The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents
Inquiry Process in Ontario
In the event that a school board is of the opinion that a child should
not be excused from school, the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor
(PSAC) may conduct an inquiry. An inquiry is a meeting to investigate
the reasons for a child's non-attendance at school and to determine if
the child is receiving satisfactory instruction. After an inquiry is completed,
the PSAC may direct the child to attend school or to be excused from attending
school. Parents should be aware of the law and their rights as home-based
educators in the event that local boards of education try to impose policies
and rules which are not required by law.
If your local board or principal insists that visits or testing are required:
The Education Act
As a home-based educator, it is important to understand what an inquiry
is, how it is conducted and your rights as a parent and a citizen. Home
education is legal in Ontario. The Education Act, states:
Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) No. 131
On June 17, 2002 the Ministry of Education released a Policy/Program Memorandum No. 131. The purpose of the memorandum is to provide direction to parents and school boards concerning policies relating to homeschooling. PPM No. 131 revokes and replaces the so-called "Johnson Memorandum" of 1981 upon which many school board homeschooling policies are based. Therefore such intrusive policies (as detailed above) have been nullified by the Ministry.
PPM No. 131 does not change the inquiry process which is supported in law by Subsection 24(2) of the Education Act. However, the onus remains on school board officials to produce evidence that satisfactory instruction is not occurring.
School Board Investigation vs the Inquiry Process
Please note the difference between an investigation launched by a school board (as indicated in PPM No. 131) and an inquiry launched by the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor. The school board investigation does not carry any legal weight. PPM No. 131 is a policy guide only and does not carry the force of law. There are no penalties for not following the PPM and refusing to submit to a school board investigation. An inquiry initiated by the PSAC is contained in the Education Act, Section 24(2), and does carry legal weight. You must participate if an inquiry is called on you, otherwise you could be facing truancy charges under Section 30 of the Education Act (which implies a court case).
Preparation for an Inquiry
In the event that an inquiry is unavoidable, parents should know what to expect and how to participate for the best possible outcome.
A. Have the meeting in a neutral place, without the child present. Officials
sometimes attempt to ask children personal or leading questions, e.g.
"Do you get bored at home all by yourself?"
At an Inquiry
1. Express your protest of this invasion of your right, as a parent,
to choose your child's education.
A Word on "Paper Inquiries"
The PSAC has instituted a document referred to as a "paper inquiry". These have been conducted by a Ministry of Education employee, which is quite legitimate, but are sent out to the subject family in the form of a questionnaire. This questionnaire can be found on the OFTP website at http://www.ontariohomeschool.org/paperinquiry.html
The purpose of a paper inquiry is to save on the cost of conducting an in-person inquiry. OFTP recommends that you reject an attempt to conduct a paper inquiry. The Education Act states that you are entitled to a "hearing" which this is definitely not. You are also not compelled to provide evidence against yourself by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our Constitution, and this paper inquiry may be construed as an attempt to do that. Also, you have the right to cross-examine the evidence provided by the school board (if any) that satisfactory instruction may not be occurring.
It is interesting to note that the paper inquiry questionnaire has been incorporated into PPM No. 131 (Appendix D) as a "suggested" form to be utilized by a school board in conducting a satisfactory instruction investigation (prior to any possible inquiry called by the PSAC).
The decision is always left with the individual family to determine their course of action. If you are notified by the PSAC that an inquiry is being conducted you have the option of a) filling out the paper inquiry and returning it to the Ministry of Education employee who has been appointed to conduct the inquiry or b) you could request an in-person meeting with this individual. At an in-person meeting you have the option of bringing legal representation with you and/or an OFTP representative. This also offers the opportunity for you to request to see the evidence against you which has led to this inquiry.
As always, OFTP recommends that if homeschooling families find themselves in this situation that you contact OFTP for further information and assistance.
How to Stay Informed as a Homeschooling Parent
- Know the law. Familiarize yourself with the Education Act.