A North Vancouver father says he's elated after winning a landmark court case that ruled the North Vancouver School District discriminated against his dyslexic son.
Rick Moore, who began his legal battle 15 years ago, said he hopes the victory will help kids with learning disabilities get the help they need in the public school system.
"The win against this district will have repercussions in all school districts," he said. "They'll think twice about cutting programs."
At the heart of the case was what responsibility the school system bears to help children with special needs succeed. In a decision handed down Friday morning, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with Moore that by cutting services to his dyslexic son Jeff and failing to provide alternatives, the North Vancouver School District discriminated against Jeff by making it impossible for him to receive the education guaranteed to all children in B.C.
"Adequate special education . . . is not a dispensable luxury," the highest court ruled. "For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia."
Moore said he hardly slept the night before the decision was handed down.
When it was finally released before 7 a.m., "I scrolled right down to the end (of the document) and I jumped right out of my chair," he said. "There was some screaming and yelling."
Friday's ruling marks the end of a long battle for the Moore family that began in the 1990s when, as a young child, Jeff struggled for several years while attending North Vancouver's Braemar elementary. The school district had recently closed a program that offered intensive remediation to students with learning disabilities.
Eventually, his parents pulled him out of the public system, hired tutors and re-mortgaged their house to pay for private schools that specialized in helping learning-disabled students.
The school district will now have to pay the Moores the $100,000 they spent on private schools.
Jeff, now 25, has long since graduated from high school, but his father said the case was never just about their family.
"This case was always about the children who couldn't benefit from the education Jeff was able to get," because they couldn't afford it, said Moore. "There are thousands of families who have rested their hopes on this case."
In its decision, the court noted there was a clear recognition by the school district that Jeff needed intensive remediation in order to function in the school system, but told the family it couldn't provide that. The court said while the school district faced a budget crunch, "cuts were disproportionately made to special needs programs."
It noted the school district still found the cash to retain some discretionary programs - such as the Outdoor School - while cutting the intensive special needs programs. The court ruled the province was not responsible for the decision.
Margot Young, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's law faculty, said the decision sends an important message to government that basic services like education can't be denied to people with disabilities.
Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, also praised the Moores for persevering with their case.
"No family should have to fight so hard to get their children the education they deserve," Lambert said in a statement.
Lambert said the situation for kids with special needs has only worsened since the time Jeff struggled in the system.
No one from the school district was available to comment on the court decision.
In a statement, spokeswoman Victoria Miles said school officials are "disappointed" in the ruling but are still reviewing the decision with lawyers.