Home Featured B.C. school district ordered to pay student $5,000 for failing to accommodate her anxiety disorder

B.C. school district ordered to pay student $5,000 for failing to accommodate her anxiety disorder

by HR Law Canada

Editor’s note: This case, while not an employment law ruling, is of interest because it casts light on how a human rights tribunal views a person with invisible disabilities.

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a school district to pay a student (via her parents) $5,000 for failing to accommodate her anxiety disorder.

The case, centered around the placement of the student in a language class and the subsequent impact on her anxiety disorders, sheds light on the broader obligations and considerations of educational institutions in catering to students with disabilities.

Generalized anxiety disorder

The case revolves around a high school student, identified only as the “Student,” grappling with generalized anxiety disorder and trichotillomania (hair pulling). The complaint alleged that the school district’s decision to place her in a higher-level language class, coupled with classroom conditions, exacerbated her disabilities and hindered her educational access​​.

The school district, governed by the province’s Human Rights Code, holds a duty to accommodate students’ disability-related needs without undue hardship​​. However, the tribunal found no evidence of discrimination in the student’s placement in the language class, stating that the class level was not an unreasonable challenge and was not set up for failure​​.

Unsupportive teacher

Contrastingly, the tribunal acknowledged that conditions in the Language 10 classroom did exacerbate the student’s disabilities. These included a focus on memorization and tests, a loud and uncomfortable environment, and an unsupportive teacher. The student found these aspects overwhelming, contributing to increased anxiety and trichotillomania​​.

In terms of accommodation, the tribunal noted the school district’s efforts, including extending review periods in the language class and keeping the cohort together, considering their close-knit nature. Despite these efforts, the tribunal determined that the district failed to take all reasonable and practical steps to accommodate the student’s needs in the Language 10 class during a specific period, thereby violating section 8 of the Human Rights Code​​.

The case also highlighted communication gaps, such as the failure to inform parents about the last-minute class placement change. While not amounting to a violation of the Human Rights Code, this oversight contributed to perceptions of deceit and bad faith, which the tribunal did not find substantiated.

For more information, see Student (by Parent) v. School District, 2023 BCHRT 237.

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