Okanagan student wins first round in HRT case over flashing lights in school performance - InfoNews

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Okanagan student wins first round in HRT case over flashing lights in school performance

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January 08, 2020 - 6:30 AM

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled a case against an independent Okanagan school can move forward after a Grade 12 student launched a complaint stating the school failed to take into consideration her seizure disorder while she worked on a school performance that involved the use of strobe lighting.

In the decision Jan. 3, B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Catherine McCreary dismissed the school's request to have the appeal thrown out, allowing the complaint to progress to a hearing.

The case was launched by the Grade 12 student and her mother against the school, its Chief Executive Officer and the Chair of the School’s board of directors. All names in the case have been initialized and refer only to the school as an "Okanagan Independent School Society."

According to the decision, in September 2017 the student had a "significant seizure" and was later diagnosed with a seizure disorder and began receiving treatment. In January the following year, the student was taking part as an assistant stage manager for an upcoming school production. During rehearsals that month the student told her parents she was concerned about the strobe and flashing lights the school's CEO was using during rehearsals.

While the student told the CEO and several teachers about the flashing lights her concerns were not addressed. At one point the Grade 12 student suggested the lights be removed but was told by one teacher to put her head down or leave the stage when the flashing lights were on.

"The message she received from this suggestion was that having flashing lights is more important than keeping her safe at school," the decision said.

According to the decision, the student made several complaints to various members of staff but her concerns over the flashing lights were never addressed. A warning about strobe lights being used in the performance was printed on the program given out at the performance. The school says this was added on the advice of their insurance company.

The complainant's submission, written largely by the student, says several teachers advocated for her but were met with opposition from the CEO.

It's not clear from the decision whether strobe or flashing lights were used during the performance with each side painting a different picture of the event.

After the performance, the student's parents wrote to the school’s board of directors and was told the board was not involved in operational issues at the school, although they had investigated and found no wrongdoing.

The school also stated in its defence that light-sensitive seizure issues are a "very very narrow" amount of epileptic diagnoses where seizures are caused and submit a letter from a former staff member with epilepsy who saw the production twice saying she was "not even close to being in any seizure danger."

The school says that according to a doctor's report, the student's seizures are anxiety-based, and "suggests" the anxiety may have come about because the student was "way behind on producing the video backgrounds promised for the show."

The documents also say the student's mother complained to the Independent School Inspector’s office and a snap school inspection was done. The school claimed it was found to be in compliance with special education policies.

However, the tribunal members said the school have not submitted the inspector's report and gave no evidence to back up this claim.

The school's CEO also claims the complaint is based on the student's mother having ongoing disputes with him and that she is a special education consultant from another school district who has previously tried to have him overruled or replaced.

The tribunal member states both sides have "widely divergent submissions about the motivation for the complaint" and the issue needs to go to a hearing to be resolved.

Ultimately the Tribunal member dismissed the school's attempt to have the case thrown out and encourages both parties to use the Tribunal’s mediation facilities to resolve the dispute before the case goes to a hearing.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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