Maurice Brenner, Human Rights Expert & Specialist

December 10, 2007 10:30 ET



Attention: Assignment Editor, Education Editor, Health/Medical Editor, News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor VAUGHAN, ONTARIO, MEDIA RELEASE--(Marketwire - Dec. 10, 2007) - On the Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, six children have announced that they have filed complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Commission against the York Catholic District School Board, a Trustee, a Superintendent, and a Principal. The students, who suffer from a series of deadly allergies which are considered disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights code, were afforded a range of Accommodations. During the last school year the Principal and the Board removed the Accommodations that were in place and working well since the school opened in 2002, without consulting those who were impacted.


Through their actions, the administration has created a toxic environment for the applicants and other children with deadly allergies. These Children have been made to feel excluded from the school community and responsible for perceived inconveniences felt by other children and families at the school, simply because they have disabilities. In February 2007, the Principal cancelled Shrove Tuesday pancake celebrations at the school, after failing to ensure products that were to be used were free of deadly allergens. The situation developed when school officials failed to consult and research with the local allergy advisory committee, a practice that was long in place for all school celebrations involving food. On the day before this important community celebration, a letter was sent home to all families implying the cancellation was the fault of concerned parents of children with deadly allergies, which was not the case. The error was on the part of the school for failing to consult, not the parents and not the children.

The removal of the Accommodations took place after a change in administration at the school and superintendent level, and following the 2006 Municipal Election when a parent of a child with deadly allergies unsuccessfully challenged the local Trustee. When attempts to resolve the matter with the administration failed, the families consulted with Human Rights expert Mr. Maurice Brenner and then proceeded to file the complaints. Deadly allergies are considered a hidden disability under the Human Rights Code. No similar actions were taken in other schools that provided this type of Accommodation.

"The Ontario Human Rights Code requires that the accommodation process be a shared responsibility, with each party having a duty to co-operatively engage in the process and share information, and canvass potential Accommodation solutions. The three principles in applying an Accommodation are: Respect for Dignity, Individualized Accommodation and Inclusion and Full Participation. The parties that have been named in this complaint, we believe, have failed to adhere to these standards set out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission," stated Maurice Brenner, Human Rights Expert and Specialist.

Alexander (Age 11), Julia (Age 11), Lucas (Age 9), Miranda (Age 8), Matteo (Age 9), and Johnny (Age 6), each filed formal complaints through their parents as litigation guardians. It has been reported that parents need to teach their children how to advocate for themselves. This action is exactly that, "children advocating for themselves for what's right."
A joint statement by the children involved states:

"the removal of the Accommodations was not made by our teachers who helped to make us feel safe for the past several years, no one talked to us about it. Until late last year we felt safe and a part of our school. Now, we are afraid to even go to school."

According to the parents who filed the complaints, the decision was an administrative and political decision involving the Principal, Superintendent and Trustee.

The issue of Human Rights for these children with invisible disabilities has prompted a number of community organizations and individuals to support the children. The Catholic Women's League of the local parish of St. Padre Pio, NHL Player for Toronto Alex Steen, and City of Vaughan Ward 2 Councillor Tony Carella, who also has a life-threatening allergy, are providing their moral support.

"Pupils with deadly allergies have the right to an education in a safe learning environment. It must be emphasized that these children are not asking for anything new but merely the restoration of Accommodations that had already been in place since the school opened in 2002. Children's safety is non-negotiable " stated lawyer Iain T. Donnell, Legal Counsel to the Children.

"While Board Officials claim that "they are trying to bring St Stephens in line with other schools" they have failed to acknowledge that St Stephens is not the only elementary school with-in the York Separate School system monitoring and requiring disclosure of ingredients in the GTA, which is consistent with Anaphylaxis Canada's Handbook for School Boards," stated Mr. Brenner.
"Rather than spending tax dollars to challenge the Human
Rights of these children, this board needs to do the right thing immediately and restore the Accommodations that these children with deadly allergies have relied upon," added Mr. Brenner.



