Where can I read the full text of Policy/Program Memorandum No.131 (PPM 131)?
It can be viewed on the Ministry of Education web site:
What is the legal status of Policy/Program Memorandum 131?
The purpose of a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) is to provide clarification to legislation. In this case, PPM131 is intended to clarify and provide direction to School Boards and parents regarding sections of the Education Act. A PPM is not law and one cannot be prosecuted for not following the policy.
In support of the assertion that a policy is not legally enforceable, we refer you to the following documents:
1) On the Government of Canada Regulation website, there was a (now removed) pamphlet of the Department of Justice called "What Tools: The Panoply of Rules," presented at the Justice Instrument Choice Conference, March 26-27, 2002, by John Mark Keyes. Here is the relevant quote:
How are rules enforced?
- statutes: general application, legal sanctions / courts
- delegated legislation: general application, legal sanctions / courts
- contracts / agreements: application to parties, legal sanctions / courts
- voluntary codes: application within voluntary associations, internal sanctions
- standards: various
- policy directives: internal application, disciplinary sanctions [emphasis added]
Notice that he does not mention legal sanctions and courts as means for enforcement for policies.
2) On the website of the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR), there was a paper on Administrative Rulemaking by Richard Steinecke, presented at CLEAR's 23rd Annual Conference, Toronto, Ontario, September, 2003. Here are the relevant quotes:
Policies, Guidelines and Informal Standards
- Have no legal authority [emphasis added] [...]
Policies, Guidelines and Informal Standards
-- Not legally enforceable [emphasis added] [...]
as compared to Regulations:
-- Clear authorization in enabling statute
-- Legally enforceable [...]
One thing that may help it sink in that following the policy is not a legal requirement, is the fact that not all school boards follow it to the letter either: some of them do not comply with its directive that they reply to a letter of intent with a letter of acknowledgement.
It says that this memorandum replaces the Johnson Memorandum of 1981. What did the Johnson Memorandum say and how is this better than the Johnson Memorandum?
Requirements suggested in the Johnson Memorandum
A. RELATING TO PROCESS
1. Availability of a written plan for instructing the pupil "at home or elsewhere" showing how the program is to be organized, scheduled and evaluated.
2. Availability in the "home or elsewhere" of texts and other learning materials appropriate to the developmental growth of the child.
3. Availability of samples of the pupil's work, of a quantity and quality to indicate a regular suitable program of instruction.
B. RELATING TO ACHIEVEMENT
1. Supervisory Officer's assessment of educational growth of the pupil based on discussion with the child and examination of the written work of the pupil
2. Scores on Standardized Achievement tests in language and mathematics compared with the norms of pupils of similar age and background.
C. RELATING TO SUPERVISION OF THE PROGRAM
The supervisory officer should assess the program "at home or elsewhere" at least three times a year to ensure that the pupil is continuing to receive "satisfactory instruction". This expectation is congruent with the evaluation a pupil would receive in a classroom situation.
There are two essential differences between the Johnson Memo and the PPM #131.
PPM131 contains the following:
- 1. the assumption of satisfactory instruction occurring if a parent sends in written notification to their school board, unless evidence arises to the contrary.
- 2. the reminder to school boards conducting an investigation that the "methodology, schedules, and assessment techniques used by parents who provide homeschooling may differ from those used by educators in the school system", in other words, do not expect to find "school-at-home."
Appendix A of the PPM lists sections of the Education Act that are relevant to it. Where can I read the Education Act online or get a copy in print?
E-Laws is maintained by the Government of Ontario to provide access to the consolidated laws of Ontario. Their goal is to be up to date within 14 days of a change in the law. You can read the Ontario Education Act online or purchase copies through Publications Ontario.
It is also available for reference use in public libraries.
What happens after I send in the letter of intent?
The Board is directed by PPM131 to assume that satisfactory instruction is taking place, send you a letter of acknowledgement, and otherwise make no further contact with you unless there is compelling evidence to suggest that satisfactory instruction is not taking place.
What happens if I choose not to send the letter of intent?
If you are not known to the board, nothing will happen.
If they become aware of you, they may make contact and request that you send the letter of intent.
Because this is a policy rather than a law, you are not breaking the law if you do not send a letter of intent or fill out their form (see Legal Status of PPM131). However, once you have been contacted and have let them know your child is not truant but is being homeschooled, it makes sense to confirm that in writing. A written response is not only what they request when they themselves follow the policy, it also serves to document your response for your own records (- keep a copy).
It is up to you whether to provide your written confirmation in the form of a letter or by filling out a basic form, but if the school has its own Letter of Intent form they wish you to fill out instead of just supplying a letter, it would demonstrate that you are reasonable and cooperative if you agree to fill it out even if you've already sent your own letter, whereas refusing to do so could be construed as unnecessarily uncooperative and adversarial and possible grounds for an investigation.
