Human Rights in the School
Using the Guide
This guide has been developed to assist the reader in assessing the extent to which a given school puts human rights principles into practice. The preceding chapters have discussed some human rights concepts and their embodiment in law and policy. This chapter will propose establishing a committee to review the school's human rights practices and to structure a process to strengthen the observance of human rights principles within the school. The following chapters provide checklists designed to aid in the evaluation process. The checklists focus on the issues of equality, democracy, justice and fundamental freedoms. What follows are suggested steps for using these checklists to review and improve human rights practices in the school.
1. Commitment to Human Rights
A prerequisite to using this guide is a commitment to human rights and a desire to examine the extent to which human rights are given effect within the school. Without this commitment, the exercise will not be effective.
As well as an understanding of the relevance and application of human rights to the school, a commitment of time and resources is required. The amount of both time and resources will be affected by the nature of each school's investigation and, of course, the resources available.
Assessing and developing the school climate will likely require a minimum of 10-18 months.
2. Establishing a Steering Committee
Once a commitment to the issue is made, it will be necessary to determine who is to be involved in implementing the guide. Implementation will generally be most effective if a broad range of school participants are involved, including administrative, teaching and non-teaching staff, students, parents and volunteers. One possible means of involving such a range of individuals is by establishing a human rights steering committee.
The committee should ideally be made up of representatives from each group of school participants. A sample committee description is set out in Table III. The exact composition, duties, responsibilities and timelines will be established by each school. It is recommended that the composition of the committee be reflective of the school population and of society. Such a committee would aim at participation on the committee of both women and men, boys and girls of differing races, religions, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, ages, physical abilities and economic and social lifestyles.
It is important to allot sufficient time for committee formation and establishment. Initially, a general meeting of interested school participants could be held to discuss the goals of the guidebook, the process of implementing it and possible time frames.
Care should be taken that the meeting is publicized in a manner which informs and invites all potential participants. For example, notice of the meeting may be published in local ethnic newspapers. Care should also be given to scheduling the meeting so as to include as many potential participants as possible. For example, if meetings are scheduled during the workday only, working parents will, to a large extent, be excluded from attending.
Once a core of interested school participants has formed, the committee may ask itself if it is reflective of the school and the community. If one or more groups are not represented or are underrepresented, efforts should be taken to understand this lack of representation and to make changes or to make efforts to achieve full representative participation.
3. Committee Orientation
Once the committee is formed, it is important to take the time for committee orientation, which could take one or more meetings. The group has to decide on a number of issues. The process for chairing the committee must be established. This process should be as democratic and co-operative as possible. Two options are the election by the committee of one chairperson. Another option is that of a rotating chairperson in order to share the responsibilities and experience. Other issues to be determined are the schedule for meetings, budget, as well as child expenses and other volunteer expenses.
The object of the orientation is to familiarize everyone with each other, the guidebook and the task at hand. Expectations of committee members can be discussed. Resource materials can be gathered and shared. Training to enhance the knowledge and skills of the committee members can be planned. For example, a workshop on human rights could likely enhance the committee's knowledge of human rights and provide a forum for sharing of ideas or concerns about the topic.
The orientation session is also a time for open discussion among committee members of concerns, expectations and personal realities.
Effective orientation, then, will enable the committee to function with greater understanding and effectiveness. It can also provide a foundation to develop the commitment necessary to achieve its goals and objectives.
Once the steering committee has been formed, it can begin the review of human rights practices in the school. It would be up to each school's committee to agree upon exactly how this will be done. The review may differ depending on from which group of school participants one is seeking feedback. For example, most pilot schools found a half day inservice effective for obtaining staff feedback. This method, however, may not be practical for the purpose of seeking student and parent input.
It is recommended that the committee consider seeking input from as many sources as time and resources will allow. The greater the involvement of school participants, the greater will be their sense of ownership of the process and the more likely it will be that the human rights plan will be successful. Where time and resources are of particular concern, however, a representative group of school participants may still provide accurate feedback.
Table III HUMAN RIGHTS STEERING COMMITTEE
To determine the extent to which the school observes human rights in its practices and procedures, and to develop a plan, if necessary, to enhance human rights practices in the school.
The committee is to be representative of all school participants including teachers, students, parents, administrators and non-teaching staff. As much as possible, it is to be gender-balanced and representative as to the races, religion, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, ages, physical abilities and economic and social lifestyles of school participants and members of society.
Duties and Responsibilities:
- To establish the method and timelines for investigating human rights practices in the school.
- To assist in the collection and analysis of information on human rights school practices,
- To determine, whenever necessary, a plan of action to improve human rights practices in the school
- Commitment to the promotion of human rights principles and the purpose of the committee,
- Ability to make time commitment
- Committee organizing and orientation approximately 4-8 weeks.
