vice provost for students, said in a statement.
“It is to be applied in rare cases, only after accommodative measures have been unsuccessful, or the student has declined those measures.”
The university made several changes to its original version of the policy after consulting with students and reviewing a public letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Outside the meeting where the policy was voted on, about 40 students gathered to protest. Their chants were heard throughout the meeting.
Cristina Jaimungal with the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union said there was a “lack of a concerted effort” by the university to address concerns laid out by disability advocate groups.
One of those groups, Students for Barrier-Free Access, had said it was concerned the policy could deter students from disclosing mental health issues and from seeking support or treatment offered by the university.
The school’s various student unions also released a joint statement earlier this week saying the policy discriminates against those with mental health issues.
Josh Grondin, a U of T Students’ Union representative who spoke against the policy during the meeting, said he’s disappointed the school has decided to move ahead with it.
“I think there was still a chance that we could have had to improve the policy and make sure it was something that all of us could have agreed on,” said Grondin.
The policy was created after recommendations were made by the university’s ombudsperson in the 2014-2015 school year. The university said there have been more than 18 months of consultations.