If, however, their Letter of Intent form includes statements that go beyond just providing basic information identifying which children are being removed from enrolment, you may need to cross out or replace text that makes claims to which you should not be signing your name. For example, if the form states that it is an "application" or that it must be "renewed annually," that is inaccurate and misleading. It is not an application that can be granted or denied, it is your notification to them of your parental decision, which they have no authority to overrule. (Only the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor can order that a child attend school, and only after a duly conducted provincial inquiry hearing.) The word "renew" does not reflect the nature of a notification, it applies only to things like applications. Whether or not this wording is a deliberate attempt to mislead, the fact is that it can and does mislead some parents into thinking they're asking for permission rather than just communicating their decision. In a statement like "Notice of Intent to Home School is renewed annually," you can cross out "is renewed annually" and replace it with something like "applies until further notice." Likewise, if they have a space for indicating the From and Until dates, you can enter "further notice" after the word "until."
More importantly, if the school board requests you fill out more forms than the basic Letter of Intent form, or that you supply a plan for them to review, this amounts to conducting a school board investigation. PPM131 directs school boards to accept a (bare bones) letter of intent as sufficient evidence of satisfactory instruction, and not to investigate further under normal circumstances (there must be "reasonable grounds" to suspect that satisfactory instruction is not being provided).
Even when there are grounds to suspect that there is a problem about "satisfactory instruction," the Education Act (which is the law and not policy) does not prescribe for a school board to be the one to investigate. On the contrary, it specifically states that inquiry officers must be "persons who are not employees of the board operating the school that the child has the right to attend." [Section 24(2)]
What happens if I don't fill out the school board's forms and send in the requested information?
The school board representative will document every effort they make to have you comply with their request to supply further information. They must keep a record of their efforts of communication (phone calls, registered letters, etc.) as proof that they have done this. We suggest that families do the same. Document, for your records, all contacts you have with your board. (Keep a copy of all letters sent and received. Make a list of phone calls, logging whom you spoke with and the main topic of conversation. If possible, screen all your calls to avoid phone interactions with them and request all communication be in writing for your records.) The PPM outlines the procedures for the boards to follow if they decide (a) to further investigate by asking you to fill out the forms and you do not comply with their requests, or (b) if after an investigation the school board representatives believe they have been unable to determine if satisfactory instruction is taking place in the home. Any actions they take must be in accordance with subsection 24(2) and/or section 30 of the Education Act.
What are the legal requirements and my options if I am home educating a child who has never been recorded by the school board?
There is no legal requirement to inform the school board of your intentions to home educate if your child has never been enrolled in the Ontario school system (see Legal Status of PPM131). Children between the ages of 6 (on the first day of school in September) and 18 (as per the 'Learning to 18' changes introduced by Bill 52, 2006) are required by law to attend school unless excused under Section 21 of the Education Act.
If your child has never had any dealings with the school board, you have a few options:
1) continue to homeschool knowing that, even though you have chosen not to send in a notification, you may become known by your local board.
If this happens, the school board will likely forward a form for you to complete, describing the names, ages and gender of your school aged children as well as a place on the form for you to sign, indicating you are responsible for the education of your children. The decision to comply with this request rests with the individual family, since this is not a legal requirement, but since you would be in the position of having to confirm your homeschooling status anyway, it makes sense to do so in writing if only for documenting your actions, and the most cooperative way to do that is by filling out the Notification of Intent form they send (— keep a copy for your records, and cross out or replace any text on it to which you do not wish to sign your name).
2) continue to homeschool and voluntarily send the letter off to your local school board without being asked, even if you don't need a letter of acknowledgement from them.
3) continue to homeschool and voluntarily send the letter of intent to your local school board because you need a letter of acknowledgement from them in order to access other government services. The only real need for it is when applying for Independent Learning Centre (ILC) credit courses as a homeschooler. Beyond, that, some Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) offices request it for accessing School Health Support Services (SHSS) as a homeschooler, but the truth is that it's not required — some families have insisted on their right to access without a school board letter, and successfully gone up the chain of command to obtain it. If you do believe you need the school board reply letter, you may want to specify in your letter of intent that you need the letter of acknowledgement for government services, since not all school boards automatically reply with one.
What can I expect to happen if I do not comply and do not fill out the requested form?
In this case your local school board would have the following options:
- take no action
- inform you of the requirement to send written notification and ask you to send in a letter of intent or fill out their notification form
- start an investigation
- send your name off to the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor (PSAC) for a potential provincial inquiry
The school board should not charge a homeschooling family with truancy unless there has been a provincial inquiry resulting in a PSAC order for a child to attend school and the parents disobey that order. However, it does still sometimes happen that a school board disregards the legal procedures they should follow (section 24(2) of the Education Act) before resorting to truancy charges. If you find yourself being threatened with truancy charges without having received an order from the PSAC, the OFTP may be able to intervene before it goes to court. If it is too late and the truancy charges proceed, the fact that you consider your child excused under section 21(2)(a) means that section 30(7) will apply, whereby the judge will refer the matter to the PSAC but will reserve the authority to make the final order about whether the child must attend school or is excused from attendance.
The PPM states that "refusal of a parent to notify the board in writing of the intent to provide home schooling" is grounds to conduct an investigation into the education I am providing for my child. I have never contacted the school board about our home schooling and I don't wish to be investigated. What does the Education Act say about this?
