Ombudsman receives 50 complaints about school boards in first week of mandate; increase expected as classes begin
September 8, 2015
8 September, 2015
(TORONTO – September 8, 2015) One week after new legislation enabling the Ontario Ombudsman to take complaints about school boards took effect, 50 people have complained about a diverse range of issues – a number expected to grow as Ontario children return to school today.
(TORONTO – September 8, 2015) - One week after new legislation enabling the Ontario Ombudsman to take complaints about school boards took effect, 50 people have complained about a diverse range of issues – a number expected to grow as Ontario children return to school today.
“We’re already seeing a lot of concern about everything from busing services to discipline of students, and we’re getting calls from parents and teachers who are worried about the availability of special education supports,” said Ontario Ombudsman André Marin. “People want to know if their boards are following correct procedures and adequately communicating with parents and students.”
Complaints so far have been divided between English public school boards (which represent the majority of schools and students across the province), and English Catholic school boards (the second-largest category). There were 30 complaints about the public boards, 18 about the Catholic boards, 1 about a French public school board, and none to date about French Catholic boards. There was also one complaint about an unspecified board.
As with the complaints the Office receives from the 500 provincial government organizations already within its purview, staff first refer people back to existing complaint mechanisms for local resolution. If the complainant has already gone through those channels, the next step may be to contact the school board for more information, and then work with them to address the issue.
“Sometimes these are fairly straightforward issues, and sometimes they’re more complicated, but our teams are well-trained and ready to tackle whatever comes our way,” said Mr. Marin. “We’re also watching for complaint trends that point to broader, more pervasive issues, which may require an in-depth systemic investigation by our Special Ombudsman Response Team.”
The expansion of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction was granted in December 2014 with the passage of Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014. The bill extends Ombudsman oversight to the broader public sector for the first time in the office’s 40-year history. It also enables the Ombudsman to take complaints about municipalities and universities as of January 1, 2016.
The need for independent oversight of school boards was identified by the first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, in the 1970s, said Mr. Marin, whose office has had to turn away more than 1,200 complaints about school boards in the past 10 years alone.
Anyone with an unresolved concern about a school board can contact the Ombudsman by using the online complaint form at www.ombudsman.on.ca. Complaints can also be filed by phone (1-800-263-1830), or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Ombudsman is an independent office of the Ontario legislature that resolves and investigates individual and systemic issues relating to the administration of provincial government services and school boards. It oversees more than 500 provincial government ministries, agencies, boards, commissions, tribunals and corporations, and handled 23,153 complaints in 2014-2015. Although the Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, almost all have been accepted by government over the past decade, resulting in major systemic reforms to everything from newborn screening to lottery security to monitoring of unlicensed daycares.
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