Eaton v. Brant County Board
of Education – Summary
The issue in this case is whether a decision of the Ontario Special Education Tribunal confirming the placement of a disabled child in a special education class against the wishes of her parents violates her equality rights.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Education’s removal of the child from an integrated classroom was in her best interests, and therefore did not contravene the Charter. While acknowledging the benefits of integrated schooling, the Court concluded that if special assistance is not available in integrated classrooms, students in need of such assistance are better off in special classes where it is available.
In contrast, the Women’s Court of Canada finds that the “best interests” defense is not consistent with equality. We hold that in rejecting the presumption that Emily Eaton had a right to be educated in an integrated classroom, with the assistance she needed in that setting, the Supreme Court showed more concern for the interests of able-bodied children than those with disabilities.
This is inconsistent with the Charter’s equality guarantee. We find that a constitutional presumption of integrated education is necessary for two reasons. First, it is required to counteract the historic legacy by which segregation has been a sign of inferior status. Secondly, it is necessary to place an onus on the state to make the integrated educational environment genuinely inclusive, to meet the diverse needs of all students.
- In short, substantive equality requires the fundamental transformation of the traditional
- mainstream classroom to ensure that the different supports that different children need are available.