Do Ontario Private Elementary Schools Follow the Same Laws and Standards as Public Schools?

Many parents choose Ontario Private (or Independent) Schools for their children, aiming to secure a “superior education.” While numerous private schools offer excellent educational programs tailored to specific student needs, it’s not a guaranteed certainty. When it comes to private education, especially at the elementary level, Ontario resembles a “buyer beware” market, emphasizing the importance of diligent research by parents.

Parents assume that because a school is operated in Ontario, it is subject to the Education Act. However, only very small parts of the Education Act apply to private elementary schools. Section 1(1) of the Education Act requires that private schools:

  1. Provide instruction any time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any school day
  2. Have five or more students;
  3. Have students of compulsory school-age
  4. Provide instruction in any (but not necessarily all) of the subjects of the elementary or secondary school course of study.

Beyond that, there are not many standards that apply to private elementary schools. Page 7 of the Ministry of Education’s Private Schools Policy and Procedures Manual contains the following passage:

How are Private Schools Different from Publicly-Funded Schools?

In Ontario, private schools operate as businesses or non-profit organizations, independently of the Ministry of Education. Private schools do not receive any funding or other financial support from the Ontario government.

The Ministry does not regulate, licence, accredit or otherwise oversee the day-to-day operation of private schools.

Private school operators set their own policies and procedures regarding the operation of their schools, and are not obliged to comply with the policies and procedures that school boards must follow. For example:

  • Private schools are not required to use the Ontario curriculum unless they are seeking authority to grant credits toward the OSSD. Those that do may also offer other content beyond the Ontario curriculum.
  • In Ontario private schools, principals are not required to have Ontario principal’s qualifications, and teachers are not required to be members of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) or have OCT certification.
  • Private schools are not authorized to deliver correspondence courses, which are delivered through the Independent Learning Centre (ILC). However, a private school can host the student taking such courses.
  • Private schools may, but are not required to, communicate student achievement using either the Elementary Provincial Report Card (for Grades 1-8) or the Provincial Report Card (for Grades 9-12).

When it comes to private elementary schools, there are very few rules that the school must follow. Most of the requirements are set out in Section 16 of the Education Act but those rules relate mostly to things that few parents care about, such as giving the Ministry notice of the intention to operate a private school and providing the Ministry with statistical information about the number of students, staff and courses offered. There are more rules for private schools that want to award Ontario Secondary School Diplomas, but not for elementary schools.

There are no requirements that private elementary schools offer a minimum standard of instruction, or follow any requirements with regard to things like anti-bullying, discipline (including suspension or expulsion of students) or teaching any particular curriculum or skills. Some terrible circumstances have highlighted the fact that the protections for students that the Ministry of Education requires be in place in public schools can be completely absent in private schools. The video below, from CBC News Network, explains:


Many parents have been surprised to learn that private schools can kick out their children without any good reason or without any process because that is what the parents’ contract with the school says. For more on school suspensions or expulsions, what this video:

The School’s Standards Are In The Contract

Almost all the standards that a private elementary school has to follow are in its contract with the parents. Parents must look at the contract carefully and ask questions. If the contract does not require Certified Teachers, then the school does not have to provide them. Parents can only complain to the College of Teachers if the teacher or principal is a member there. If the contract does not require the school to teach certain subjects, then the school does not have to do so. If the contract does not say that the school will follow the Ontario Elementary School Curriculum, then the school probably does not. Most private school contracts include a Code of Conduct, which may have no resemblance to the Provincial Code of Conduct, but sets out how students will be disciplined and to what extent the School has the right to impose any form of discipline it wants. Some school contracts specifically allow the school to do whatever it wants. In those cases, the school is subject only to the criminal code, or the right of a Children’s Aid Society to intervene because a “person having charge of a child” has harmed a child or put a child at risk of harm.

Nothing in the Ontario Education Act requires private schools to prevent students from being harmed. For example, while the Education Act requires that public schools have anti-bullying programs in place, and respond to bullying with support for both the victim and the bully, there is no legal requirement that private schools do anything about bullying at all – even in extreme circumstances – unless there is something in the contract with parents (and there rarely is). In the first half of the video below, CBC Anchor, Wendy Mesley, explores this topic in detail, including getting the specifics about Ontario Education Law, from Education Lawyer, John Schuman


Additionally, although private schools are not required to follow the procedures set out in the Education Act and accompanying regulations for exceptional pupils, they are required to follow the Ontario Human Rights Code and so cannot discriminate against students and must accommodate special needs to the point of “undue hardship” – unless the contract with parents requires the school to provide specific accommodations. This podcast describes the rights of students with special needs.

Still, it remains very important that parents do their research before enrolling their child in a private school. They need to be clear about what sort of education their child will receive and by whom. They should also know what protection from bullying or what special assistance their child may receive. It is also important for parents to know what the School’s Code of Conduct is, how children are disciplined and precisely what can cause their child to be removed from the school. All of these things should be included in the contract with the school, otherwise, the school is not legally required to follow any specific rules when educating a child.

Obviously, it is also important to find out about the school’s reputation and review references or testimonials – as people would do with any big purchase. The Ministry of Education has very little power to assist dissatisfied parents. The most appropriate remedy can be suing the school for breach of contract.

If you are experiencing difficulties with a private school, it is important to figure out what rights you may have, and how the law might help you. Contact Education Lawyer, John Schuman, by emailing him, calling 416-446-5080, or using the contact form below. We answer all inquiries promptly and we can arrange for you to come in quickly for a consultation (charged at a reduced hourly rate).

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