What Parents Need to Know About Ontario Private School Legal Standards

Ontario has almost 1300 private schools and thousands of students attend them.  Private schools sell the idea that they offer a superior education for students, smaller class sizes, modified curricula, greater resources.  But, there have been several recent incidents where private schools have not lived up to that reputation and children have suffered.  Parents needs to know where they and their kids stand legally when it comes to private school education.

While there are undoubtedly some very good private schools in Ontario, there are no legal requirements that private schools meet any of the standards required of publically funded schools.   With very few exceptions, related only to achievement standards to receive and Ontario Secondary School Diploma, private schools do not even have to meet lessor standards.  For parents, it truly is a buyer beware situation where the government will not step in to make sure students are getting a proper education.

All that comes as surprise to many parents, some who are paying a large amount of money for their kids to attend a private school.  But that private schools are not regulated and have few imposed standards is not controversial – it is intentional.   The Ontario Government’s Private Schools Policy and Procedures Manual makes that clear. On page 7 it says:

It goes on to say: 
Private schools operates set their open polices and procedures regarding the operation of their schools, and are not obliged to comply with the policies and procedures that school boards must follow.   

The extensive procedures are resources that publicly funded schools have to follow with respect to bullying and student discipline simply do not exist at most private schools.  There is no legal requirement for them at private schools.

Public schools that have extensive procedures and requirements for meeting the needs of students with special needs.  Private schools do not. They have no specific requirement that they address special needs, other than the special needs of students should be considered in planning courses leading to an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

Private schools do not have to participate in EQAO testing to show how they measure up against other schools.

The Ministry provides additional information for parents considering private schools, but it does little else to protect students or assist parents who are concerned about a private school. The only regulations for private schools are basically filing paperwork that does not relate to ensuring student success and allowing the Ministry to inspect to ensure that course content and testing reflects the Ontario Secondary School Curriculum if the school is granting Ontario Secondary School Diplomas.  There is no regulation about how that course material is delivered or tested.

This lack of regulation is intentional.  It allows private schools to operate their business, possibly to make money or at last break even, and to education children in the way that the school wants.   Some schools do operate to high standards.  Others appear to do so, until faced with a difficult situation and they seem unable to cope, even though the situation may be one for which public schools have clear standards.  Other private schools have essentially no standards and operate as little more than diploma mills. 

So parents need to find out how the school operates before they send their kids there. 

Private schools can be held to standards.  For the most part, those are the standards set out in the contract with student’s parents.  It is very important to review that contract and the documents referenced by that contract.   For good schools, those contracts will set out clear expectations that the school has to live up to.  

But, many established schools also have contracts that can be very one sided.  For example, many private school contracts allow the school to kick out any student, at any time, for any reason without a hearing and without giving a refund.  That means, a student who has been the victim of “bullying” can be removed for “not fitting in.”

There is no requirement that private schools follow the procedures in public schools for expulsions.  Some other contracts require that parents never question a teacher’s methodology.   Most do not require the school to do anything about bullying, or to do anything to assist students who run into other types of difficulties at school.

Ontario private schools are subject to the Ontario Human Rights Code.  So, they cannot discriminate. And they must provide accommodations up to the point of “undue hardship.”  But, while public schools can have the resources of the Ontario Government to provide accommodations, many small private schools have very little extra money and so they are unable to provide anything in the way of accommodations even when the school may have contributed to the problem.

Also, private schools can be sued in tort for things like failing to supervise, or allowing a student to be hurt, or acting maliciously against a student or parent.   There may not be a specific standard for these things, but a school can still be held responsible for harming a student in certain situations.  Since there are no specific written standards, parents need to speak to a lawyer to find out if the law gives them any recourse.

But, the most important thing to do, when signing a child up for school, is to thoroughly research the private school, then read the contract to see what the school is obligating itself to provide.  If parents have concerns after either step, they should look for a different school.

If you or your child has run into difficulties with an Ontario Private School, it, is important to speak to an education lawyer immediately.  You need to know your rights before the school takes any unfortunate steps that could lead to greater difficulty down the road – even after the child leaves the school.  To contact Ontario Education Lawyer, John Schuman, call the 416-446-5869, email him, or use the form below.

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