Human RIghts in the School

Chapter Eight


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with the assertion that all individuals are equal in dignity and rights.33 Freedom from discrimination, a principle articulated in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is essential to equality.

Many groups in our society do not participate proportionately in those areas considered most economically rewarding and politically powerful.34 Statistics confirm these inequities. Discrimination based on gender, race, physical and mental disability and other group factors, is one of the barriers which restrict life choices for certain groups of individuals and which prevent such groups from fully participating in society.35 Society suffers as well, since discrimination prevents all of us from enjoying the benefits of the work and talents of all of its members.

It can be said that there are two forms of discrimination, direct and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination involves a clear act of unequal treatment. It may be an intentional, purposeful and overt act of discrimination or one which is less overt. It may even be unintentional and stem from ignorance on the part of the perpetrator. An example of direct discrimination is the intentional or unintentional ignoring by a teacher of her or his visible minority students for favoured assignments.

Not all discrimination, however, is apparent on its face. Some is more telling in its effects. Systemic discrimination that is indirect is built into the rules and structures of an organization in an apparently unintentional way. Systemic discrimination results where a general practice which is applied to all similarly, is in fact a disadvantage to a particular group. An example is a hiring policy which specifies that applicants must be over 5'11" (or 1.7 meters) tall. Such a policy would disproportionately exclude female and Asian applicants, the majority of whom are shorter than 5'11". Favoured by this policy are Caucasian men, a substantial proportion of whom are taller than 5'11". (Such discrimination may be justified, however, if being over 5'11" in height is proven to be a reasonable requirement for the job and is imposed in good faith.36)

In order to ensure that everyone is being treated equally, we must re-examine not only our intentions and our policies and practices but the results of a given system.37 For example, if a school division wishes to determine whether women and men have equal access to administrative positions within the division, it should examine its hiring practices for gender bias as well as determine the percentage of women employed in administration and in various hierarchical categories within its administration (e.g. senior vs. junior management). A low percentage of women in any given job category, though not conclusive, is a strong signal that discriminatory barriers exist. These barriers may be the result of discriminatory practices of the school division itself, or they may stem from discriminatory practices of powers outside the control of the division. Only a thorough examination will reveal the source or sources of the problem.

Equality does not necessarily mean treating everyone the same. true equality is achieved when everyone has equal access to the benefits that society has to offer. This may require different treatment in order to accommodate the special needs of individuals and groups. For example, ensuring that a student who is learning disabled receives an education comparable to that of non-disabled peers may require that the school or school division not only integrate the students into a 'regular' classroom, but also provide additional resources for that student The following set of checklists contain questions designed to determine the degree to which a school incorporates the principle of equality in its school management practices. The first checklist is an overview covering general equality issues. Schools seeking to have a large number of people complete the survey may wish to administer this section alone to a portion of participants, as a "short form" to the equality checklist. The following six checklists address issues of equality as they relate to those groups most likely affected by discrimination. The checklists cover equality issues related to gender/sex, race, ethnic origin and cultural background, disability, sexual orientation, family status and economic and social status.

A school which is characterized by equality is more likely to graduate students who are committed to the principle of equality, and who are empowered to make life choices based on their own individual interests and abilities regardless of sex, race, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, religion, cultural background, family, economic or other status. We will all benefit from a society which maximizes the contribution of each one of its citizens.

The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. Are teaching strategies employed which assist students in identifying and responding to prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination?

2. Has the school developed effective methods and policies to respond to discriminatory behaviour of students, staff and school visitors?

3. Do school programs stress co-operation as well as competition?

4. Do teachers provide opportunities for co-operative leaming?38

5. Are teachers encouraged to examine their expectations and treatment of students and consider whether they unintentionally reflect sexist or racist attitudes?

6. Do teaching activities:
(a) Allow for the development of self-esteem in each student?

(b) Nurture the student's ability to empathize with persons of differing backgrounds?

(c) Expand the student's awareness of different values and approaches?39

7. Are both female and male persons of diverse races, cultures and physical abilities and ages represented throughout various job categories within the school?

8. (a) Are curriculum materials free of
(i) stereotypes?

(ii) sexist and culturally biased language and thought?

(b) Where materials contain biases, are they discussed with students so as to encourage the student's development of critical analysis and to avoid reinforcing stereotypes?

(c) Where such discussion would be stressful for students who are members of the group stereotyped, are alternative materials chosen?

