Human Rights in the School
Introduction to the Checklists
The checklists contained in the following four chapters are designed to assist users in reviewing the extent to which human rights principles are reflected in their school climate.
The checklists focus on the four human rights principles which are most relevant to the education process equality, justice, democracy and fundamental freedoms. Each checklist item suggests an ethical standard of practice which is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A school may choose to make use of the checklists in their entirety or instead focus on only one of the four subsections. While some of the checklist items are not legal requirements, a number have been affirmed by legislation and/or the courts.
Some of the suggested standards, such as the item suggesting that co-operation should be emphasized in the school as well as competition, may not appear at first glance to relate directly to the human rights principles articulated in the Universal Declaration. Where this is the case, such items have been based on academic research which supports the importance of such practices to furthering human rights in the school.26
The checklists cover all aspects of the school environment (see Table VI). They focus on school management practices and policies which significantly determine the degree of observance of human rights principles.
Table VI School Envirionment
- Classroom structure and activities
- Athletic courses and programs
- Co-curricular programs such as
- Clubs, including yearbook
- Social functions, including dances, spirit/freshie week
- Student council
- Music, theatre
- Counselling career, course selection
- Testing and assessment
- School structure
- General, including daily management routines, support programs
- Employment, including hiring, working conditions, promotions and dismissals
- Policies, rules and regulations
- Parent involvement
- Staff development
The checklists are designed to apply to both elementary and secondary institutions. Nevertheless, there will be some items which are more relevant for certain grade levels than for others.
The guide attempts to deal primarily with practices which are within the management control of the school itself. Some issues, however, concern school divisional and even provincial policy areas. Where this is so, the challenge may be to work with those authorities towards the development of fair and non-discriminatory divisional and provincial policies.
Most rights are not absolute, but must be viewed, rather, in the context of other competing rights. Rights can be exercised only to the point that they unreasonably infringe on the rights of others. For example, a student's right to locker privacy may be infringed on where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the locker contains a bomb which threatens the safety of other school participants.
Likewise, a student's right to free expression must be weighed against the right of others to be treated with dignity. The challenge, then, is to find a balance between competing rights.
Before utilizing the checklists, reference should be made in Appendix I. It is essential to understand the meaning of the terms used in order to use the checklists effectively.
The language of the checklists may present difficulty for some school participants. Where feedback is sought from a large number of parents and students, some pilot schools found editing and translations of the checklists helpful.
Schools may not presently meet all, or even many, of the suggested standards. The developing social recognition of human rights principles and the need for their widespread protection requires a keen examination of our social institutions. This guide is part of that response.