New regulations make schools safer, encourage respect

Sept.1, 2000

Ontario students, teachers and parents will notice some changes on the first day of school. Two new regulations, in effect today, will help make all of Ontario’s schools safer, more respectful places for learning and teaching.

To promote good citizenship and encourage a respectful learning environment, students in all publicly funded schools across Ontario will be singing O Canada as part of opening or closing exercises. A new “Opening or Closing Exercises” regulation under the Education Act requires students to sing the national anthem. It also requires students to recite the Canadian Oath of Citizenship if principals, in consultation with school councils, determine that the pledge should be recited.

To help control violent or unsafe behaviour in schools and on school grounds and make them safer for everyone, a new “Access to School Premises” regulation defines exactly who can be on school property – the students enrolled at their school, their parents or guardians, teachers and other school staff, and any persons authorized by the principal or by school board policy. The new regulation also gives principals and boards the right to restrict access to their schools. Unauthorized persons on school property would face fines of up to $5,000 on conviction.

Also in effect are the clear standards of behaviour as set out in the new province-wide Code of Conduct for Ontario’s schools, released last spring. These measures, along with other initiatives under the Safe Schools Act, 2000, fulfill a key government commitment to increase respect, responsibility and civility in Ontario schools over the next year.

To take place later this fall, following approval of appropriate regulations or guidelines:

  • A majority of parents at a school will be able to introduce a dress code or require a uniform for students in keeping with school board policies and provincial guidelines to be released soon.
  • Criminal background checks of everyone working in schools who have regular access to children.
  • School boards to develop local protocols on how and when schools are to involve police, based on a provincial framework.
  • School boards to ensure their own codes of conduct are consistent with the provincial Code of Conduct.

Winter 2001:

  • Mandatory consequences leading to an expulsion under the provincial Code of Conduct to take effect (e.g. students who bring weapons to school will be immediately suspended and face expulsion).
  • Authority for principals to expel students from their school for up to one school year takes effect. School boards maintain their authority to expel students.
  • New provisions in place for a review or appeal of an expulsion.
  • Strict discipline schooling programs available for expelled students.
  • All school boards are required to set policies that ensure supports are in place to help suspended students return and succeed in the regular school program.

Fall 2001:

  • Mandatory consequences leading to suspension under the provincial Code of Conduct take effect (e.g. students who threaten serious injury or swear at a teacher will be immediately suspended).
  • Authority for teachers to suspend students for one school day takes effect.
  • Principals maintain authority to suspend students for a maximum of 20 days.
  • Existing provisions remain in place for a review or appeal of a suspension of more than one day.

Code of Conduct

The new Code of Conduct will create a learning environment that fosters respect for others and ensures young people learn the values needed to be good citizens. The Code sets clear, consistent, province-wide minimum standards of expected behaviour for all involved in the publicly funded school system, and clear consequences for students who choose not to meet these standards. While many schools and boards across Ontario already have codes of conduct, often these lack consistency and can vary greatly from school to school and board to board.

The Standards of Behaviour and Mandatory Consequences under the Code are outlined in detail in a booklet released by the ministry in April. For a copy of the booklet, visit the ministry’s website or call 1-800-837-1077.

New authority for principals to expel, teachers to suspend

Currently, principals can suspend students from their school for up to 20 days. School boards may expel a student from all schools of the board, upon the recommendation of a principal and a supervisory officer, and following a hearing.

To help promote safe classrooms and schools, the Safe Schools Act expands this authority. Beginning in winter 2001, principals will have the authority to expel students from their schools for up to one school year. And starting in September 2001, teachers will be able to suspend students for one school day.

Students who commit serious infractions, like bringing a weapon to school, will be immediately suspended and face expulsion. Students who commit extensive property damage, swear at a teacher or threaten serious injury, for example, will be immediately suspended.

Programs, supports for expelled, suspended students

Violent and disruptive behaviour in schools makes it impossible for teachers to give students the education they need and deserve. Sending these students out on the street only puts the problem somewhere else. To help expelled students continue their education and turn their lives around, the Safe Schools Act makes it possible to set mandatory requirements for them to attend strict discipline schooling programs, or satisfy an equivalent requirement, in order to re-enter the regular school system.

Some boards already provide alternative programs for suspended and expelled students. Next winter, the Ministry of Education will fund a number of strict discipline schooling demonstration projects for students who have been expelled.

By next winter, all school boards will be required to have supports in place to help suspended students return and succeed in the regular school program. These may range from special courses, such as anger management, to providing students with classroom assignments so they can keep up in their studies.

Special needs students

To ensure the needs of exceptional students are considered and met, the ministry will continue to seek advice from special education partners. This advice will be taken into account in clarifying how mandatory consequences apply to exceptional students. Guidelines and training for school staff will be provided to school boards and school authorities as the Code of Conduct takes effect over the next year.

Dress code, school uniforms

Many people believe that a dress code or school uniform is a good way to encourage respect and responsibility in schools and to create a safer environment. A majority of parents at a school will be able to introduce a dress code or require a uniform for students. Provincial guidelines detailing the process will be issued to school boards later this fall.

Opening and closing exercises

To instil pride and respect, the singing of O Canada and, where schools choose to, the reciting of the Canadian Oath of Citizenship will become part of each student’s day starting this school year. The principal of a school will decide whether to include the recitation of the Oath of Citizenship, in consultation with their school council, at the start of each school year. Current exemption provisions for school opening and closing exercises remain the same.

School safety

To further help students and parents feel secure, the Safe Schools Act allows for criminal reference checks of all individuals working in schools who have regular access to children. The Ontario College of Teachers already requires criminal background checks of all new teachers. Currently, school boards set their own policies relating to criminal background checks.