9. Does the curriculum address the right to equality?

10. (a) Are men and women of differing racial, occupational and cultural groups and of varying ages and physical abilities shown in a variety of roles, both active and passive?

(b) Are the accomplishments of women and men of all races, cultural groups, ages and physical abilities studied in the curriculum?

(c) Are a variety of perspectives and views considered? For example, does the study of history consider the perspectives and experiences of poor as well as privileged people?

11. Do professional development programs address equality in education?

12. Does the performance review of staff consider whether .,he employee's conduct supports the school's commitment to equality?

13. Are the effects of rules that appear neutral in their application examined to see if a particular group is adversely affected? For example, the scheduling of an exam, without regard to the religious holidays of various cultural groups, may interfere with the religious observances of some students.

14. Does the school actively discourage and take measures to stop the use of:
(a) racist and sexist jokes and images?

(b) other insulting or disparaging statements and images, especially those directed toward a particular group?

15. Is there a school library policy governing the selection of new learning resources that stresses the acquisition of non-sexist and non-racist materials?

16. (a) Are library resources reviewed as to bias on the basis of, for example, sex, race, culture and disability?

(b) Are offensively biased materials removed from open shelves?

(c) Where the materials are biased, is the bias identified and addressed?

17. Are all school communications (i.e., memos, letters, notes) written in cultural sensitive and gender-inclusive language?40

18. (a) Do student course enrollments reveal an over-representation or under-representation proportionate to the sex and/or race of students?

(b) If so, does the school take measures to encourage equal enrollment?

19. (a) Do students participate equally in class discussions?

(b) Does the student leadership within the school reflect the diversity of the school population?

(c) If not, does the school or individual teacher take measures to enhance equal participation?

20. Is discipline generally applied equally without regard to sex, religion, race, cultural background or other status?

21. Do community role models and authority figures participating in school programs include both male and female persons of different races, ages, cultures and physical abilities, social and economic lifestyles?

22. Does the school celebrate leaders and heroes, female and male, of different races, cultures, ages and physical abilities, social and economic lifestyles?

23. Are testing and assessment routinely examined for gender and cultural bias?

24. Do school counselors encourage and support students in overcoming bias and stereotyping in their educational and career choices?

25. (a) Are school counselors or other school personnel trained and competent to assist students who face harassment and other forms of discrimination?

(b) If not, is training provided to enable counselors to acquire the necessary skills

A. Gender/Sex
The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. Do ongoing professional development programs address:

(a) sexism and its adverse impact, particularly on female students; and

(b) a non-sexist learning environment for both male and female students?

2. Does the curriculum emphasize the lives, contributions, hardships and triumphs of women as well as men throughout history and around the world?

3. Does the school curriculum address the issue of psychological, sexual and physical abuse and violence against females?

4. Is nurturance, compassion, co-operation and intuitive thinking encouraged in both male and female students?

5. Is assertiveness, independence and logical thinking encouraged in both female and male students?

6. Are both female and male students encouraged to develop physical skills and strengths?

7. Are students assisted in developing a critical awareness of sexism and of effective strategies for responding to it in their lives?

8. Are tasks assigned to children and to adults according to interest and ability, irrespective of traditional gender roles?

9. Are resources for athletic and co-curricular programs divided equally between activities for male and female students?

10. (a) Does the school have a policy on sexual harassment?

(b) Is this policy clearly communicated annually to all school participants?

(c) Does the school have an effective procedure for responding to complaints of sexual harassment or of sexist conduct?

11. (a) Are school counselors and other school Personnel trained and competent to assist students who have been sexually harassed, sexually abused or assaulted?

(b) If not, is training provided to enable counselors to acquire the necessary skills?

12. Does the school provide a training program for female students in self-defense techniques to be used in case of sexual assault?

B. Race, Ethnic Origin and Culture
The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. Do ongoing professional development programs address racism, its impact on students and of the benefits of a non-racist learning environment?

2. (a) Does the curriculum provide opportunities for students to learn about each others racial and cultural heritage?

(b) If so, do the teachers stress the cultural similarities among racial and cultural groups rather than emphasizing differences?"41

3. Is history taught from a multi-centric rather than Euro-centric perspective? For example, when studying the European exploration of Canada are the perspectives of Aboriginal communities considered?

