Good Governance for School Boards

Trustee Professional Development Program

Module 11 — Legal Aspects of School Board Governance

Last updated in June 2019

Videos developed in 2011

Legal Aspects of School Board Governance
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Module 11 is composed of 3 videos in which trustees will explore:

  • The quasi-judicial decision-making responsibilities of trustees required by the Education Act with respect to student discipline, transfer or promotion of students to secondary school and teacher termination for cause
  • The application of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act with respect to discussing and voting on matters brought before the board
  • The application and requirements of access and privacy legislation known as Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

Before reviewing Part A, please note:

  • The grounds for expulsion in section 310(1) of the Education Act were amended to include reference to giving cannabis to a minor, bullying under certain circumstances, and activities motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender expression, or any other similar factor.
  • The grounds for suspension in section 306(1) of the Education Act were amended to include possession of, or being under the influence of cannabis, unless the pupil is a medical cannabis user. Being under the influence of alcohol is also a ground for suspension.
  • The administrative functions of the Child and Family Services Review Board were merged with other social justice tribunals but it continues to be a separate tribunal.
  • Any reference to the grounds of discrimination within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code should include gender identity and gender expression.
  • Suspension Appeals must be heard with 15 school days of receipt unless the parties agree on a later deadline.

Before reviewing Part B, please note:

  • Effective March 1, 2019, new provisions of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act have come into force:
    • If a trustee has a conflict of interest in a matter being considered by an employee of the school board, the trustee cannot use their office in any way to attempt to influence any decision or recommendation that results from the consideration.
    • Besides recording a declaration of a conflict of interest in the board's minutes, trustees must now file with the secretary of the board (director of education) a written statement of the trustee's interest at each meeting where a conflict is declared or as soon as possible afterwards.
    • The school board must then establish and maintain a registry of the signed statements and an excerpt from the minutes of a meeting where the declaration was made. The registry must be available for public inspection.
    • Besides an elector making an application to a judge for a determination that a trustee has breached the Act, now a person demonstrably acting in the public interest may apply to a judge for such a determination.
    • An application may be brought against a person who is no longer a trustee.
    • A school board may arrange for insurance or pay on behalf of a trustee or reimburse a trustee for costs or expenses to defend an application if the trustee is found not to have contravened the Act.
    • Previously if a judge found that a trustee breached the Act and it was not the result of inadvertence or an error in judgement, the judge had no discretion but to declare the trustee's seat vacant. Now a judge has the discretion to impose one or more of the following sanctions:
      • Reprimand the trustee
      • Suspend the trustee's remuneration for up to 90 days
      • Declare the trustee's seat vacant
      • Disqualify the trustee from being a trustee for a period of not more than 7 years after the date of the judge's order
      • If the contravention has resulted in personal financial gain, require the trustee to make restitution to the party suffering the loss, or, if the party's identity is not readily ascertainable, to the school board
  • Regarding the section on Deemed not to have a pecuniary interest, the first statement is an example and not contained in the Act, but the Act does state that a trustee does not have to declare a conflict in respect of an allowance for attendance at meetings, or any other allowance, honorarium or benefit which a trustee may be entitled by reason of being a trustee.

Before reviewing Part C, please note:

  • School boards have discretion to refuse access to in-camera records when the meeting was properly held in-camera and the subject matter of the deliberations in-camera have not been considered in a meeting open to the public. Provided a board exercised that discretion appropriately, generally a board would refuse access to such records.

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