- Investigation phase approximately 4-12 weeks
- Planning phase approximately 8 weeks.
- Plan implementation phase approximately 6-18 months, depending on the nature of the plan,
To be determined by the committee.
5. Assess the Findings
Once the findings are assessed, a school may find that it has both strengths and deficiencies in its human rights practices. A school with an autonomously functioning student council, for example, may have some distance to go in observing the equality rights of the students. Likewise, a school with a strong anti-racist program may, in fact, have overlooked many sexist practices.
As well, not all individuals responding to the checklist may see things the same way. The ideal goal is primarily to reach an overall impression of the school's strengths and weaknesses in terms of human rights practices.
Depending on the results of the investigation, it may be concluded that changes are required to enhance human rights practices in the school. The exact changes called for should be based directly on the needs identified from the investigation. The resource constraints which are a reality for most schools may require that the needs which have been identified have to be priorized and that changes called for will have to be implemented over a realistic period of time.
Assessing the need for change will not necessarily end once the formal investigation has been conducted. Hopefully, this process will raise the awareness of school participants which will naturally result in an ongoing process of review.
6. Identify Desired Outcome: Goals and Objectives
Once the school's needs have been established and priorized, a plan of action can be developed. It is desirable that a plan start with the formulation of goals and objectives for the school.
Goals are a broad or abstract statement of the achievements to be attained. Objectives, on the other hand, spell out as clearly as possible what results are expected. More specifically, objectives must be:
- specific they should state as precisely as possible what is to be achieved and when;
- real objectives should be realistic, given the time and resources available, but should still represent a challenge;
- consistent objectives must also be consistent with the overall mandate of the school.23
The results of an investigation may indicate, for example, that a school has a strong regard for democracy and freedom. They may show, however, lesser regard for the principles of justice and equality, especially in relation to gender discrimination. The committee may then decide that particular attention is needed in the area of gender equality. Other areas of concern may be addressed in tandem as the issue of gender equality is under study and review. The following goals and objectives for the subsequent school year could then be established, relating to gender equality.
Implement school policies and procedures which are designed to address and improve gender equality rights of school participants in the following areas:
- School curriculum
- Athletic programs
- Co-curricular programs
- School Counseling programs
- Testing and assessment
- School management
- Employment policies and practices
- Professional development of staff.
- Establish school policies designed to recognize, eliminate and prevent gender bias and sexism, including sexual harassment by (date).
- Increase women's studies24 content in the school curriculum by (date).
- Establish by (date) equal accessibility of students of both genders to:
- Athletic programs
- Co-curricular programs
- Leadership programs
- Employment positions in the school.
- Establish ongoing procedures for assessing gender inequality in the school and strategies for correcting said inequality by (date).
- Develop staff inservices to address curriculum content on women's studies and sexism in education by (date).
- (a) Review the school's employment practices including recruiting and hiring practices, conditions of work, promotions and dismissals, to ensure that they are free of gender discrimination by (date).
- (b)Establish employment policies and practices which ensure equality of opportunity and affirmative action if necessary for applicants and staff of both genders.
7. Establish a Plan of Action
An effective plan of action generally sets out how the objectives will be achieved. It states specifically what is to happen, who is to do what and when it is to happen. It will need to take into account the amount of time and resources required. Lines of responsibility should be clearcut and the method for monitoring progress spelled out. (See the Sample Action Plan set out in Table IV on the following page.)
To be done by whom
(5) Organize two inservices on the following topics:
L. Roy and T. Wood
June 15, School Year 1
Once the plan is developed and the necessary preparations made, it can be implemented. This will likely take 6-18 months, depending on the particular plan. Flexibility will be a key element of a successful implementation strategy since adjustments will likely be required on the part of all school participants. For example, new assignments and reassignments of staff may have to be made and time lines for changes altered.
Implementation of any plan requires careful monitoring through frequent communication among school participants on such things as progress made, difficulties encountered and frustrations experienced by those involved.
Evaluation is an integral component of an implementation process and is too often overlooked.
Only through evaluation can the extent to which the objectives were reached be determined. Evaluation enables assessment of a program in terms of costs and benefits, resource requirements and a determination of what is working or what should be changed or dropped.
The preceding chapter has outlined some basic steps for forming a committee, completing a review of human rights practices in the school, and implementing a plan of action to strengthen such practices. These steps are summarized in Table V. They are designed to provide some guidance in using the manual while at the same time allowing enough flexibility that they can be adapted to the desires, needs and resources of each particular school. Ultimately, it will be up to each school to determine the most effective means by which the human rights issues identified in the guide are to be addressed by that school.