4. Are students assisted in developing a critical awareness of racism and strategies for responding to it?

5. Does the school support the implementation of Aboriginal and heritage language courses? (i.e., Cree, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.)

6. Do teaching strategies recognize and respond to cultural variations in learning styles of students within the school? For example, do teaching strategies support learning in students whose learning style is observational, interactive, or experiential?

7. Do school holidays, celebrations and themes reflect and respect the multi-cultural makeup of the school?42

8. Does the curriculum reflect the interests of diverse cultural and racial groups? For example, where the school has a large student population with a Caribbean cultural background, does the physical education curriculum include cricket as well as, or instead of, baseball?

9. Does the school reasonably accommodate parents who wish the school to communicate in their first language?

10. Where religious exercises are conducted within the school, are they optional and reflective of the religious diversity of the school population?

11. (a) Does the school cafeteria menu accommodate, where reasonable, the religious beliefs and practices of students and staff.

(b) Does it provide food selections from cultures represented by students and staff?

C. Physical and Mental Ability
The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. If the school and all of its facilities and services accessible to and usable by people with disabilities?

2. Are students with disabilities integrated, where reasonable, into regular classrooms and are their special needs reasonably accommodated?

3. Are teachers who have integrated classes knowledgeable of appropriate teaching strategies for those classrooms and provided with the necessary supports?43

4. Are decisions regarding the integration of students with disabilities into 'regular' classrooms made with qualified and objective assessment and consultation between students, parents, teachers, school administrators and resource persons?

5. Do ongoing professional development programs offer opportunities for staff to learn about disabilities and about ways of supporting students who are disabled?

6. Are teachers made aware of the characteristics and learning styles of students with physical, mental and learning disabilities?

7. Are students taught how physical and attitudinal barriers discriminate against people with disabilities?

8. (a) Does the school make reasonable efforts to accommodate students with disabilities in school athletic programs?

(b) Where reasonable accommodation is not possible, does the school develop alternatives which provide parallel learning opportunities?

D. Sexual Orientation
The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. Is the school's selection process for the hiring and promotion of staff free of discrimination based on sexual orientation?

2. (a) Does the school's provision for compassionate and other leave for employees apply equally to persons whose partners are of the same gender?

(b) Does the school's employee benefit plan apply equally to employees whose partners are of the same gender?

3. Does the school respect the rights of students, their parents and of staff:
(a) To invite companions of their choice to school functions, such as dances and graduations?

(b) To make reference to all persons who are significant in their lives?

4. (a) Does the school have a clearly communicated policy prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation?

(b) Do staff respond effectively to stop harassment based on sexual orientation that is directed against students or staff

5. Do staff actively discourage the use of homophobic jokes, images or statements?

6. Are school counselors informed and qualified to provide students with information in response to questions concerning sexual orientation?

7. Is the school's sex education program balanced and informative with respect to all sexual orientations?

8. Are the books in the school library balanced with respect to all sexual orientations?

9. Is there a selection of books in the school library that is of particular interest to gay or lesbian students, and to students whose parents are lesbian or gay?

10. Are classes taught in a manner that is respectful of the dignity and worth of all individuals regardless of sexual orientation?

E. Family Status
The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. Does the school accommodate diversity of students' caregiving and custody arrangements?

2. Does the curriculum depict the variety of forms of the modern family?

3. Are efforts made to accommodate students with nursing babies or small children?

4. Do any activities that mark 'mother's day/ father's day' emphasize honouring the student's caregivers, whoever they might be?

F. Economic and Social Status
The School's Commitment to Equality Yes Somewhat No Don't Know
1. Does the school provide needy students with those school resource items which are mandatory?

2. (a) Do schedules for parent-teacher meetings and school events accommodate the schedules of working parents and shift workers?

(b) Is child care provided?

3. Are efforts made to increase accessibility of athletic and co-curricular activities to all students, regardless of economic resources, through the provision of necessary equipment, transportation, etc.?

4. Does the curriculum address:
(a) Issues of socioeconomic status, poverty and unemployment?

(b) The nature of our social, economic and political structure and its implications for equality of opportunity?

5. Are counselors sensitive to the needs of students with insufficient family resources?

6. Does the school identify and respond to students who are lacking basic needs such as clothing, food and housing where there is evidence of deprivation?44

7. Do professional development programs offer opportunities for teachers to grow in their understanding of our social, economic and political structures as they relate to the principle of equality?

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