On 13-14 March UNESCO hosted the Europe and North America Regional Consultation on the Human Rights Guiding Principles on state obligations regarding private schools. This was the third in a series of regional consultations, part of a broad consultative process to develop the Guiding Principles involving a range of stakeholders including civil society organisations, state representatives, human rights organisations and experts in the fields of education and law, academics, international and regional organisations and other actors. To obtain a comprehensive and comparative review of the draft text and taking into account the cumulative effect of the consultation process, the group reviewed a version of the Guiding Principles updated following previous regional consultations in Bangkok (August 2016) and Nairobi (September 2016). 

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld a decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (the ‘BC HRT’) (reversing the decisions of both the British Columbia Supreme Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal) that the Board of Education of School District No. 44 (North Vancouver) (the ‘School District’), by closing a facility that provided intensive services and individualised assistance to students with severe learning disabilities, had denied a child with severe dyslexia access to a service customarily available to the public, being education, contrary to the British Columbia Human Rights Code (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210, s. 8). Although the School District was subject to severe funding constraints, it was found to have not acted with a bona fide and reasonable justification, which could have provided a defence to the Human Rights Code violation.

In these three related decisions, the Kansas Supreme Court held that legislative changes to K-12 school funding, which reduced state-aid payments augmenting funds generated through property taxation in school districts with lower property values, violated the Kansas constitution. Article 6 of the Kansas constitution has previously been interpreted by the Kansas Supreme Court to require equity and adequacy in the provision of financing for education. The Kansas Supreme Court found that the legislative changes violated the equity requirement because school districts did not have reasonably equal access to substantially equal educational opportunity through similar tax efforts.

The report provides a conceptual framework for minority rights in and through education and includes an analytical review of legal and practical developments in the four countries (Estonia, Latvia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Romania) involved in negotiations with the European Union. The result highlights huge divergence in practice in minority education, and a lack of clarity in just what the EU promotes.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana held that Louisiana’s ‘Minimum Foundation Program’, which allocates educational funding to schools, could not be used to provide funding to privates schools by way of a voucher programme. It ruled that to do so violated article VIII, section 13 of the Louisiana Constitution, which establishes how monies are to be allocated to public schools based on a formula adopted by the state board of education. The Court recognised that public resources constitutionally reserved for public schools cannot be allocated to private school, either directly or indirectly through a voucher programme. The Court avoided addressing the issue of whether the school voucher programme itself violated the right to education provisions of the Louisiana Constitution.

In this decision, the Florida Supreme Court held that a voucher program providing public funds to students to obtain private education failed to comply with article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution, which requires the state government to make adequate provision for education through a uniform system of free public schools. This decision confirms Florida’s constitutional obligation to provide high quality, free public education – a duty that cannot be discharged by funding unregulated private schools through a voucher or scholarship program. The decision is consistent with the principle that the State has the primary responsibility for ensuring that the right to education is upheld regardless of whether the provider is public or private, and that the State must ensure that private providers meet minimum educational standards. 

 

In this decision, the European Court of Human Rights clarified States’ obligations regarding the freedom of parents to educate their children according to their religious and philosophical convictions as guaranteed by Article 2 of Protocol 1 (P1-2) to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court found that compulsory sex education in public schools does not violate parental freedom.