Nowhere in the Education Act is there any legal requirement to inform the school board of your intentions to home educate, whether or not your child has ever been enrolled in the Ontario school system. The local school board has the option of conducting a census of children within its jurisdiction to ascertain what form of education is being provided to them. There are 3 different sections in the Act that refer to either a) census, b) reporting by the principal, c) or duties of boards:
Section 27. Census
A board may make or obtain a complete census of all persons in the area in which the board has jurisdiction who have not attained the age of twenty-one years. R.S.O. 1990,c.E.2,s.27.
Section 28. Reports and information
(1) The principal of every elementary and secondary school shall,
(a) report to the appropriate school attendance counsellor and supervisory officer the names, ages and residences of all pupils of compulsory school age who have not attended school as required;
(b) furnish the school attendance counsellor with such other information as the counsellor requires for the enforcement of compulsory school attendance; and
(c) report in writing to the school attendance counsellor every case of expulsion and readmission of a pupil.
Section 170. Duties of boards
Every board shall report children not enrolled
15. ascertain and report to the Ministry at least once in each year in the manner required by the Minister the names and ages of all children of compulsory school age within its jurisdiction who are not enrolled in any school or private school and the reasons therefor.
What is an example of a "credible report of concern by a third party" that would result in a school board conducting an investigation into the education I am providing for my child?
We hope that school boards will be cautious in following this section as we have seen instances where disgruntled family members or separated couples have made complaints to school boards out of spite or ignorance of the facts. Home education is a new concept to many people and some may be prone to prejudices that look at home education in an unfavourable light.
It says that "a history of absenteeism by the child prior to the parent's notifying the board of the intent to provide homeschooling" may result in an investigation of my homeschooling. I have had repeated difficulties with the school regarding the social environment there and the bullying of my child which has resulted in many days when I allowed my child to stay at home. I have talked to my child's teacher and to the principal on several occasions and they know how I feel about what is going on. Is it fair that I should be investigated when it is obvious why my child has not been at school?
What needs to happen in this case is a dialogue between the parents and the school officials to sort out the history of the difficulties and the real reasons for the absenteeism. Sometimes doctor's reports or other documentation can illustrate why the parents have chosen to remove their child from the school system and home school them. If an OFTP volunteer is available to be of assistance in helping resolve this matter, we will do so.
When I look at the list of questions that the school board is supposed to ask when they do an investigation, I would be hard pressed to give a satisfactory answer because all of their questions presuppose that I am educating my child in a manner similar to what is done at school. I am an unschooler. What hope is there that they will understand my philosophy of education?
First of all, you are not legally required to comply with an attempted school board investigation, you are only legally required to comply with a proper provincial inquiry. If the school board attempts to investigate, please get in touch with the OFTP for help in responding.
If you do decide to provide the school board with information about your homeschooling plans, you don't have to use their form to do so. If they're using the sample investigation form in PPM131 Appendix D, it's only meant to provide a guideline to the Board, it's not a legal requirement that it be used as-is. If you're following an 'unschooling' philosophy, you may choose to provide the board with your own written description of the learning that takes place in your home rather than fill out the form provided. The PPM also reminds boards not to expect that the learning taking place in the home look like 'school at home'. As well, OFTP will continue to educate officials regarding 'unschooling.'
When it says that "a member of a recognized support group for parents who provide home schooling" may be present, is OFTP willing to be there for me when I meet with the school board?
The OFTP supplies informational support (and sometimes intervention) to members and non-members alike, which can help avoid the need for a meeting with the school board in the first place.
In cases where a meeting with the board is unavoidable or desired, OFTP will make every effort possible to assist its members in any way that it can. If an informed OFTP member has the time and is willing to be present, OFTP will have a representative there.
It needs to be remembered that most OFTP members are busy homeschooling parents themselves, and any volunteering they do is done without any financial remuneration for their time and effort. OFTP members who do volunteer work for the organization do so out of concern for home education and a desire to help others in need. If you are an OFTP member, we encourage you to join the team of volunteers.
What are the requirements for my child to access courses from the Independent Learning Center (ILC)?
The Independent Learning Centre (ILC) provides a wide range of distance education courses that allow individuals to earn secondary school diploma credits, upgrade basic skills or study for personal development. You can obtain services directly from ILC or from one of the access sites in your area. The requirements for homeschoolers to enroll in ILC courses include a letter from the school board acknowledging receipt of the letter of intent to homeschool. Visit www.ilc.org for more detailed information.
Will the ILC be accepting homeschooled students younger than 16? If so, will there be an age limit on access to ILC courses? Can well prepared younger students 12 or 13 years old take grade 9 courses as well?
The ILC rules about age seem to change over time, so it's best to check with them directly. For example, in the summer of 2005, all elementary level grades were available. The minimum age limit was 6. After the elementary level correspondence courses were no longer available, the ILC did still have elementary level curriculum materials for sale for a while. In 2005, students could sign up for secondary level courses one at a time even if they were under age 16. There is currently no information on their website to indicate whether or not that is still the case. We recommend you contact the ILC for the most current information.