Alberta Human Rights Tribunal Makes Decision Regarding Discrimination Claim from Student on the Basis of his Mental Disability

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In 2012 the parents of a student at Graminia School in Spruce Grove, Alberta filed a human rights complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission and have finally received a decision.

Mr. and Mrs. Jobb, are the mother and father of Christopher Jobb, a now 17-year old who previously attended the Graminia School in Spruce Grove during the 2011-2012 school year. Christopher, “has a brain injury which affects his short-term memory,” but was successfully, “enrolled in all other mainstream classes.”

Mr. and Mrs. Jobb received a phone call from the school informing them that all of the ‘practical skills’ classes (such as cooking class) were full, and they asked permission to give Christopher the job of collecting recycling and garbage and sorting his teacher’s mail instead. Mr. and Mrs. Jobb told the school that they wanted him to gain practical skills so that he could live independently in the future, and that they would not give their permission for Christopher to do these tasks in lieu of an optional class.

However, the school proceeded to have Christopher conduct these tasks rather than take a cooking class (or something of the like) without his parents knowledge for five months. Upon finding this information out, Christopher’s parents asked the Parkland School Division (PSD) to offer a new method of learning in order to accommodate Christopher’s mental disability. The method is called ‘Arrowsmith’ and it, “follows the philosophy that it is possible to treat specific learning difficulties by identifying and strengthening cognitive capacities.” The PSD refused to make this accommodation and the Jobbs’ removed Christopher from the school and placed him in a private school that offered this method of learning.

In 2012, the Jobbs’ family decided to file a human rights complaint against the PSD claiming that they discriminated against Christopher because of his mental disability and did not accommodate the disability through offering the Arrowsmith method or providing funding for him to access this method of learning elsewhere. The School Division argued that this method of learning was not scientifically proven and had little empirical evidence. During the hearing, a woman named Wendy Cathey provided a witness testimony. Cathey’s daughter Hailey attended the Graminia School with Christopher and also had a learning disability. Hailey was similarly required to pick up garbage and recycling and sort mail. Cathey claimed that her daughter would, “come home crying every day,” because, “she hated it and was embarrassed” to perform menial tasks instead of taking an optional class like her peers.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission issued a decision for this case on February 15, 2017 and decided in favour of the PSD. The Tribunal Chair, Joanne Archibald decided that:

“The Arrowsmith method… [had] no scientifically rigorous, objective evidence that supports its efficacy according to the evidence…. [And] [i]n these circumstances, to require Parkland to participate by providing the Arrowsmith method or paying for C.J. to attend EAS would be unreasonable and would exceed accommodation to the point of undue hardship.”

The Jobbs intend to appeal the decision to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.