Education: What you need to know
The Alberta Human Rights Act protects members of the public against discrimination in the provision of educational services. The AHR Act does not protect against poor treatment or a lack of service, unless it flows from any protected ground of discrimination. The protected grounds are race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.
Examples of discrimination covered by the AHR Act:
- not providing K-12 or post-secondary students with disabilities with the type or amount of support sufficient to meet their needs without causing undue hardship to the institution
- not protecting K-12 students' religious beliefs
- not protecting K-12 students from bullying based on their race, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or any other protected ground in the AHR Act.
- not providing physically accessible campus facilities for students with disabilities
- differential treatment during practicums based on race, ancestry or place of origin
The AHR Act also protects ameliorative policies, programs and activities that are designed to improve the conditions of disadvantaged persons and that achieve or are reasonably likely to achieve that objective. An example of such a program is an employment or internship program for a specific disadvantaged group such as Indigenous youth. You can read more about protection for ameliorative policies, programs and activities in the Notice of Changes to Alberta’s Human Rights Legislation(January 2018) You can also read more about age as a protected ground and about all protected areas and grounds.
Examples of issues not covered by the AHR Act:
- accommodating students with disabilities where the educational institution did not know or could not reasonably have known of the disability
- accommodating post-secondary students where the accommodation would require that academic standards be lowered
- lowering bona fide educational institution or course entrance requirements
Educational institutions are responsible for ensuring that their services do not discriminate against students based on any of the protected grounds. To meet this obligation, educational institutions need to review their services regularly to identify and eliminate any potentially discriminatory aspects of their service. For example, an educational institution might review its campus signage with attention to lighting, colour contrast, tactile symbols, font type and size and other characteristics needed to improve access for students with visual disabilities.
If an educational institution has a requirement that would discriminate against people based on a protected ground like mental disability or gender, it has a duty to accommodate affected students to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation means making changes to any rules, standards, policies or physical environments to ensure that they don't have a negative effect on anyone based on any protected ground. For example, an educational institution that requires all students to complete an exam within a three-hour time limit might discriminate against students with an attention-deficit disability. The educational institution could accommodate such students by providing additional time to complete the exam.
Individuals who require accommodation based on a protected ground have a responsibility to inform the educational institution of their needs. Doing so gives the institution the opportunity to make any changes necessary to accommodate the individual making the request, as well as anyone else with the same or similar needs. For more information about the duty to accommodate, see the Commission human rights guides Duty to accommodate students with disabilities in post-secondary educational institutions and Duty to accommodate.
In some circumstances, discrimination may be reasonable and justifiable. An educational institution may refuse to offer services to some people based on one or more protected characteristics if providing the service would be an undue hardship. For example, a heavy-duty mechanics course might refuse to enroll students who were unable to work with heavy tools without assistance.
Bullying is unacceptable at any time and in any situation. It isn't a normal part of growing up. Visit the Government of Alberta bullying page to find links to services and resources designed to help children, youth and adults prevent and deal with bullying.
Revised: July 4, 2018