This document was part of an information package for school board trustees, written by volunteers from the OFTP executive in 2001.
Is Homeschooling Legal in Ontario?
Ontario legislation ensures that students are not restricted to attending only the educational settings that are publicly funded. Parents are permitted to opt for an alternate venue of instruction should they feel that this will be of benefit to their child.
Section 21 (2) of the Ontario Education Act states that a child of school age is excused from compulsory attendance in a public school if the child is receiving satisfactory instruction "at home or elsewhere."
The questions then arise:
What, in fact, is satisfactory instruction?
The Education Act provides no definition of satisfactory instruction.
Who determines whether or not instruction is satisfactory?
If there is a difference of opinion between the parent and the school board whether or not instruction at home is satisfactory, there is currently a mechanism in place by which it can be resolved.
This mechanism is found in Section 24 (2) of the Education Act. It says that when the parent judges the instruction to be satisfactory and the local school attendance counsellor is of the opinion that it is not, then an inquiry can be requested of the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor (PSAC) by the school board.
This inquiry then hears submissions from both sides and presents its findings to the PSAC, who subsequently declares the child excused or not excused from compulsory attendance at a public school.
What have School Boards been using as a basis to develop homeschooling policies?
The situation was complicated when, through a court case in the late 1970's, a school board was told by a judge that it should not bring a parent to court without having evidence that the home instruction is unsatisfactory. Two years later, in 1981, a PSAC by the name of Ken Johnson issued an interoffice memo discussing what school boards might do to determine if satisfactory instruction was occurring in the home. This memo of suggested criteria has continued to this day to be sent out to school boards who request guidance from the Ministry in matters of home education.
School boards have used this Johnson Memorandum of 1981 to write school board policies in which parents of home educated children are told that they must submit evidence to the school board in the form of curriculum outlines, student's work and indications of evaluation. In some policies, requests for home visits have been included.
There is no statute, regulation or numbered Ministry policy supporting school boards who write school board policies based on the Johnson Memorandum of 1981. The Ministry of Education itself has stated that the memorandum should be considered to have the weight of a guideline only.
What happens in the case of a local attendance counsellor who cannot assess the satisfactoriness or nonsatisfactoriness of home instruction?
Of late, this has been a more common occurrence. Some school boards have opted to send in the names of these parents to the PSAC with an indication that they have not been able to determine the nature of the instruction.
Some home educators look at the school board's request as an intrusion into their role as parents.
They do not see any support in the Education Act for the policies of school boards that have been based on the Johnson Memorandum of 1981. They see the Ministry failing to raise the level of the Johnson Memorandum to a status higher than "guideline." Seeing no official numbered policy from the Ministry and no support in the Education Act for the demands being made of them by the school board, they refuse to comply with being monitored.
This choice has sometimes resulted in the school board submitting the family's name to the PSAC, who then decides whether or not to call an inquiry to investigate the satisfactory nature of the home education in question.
Many parents who start to home educate their children from a young age never let the school board know that this is what they are doing.The law does not require parents to notify school boards if the child has never been registered with a school board. It is believed that, because of this, there are thousands of homeschooled Ontarians who are unknown to local school boards.
OFTP informs anyone who asks it, the information noted above.
It is a central belief of many people in our organization that it is the parents' prior right to determine the definition of satisfactory instruction for their child.
These parents believe that the law as it is written recognizes the rights of parents in education, as in health and religion and all other aspects of everyday life, to choose for their children.
These parents feel those rare cases of unsatisfactory instruction will be caught through the mechanism of Section 24 (2) in the event that there is obvious concern as seen by others that something is amiss.
It is assumed that parents naturally will choose a satisfactory course of action for their children. This belief is reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Article 26 (3) which states: "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
The history of the relationship between school boards and some home educators in Ontario has been a rocky one since 1981. Misunderstandings as to what the law actually says and what powers school boards have in these matters have resulted in strained relationships.
OFTP believes that as understanding grows about the legality and the benefits of homeschooling, the related regulatory and administrative processes will become more collegial and supportive. Teaching parents and professional educators alike will be increasingly enabled to develop effective, innovative ways to meet the educational needs of our children.
Further information can be obtained from the following pages on the OFTP web site: