Advocacy: How to Deal with Concerns at School

advocacy

School boards in Ontario vary in size and how they are organized. This article and the attached diagram are intended to provide direction as to how to handle concerns you may have about your child and the programs and supports being provided by the school. This article describes the appropriate approach to resolving concerns at school. The article does not discuss the process for dealing with disputes related to decisions of the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) process. The process for appealing a decision of the IPRC is formalized through Regulation 181/98 and information for parents is available in the IPRC section of this website.

When you have a concern you should seek help in your advocacy efforts. Talking about your child and problems at school can be very emotional. It is a good idea to involve your partner or a friend and have them help you plan your next steps. By talking together you can figure out how to explain your concerns clearly and decide on the type of solution you are seeking. You can also seek help in the community and ask for help from other service providers who help your child, or advocacy organizations.

Start with the Teacher

Most problems can be resolved quickly and easily with open communication between the family and the teacher. It is important to talk about the issue or concern as soon as it arises with the person most involved, usually the teacher. By keeping in regular contact with the teacher a concern can be addressed in a casual conversation. With an open relationship concerns can be discussed and ideas for solutions shared. This can lead to changes that can reduce or eliminate the problem.

Connect with the Principal

The Principal is responsible for all of the students and staff in the school. Depending on the size of the school, the Principal may be the next person that you talk to about your concern. In a larger school you may also have the option of talking to a special education teacher, a department head or the Vice-Principal and you should find out who is the next person to speak to about your concern. Talking to the Principal is a good next step as they can direct you to the correct person, or deal with the problem themselves.

Contact the Superintendent

School boards in Ontario vary in size and each school board will have a unique organizational structure. Typically, most school boards have Superintendents who are responsible for groups of schools in a geographic area. Some school boards may also have a Principal or Superintendent responsible for special education. You can find out from the school staff, or by checking on the school board website the correct procedure, or communication protocol, for handling concerns. Once you know who is the next person you can contact them and share your concerns.

Role of Trustees

Trustees are not able to resolve your concerns but they can provide valuable help in understanding the school system and directing you to the appropriate person. There are one or two elected Trustees for every area of the province and you can find out who your trustee is from the school board website. The Trustee is elected by the people and they are willing to help you.

Involving the Director Education

The Director of Education is the boss and is responsible for all of the activities in the school board. If you have failed to resolve your concern with other staff, the Director has the authority to arrange meetings and review your situation. Hopefully your concerns will be resolved or another option found by the Director of Education.

Contacting the Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education has regional offices across the province that are responsible for monitoring the school boards in their areas. While the Ministry of Education staff do not have the ability to resolve your concerns they can help you to navigate the system and encourage the school board to meet with you and discuss your concerns.

Concerns about Discrimination or Harassment

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is responsible for resolving concerns about discrimination and harassment based on violations of the Human Rights Code, including on the basis of disability. Individuals with disabilities are entitled to accommodations that enable them to participate in areas such as jobs, services and facilities, including public schools. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has developed a Consultation Paper: Education and Disability – Human Rights Issues in Ontario’s Education System. For more information on the Human Rights Code and how to file a human rights complaint check the OHRC website.

 Another Option – Ontario Ombudsman

The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Legislature who investigates complaints from the public about Ontario government services, recommending improvements for governance and resolving individual issues. Since September 2015 the Ombudsman office has been able to look at individual issues related to school boards. For more information to and find out whether you can file a complaint check the Ombudsman website.

Final tips:

  • Allow enough time before contacting the next level. When asking for a response provide a date by which time you would like to hear back from the person.
  • When you have a complaint or concern keep notes and create a record of everything you have done.
  • Record the names of people you have contacted including their job titles, the date you connected and the response you were given.
  • Organizing all of the information will make it easier at the next step and demonstrate the efforts you have made to resolve the issue.

Many thanks to Sherry Caldwell for the development of the graphic that accompanies this article.

Comments

  1. Karen Lundy says

    I am a lawyer and I followed the procedures set out. I still had a miserable time with York Region District School Board. My concerns were not addressed. My son’s safety plan was repeatedly breached. My child was scapegoated for all problems. I went up the chain as you illustrated but needed to start litigation before I got any response from the Director. My concerns were quite serious including a calming room for autistic children that had wire glass in the door window. My son put his head and hands through the wire glass in two separate incidents within weeks apart. It fell upon me to do the research re building code and safer alternative to wire glass. I am committed to my son getting an education and never wanted to be at logger heads with the system yet I find myself in that situation. I should not have to do this.

    • Alison Morse says

      Hi Karen,

      I am sorry to hear of your frustration and the difficult time that your child has had at school. If, at the end of following the correct procedure you used legal action, I hope you were successful in having your concerns addressed.

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