"York Catholic District School Board Spokesman . . . said administrators are working with the Commission to 'consider the individual needs of anaphylactic students." (Toronto Sun, December 6, 2007)

". . . a spokeswoman for the York Catholic District School Board, said the program was ended because it was out of line with practices in the other schools in the region. "It was a question of bringing that school into line with the practices at our other schools," she said. "As a school board we're required to be consistent." (National Post, December 7)

These are contradictory statements. Given that deadly allergies are considered a hidden disability under the Human Rights Code, the Board is required to address the individual needs of students with deadly allergies. Not only is this a requirement of the Human Rights Code, it is a requirement of the Board's own policy, "Student Disability Accommodation."

While the Ontario Human Rights Code requires schools to accommodate children with disabilities, "it makes no mention of daily inspections of children's lunches by school staff," (Board Spokesperson) said, "nor does Human Rights require parents to send in notes with each lunch and snack to describe the ingredients."
The Human Rights Code does not mention mobility ramps, seeing eye-dogs, or handicapped parking either. The Code protects accommodations that have been made for individuals, including students, with disabilities. It does not and should not specify each and every accommodation.

"There is a suggestion that perhaps that is an invasion of privacy." (Chris Cable, CityNews TV Broadcast, December 7, 2007)
The removed lunch monitoring accommodation that worked well and was in place since the school opened in 2002 consisted of students unpacking their lunches or snacks as they normally do in any school. The only exception is a list of ingredients is provided by parents to ensure that the anaphylactic child's allergens do not come into the classroom. Teachers did not open lunch bags or knapsacks. No instructional time was taken up with the practice, and no additional costs were incurred. The practice is consistent with the recommendations of Allergy and immunology experts across Canada.
(Board spokesperson) said if a tribunal were to rule in favour of the children, "it could force every school in the province to do this." (National Post, December 7, 2007)

The children and their parents are not trying to make the lunch monitoring program provincial law, just to get it brought back to their school. Every school should be able to come up with its own solution. In our opinion, just as the Board created a toxic environment at the school pitting parent against parent, child against child, the Board is creating a toxic environment and an atmosphere of intolerance for these children and their families province-wide with these types of statements.

"In regards to policy, this school is a model for all others," board spokesperson . . . said.

This was the case prior to a change in administration and the removal of the Accommodations. Others schools within the York Catholic School Board followed St. Stephen's example by implementing the same Accommodations including lunch monitoring of ingredients. Through their actions, the new administration has also created a toxic environment for the applicants and other children with deadly allergies. The children have been made to feel excluded from the school community and responsible for perceived inconveniences felt by other children and families at the school simply because they have disabilities. The following incidents have occurred:

November, 2007 - One of the applicants with deadly allergy was exposed at school to one of his allergens and suffered a delayed reaction. Although school officials were aware of his exposure, no steps were taken as clearly stated in the student's S16 form (an emergency plan) to preserve his health, his safety and ultimately, his life nor were his parents contacted and advised of the exposure.

Pancake Tuesday 2007 - The School's Allergy Committee was not used to investigate potential products and as a result a potentially harmful product was chosen.

September 2007 - A child brought in a hamburger with mayonnaise, a deadly allergen for one of the applicants. The child did not open the bag but notified the teacher of the possible allergen (proper procedure would have been to send child with offending lunch down to the office). Instead, after the child had left with the offending lunch for the office, the student with deadly egg allergies was called down by the Public Address system to eat his lunch in the library. As he started to eat his lunch, the librarian directed him to the office. As the allergic student entered the office, he found himself in the same room with the child eating the lunch containing the deadly allergen..

October 2007 - Portable of Student with deadly egg allergy was egged a clear message directed at the student with the deadly allergy. Not only was the family not notified, the administration failed to recognize the growing toxic environment.

June 2007 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon - Parent of allergic child was informed of the luncheon at the last minute (night before). The Principal had ordered an egg pasta which was to be eaten in the library. The Principal called the parent the night before and said if she wasn't happy with the egg pasta, that she would have to call all the volunteers and cancel the celebration of appreciation. Given the level of toxicity towards those with allergies, the parent was afraid to ask the Principal to cancel the event. Parent asked for an alternative pasta but the Principal told her it was not possible. During this conversation, the Principal told the parent to think long and hard over the summer as she wanted to introduce egg products back into her child's classroom. IN: EDUCATION, FOOD, HEALTH, INTERNATIONAL, JUSTICE

Contact Information

  • Maurice Brenner, Human Rights Expert & Specialist
    Primary Phone: 416-347-8900