On June 8, 2023, Ontario passed Bill 98, bringing into force the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, 2023 (the Act). The Act makes amendments to the Education Act, Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996 and Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007, and introduces changes to the complaints and discipline procedures for regulated individuals in the education sector, including school board trustees, teachers and early childhood educators.
Here’s what school boards need to know about the new changes to the education and childcare regulatory landscape in Ontario.
Amendments to the Education Act
The Education Act governs the public education system in Ontario, including the public and Catholic school boards that operate the province’s publicly funded schools.
Reviewing trustee conduct
The Act overhauls the process for reviewing alleged misconduct by school board trustees, placing power over investigations, determinations of misconduct and the imposition of sanctions with an integrity commissioner, rather than the boards themselves. The Act introduces several other new elements, including:
- A 60-day time limit for complaints.
- The discretion not to commence an investigation into a complaint that is in bad faith, frivolous or vexatious.
- Expanded investigatory powers to compel the disclosure of documents and summon witnesses.
- A broader list of available sanctions for board members who breach the code of conduct.
- A right of appeal to a panel of integrity commissioners.
Notably, the new process is prospective, not retrospective. Alleged breaches of the school board’s code of conduct by a trustee that have been brought to the attention of the school board prior to Act coming into force, and for which the board has not yet made a determination, continue under the previous process.
Review of school board activities
Another major area of change to the Education Act implemented by the Act is increased powers to the Ontario government, including the Minister of Education, with respect to school board activities. Several amendments give the Minister new expanded powers and regulatory authority over school boards and other education related matters under the Education Act, including powers to establish policies and guidelines with respect to:
- Provincial education priorities in student achievement.
- The review and revision of curricula, including based on pedagogy and labour market needs.
- Required training for board members, directors of education, supervisory officers and superintendents.
- Equivalent apprenticeship learning under the Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act, 2021.
- School boards’ communications with parents and guardians.
- Student mental health.
The Act implements additional regulatory powers for the Minister and Lieutenant Governor in Council with respect to equal apprenticeship training, school boards’ business activities, school board-controlled entities, and provincial priorities in student achievement.
The Act also permits the Minister to charge a fee for the evaluation of textbooks, library books, reference books or other learning materials in exercising his power to select and approve such materials under s. 8(1)(6) of the Education Act.
School board property
The Act implements increased Ministerial authority over school property. This includes the imposition of new reporting obligations on the board to provide the Minister with information on the condition of school sites and property, and plans for its acquisition, sale, lease or other disposition. It also grants new powers to the Minister to make regulations and directions regarding Board decisions respecting property.
Amendments to the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996 and Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007
The Act amends the complaints procedures that apply with respect to teachers and early childhood educators under the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996 and Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007. These amendments include:
- Expanding the available remedies to include remedial training or education.
- Removing the right to a hearing where a complaint is filed in respect of conduct that has resulted in a conviction under the Criminal Code.
- Expanding eligibility for a funding order in sexual abuse cases by removing the statutory precondition that required the child complainant to have been supervised by the member. For early childhood educators only, this condition has been replaced with a requirement that the member’s practice facilitated the relationship between the child and the member or member’s access to the child.
The Act also reinforces employers’ reporting obligations to the Ontario College of Teachers where an employee teacher has been disciplined for professional misconduct, charged with specified offences under the Criminal Code, or engaged in other conduct that should be reviewed by the College, including by making the failure to report an offence punishable by a fine of up to $25,000.
Takeaways for school boards
The Act received Royal Assent and came into force on June 8, 2023. In light of the amendments, school boards should:
- Review the oversight, investigation and discipline of school board trustees as they may impact existing board policies, by-laws and procedures.
- When entering into any new employment agreements, keep in mind that new requirements for directors of education, supervisory officers, or superintendents, including mandatory training, may be forthcoming from the Ontario government.
- Stay apprised of changes to ministerial authority over school property and to comply with any new reporting obligations.
- Review changes to reporting obligations to the Ontario College of Teachers and consider whether information about these changes should be included in professional development days at the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
If you have any questions about the Act and changes for regulated individuals in the education sector, including school board trustees, teachers and early childhood educators, please reach out to any of the key contacts listed below.