In April, the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 98, Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023 (“Bill 98”). Although it is still being debated in the legislature, Bill 98 will, if passed, enact a number of amendments to existing education sector legislation. As interested stakeholders will be permitted to submit comments on the proposed amendments until May 16, 2023, education sector employers should make sure to become informed of the changes currently included in the text of the bill, as well as of their anticipated impact on the sector.
Proposed Amendments to the Education Act
Changes Related to Student Achievement
As currently drafted, Bill 98 would add a new provision to the Education Act which would allow Cabinet to make regulations prescribing priorities in education in the area of student achievement. This new provision must be read in conjunction with another proposed amendment dealing with the powers of the Minister of Education (the “Minister”), pursuant to which the Minister would be accorded the power to establish policies and guidelines respecting the provincial priorities in education in the area of student achievement, and require school boards to comply with the policies and guidelines. Together, these proposed amendments would create a broad authority for the government to initiate and enforce new policy directions relating to student achievement.
Changes Related to Multi-Year Improvement Plans
Bill 98 would also make amendments to the Education Act as it relates to multi-year improvement plans. Presently, the legislation directs school boards to develop a multi-year plan which is aimed at promoting student achievement and well-being and delivery of effective and appropriate education programs to students. Bill 98 would modify this requirement by:
- Directing that the plan be developed in a manner consistent with the above-referenced policies and guidelines pertaining to student achievement, and with the aim of achieving goals related to the provincial priorities in education in the area of student achievement,
- Providing the Minister with the ability to assign support personnel to work with a school board where the plan fails to address the elements prescribed in policies and guidelines pertaining to student achievement or where the Minister is unsatisfied with the school board’s progress in implementing the plan or achieving its goals, and
- Imposing new, more onerous requirements regarding dissemination of the plan, which would require a school board to publish the plan on its website in the form required by the Minister; take steps to bring the plan to the attention of parents, supporters and employees of the school board; report to parents, supporters and employees or the school board about progress in implementing the plan; meet with parents of students within the first two months of each school year to discuss the plan as it applies to that particular school year; and meet with parents of students within the last two months of each school year to report on progress and results achieved in that school year.
These proposed amendments would, in combination with those related to student achievement, allow the government to effectively prescribe the contents of multi-year plans. Moreover, where it is perceived that a school board has failed to properly include the prescribed contents in a multi-year plan, the government would be able to intervene through the assignment of support personnel charged with correcting the deficiency.
Changes Related to School Sites and Other Property
Bill 98 would also make amendments to the Education Act as it relates to school sites and other property. These include:
- Imposing a new requirement for school boards to collaborate with municipalities for the purpose of planning for the early and integrated development of school sites, and for the purpose of planning for the establishment of childcare centres within schools to meet the current and future needs of the school board,
- Empowering the Minister to require school boards to provide information and reports regarding school sites (including parts of school sites) and other property of the school board, which would be required to include the school board’s plan for the school sites or properties, the condition of the school sites or properties, and the school board’s plan for the acquisition, sale, lease or other disposition of the school sites or properties,
- Restricting the circumstances in which school boards can sell, lease or otherwise dispose of a school site or property to those circumstances that are prescribed by regulation,
- Providing the Minister with the authority to direct a school board to dispose of a school site or property if it is not needed to meet current or future pupil accommodation needs as determined by the regulations,
- Imposing a requirement for a school board to give notice to the Minister of any planned disposition of a school site or property or to obtain the approval of the Minister for the sale, lease or other disposition,
- Imposing a requirement for a school board to apply the proceeds of a sale, lease or other disposition of a school site or property for the purposes of the board, and
- Providing the Minister with the authority to make regulations prescribing the circumstances under which a sale or disposition of a school site or property may occur, including to whom the school site or property must be offered; the price or other consideration; the use of the proceeds of the sale or disposition; the purpose to which the transferee school board must use the school site or property; and the requirement for the transferee school board to return a school site or property to the transferor school board if no longer being used for the specified purpose.
Other proposed amendments to the Education Act relating to school sites and other property address the sharing of school sites, the joint construction or use of schools, prohibitions against demolition of buildings, and requirements to adhere to particular designs or plans when renovating or making additions to school buildings or premises.
Collectively, these proposed amendments would have the effect of empowering the Minister to control important aspects of the sale or disposition of school board properties, as well as the deployment of the proceeds of the sale or disposition.
Other Proposed Changes
Other significant changes that Bill 98 proposes to make to the Education Act include:
- Curriculum guidelines – Providing the Minister with expanded authority in respect of curriculum guidelines by adding the power to issue guidelines respecting the review and revision of curricula, which may address how often reviews shall occur to determine whether revisions are required and shall require revisions to be informed by experts on pedagogy and labour market needs,
- Training – Providing the Minister with the authority to establish policies and procedures for the training of board members, directors of education, supervisory officers and superintendents, including specifically as it relates to the content, timing and frequency of such training,
- Board Reports – Where the Education Act already allows the Minister to require a school board to prepare and submit “any report that the Minister may require”, empowering the Minister to require that the report be available to the public in any manner which the Minister considers appropriate,
- Parent Communications – Providing the Minister with the authority to establish policies and guidelines regarding school boards’ communications with parents and guardians, the particulars of which include: specifying informational materials that school boards shall provide to parents and guardians, including materials setting out parents’ and guardians’ rights and responsibilities in relation to matters such as special education; requiring school boards to develop such materials; specifying the form and content of the materials; specifying the frequency and manner in which they are provided to parents and guardians or made publicly available; and requiring school boards to develop and comply with a protocol setting out standards for responding to parent and guardian inquiries, specifying the content that the protocol must include or address and requiring school boards to make the protocol publicly available,
- Business Activities – Providing the Minister with the authority to make regulations which prescribe activities relating to a school board’s “business activities” and govern a school board’s participation in those activities – without providing a clear definition of the term “business activities” in the text of the bill,
- Codes of Conduct – Adding certain procedural requirements to be adhered to in implementing a Code of Conduct governing the conduct of trustees, including the requirement to have alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct referred to “integrity commissioners” for resolution (with provision for appeal to a panel of three (3) commissioners), as well as adding directions regarding the sanctions which may be imposed on a trustee who is found to have breached a Code of Conduct, and
- Directors of Education – Allowing the Government to establish a performance appraisal process for directors of education.
Proposed Amendments to Other Education Sector Legislation
Bill 98 proposes to amend the Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007 in several ways, including the following:
- Authorizing the Complaints Committee to require a member to undertake remedial training or education,
- Authorizing the Complaints Committee and the Discipline Committee to deal with members convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code in particular ways, and
- Having the Registrar, rather than the employer, become the complainant when an employer’s report is filed.
Bill 98 also proposes to amend the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996 in similar ways as it does the Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007 (above), as well as in additional ways including the following:
- Allowing the Registrar to revoke a certificate of qualification and registration if the certificate has been suspended under subsection 24(1) for more than three years or for a time period set out in the regulations, and
- Prohibiting the Registrar from removing a suspension of a certificate or issuing a certificate unless the member whose certificate has been suspended or revoked successfully completes the sexual abuse prevention program requirements.
In Our View
Bill 98 proposes significant changes to several important pieces of legislation in the education sector, including in particular the Education Act. Affected employers who have any concerns or suggestions related to the proposed amendments should therefore make sure that their voice is heard during the government’s comment period, which will continue to run for several more weeks.
Emond Harnden will continue to monitor Bill 98’s progress through the legislative process and will report on any significant developments in that regard. In the meantime, for more information, please contact Lynn Harnden at 613-940-2731 or Jennifer Birrell at 613-940-2740.