As newly elected School councils meet for the first time this month, we thought a survey of the legal parameters within which school councils function would be helpful.
The Education Act requires that every school have a school council, and Reg. 612/00 outlines three primary objectives councils are designed to achieve:
“The purpose of school councils is, through the active participation of parents, to improve pupil achievement and to enhance the accountability of the education system to parents.”
The membership of school councils, as defined in Regulation 612/00 of the Education Act, is designed to reflect these goals. A council must include the school Principal (or designate), a teacher, a non-teaching employee, a community representative, a student (for secondary), and parents. Parents must constitute a majority of the members, and councils may only meet if (a) a majority of its members are present, and (b) if a majority of those present are parents. The Chair (or co-chairs) must also be a parent.
All council members except the community representative are elected, and cannot be removed before the end of their one year term.
A council’s primary means of achieving its purposes is by making recommendations to the principal of the school and the board that established it. Councils are advisory, rather than decision-making bodies. If a board or a school principal receives a recommendation from a council, there is a legal obligation to consider the recommendation and advise the council of the action taken in response.
Councils are similarly bound to consult with parents of pupils enrolled in the school about matters under consideration by the council.
Although councils do not have to meet at the school unless their by-law so provides, they are entitled to do so if they choose, and most do. It is the Principal’s responsibility to ensure that notice of council meetings, including date, time and place, is communicated in writing to all parents of pupils in the school. All meetings must be open to the public.
Duty to Consult
Every Board is required to solicit the views of school councils with respect to:
- board policies and guidelines that relate to pupil achievement or to the accountability of the education system to parents, including policies and guidelines regarding student conduct; appropriate dress; board funding to councils; council fundraising activities; council conflict resolution processes, and council member reimbursement.
- the development of implementation plans for new education initiatives that relate to pupil achievement or to the accountability of the education system to parents;
- Board action and communication plans in response to EQAO results; and
- the selection and placement process and criteria for Principals and Vice-Principals.
The Board also has a duty to inform school councils about the teacher performance appraisal system.
Role of Principal
The Principal or designate must attend every council meeting, and assist council by acting as a resource. The Principal is further obligated to obtain any information requested by council which is relevant to its purpose. The Principal shall also provide council with any materials designated by the Ministry for council distribution.
The regulations require a Principal to seek the input of school councils regarding the establishing or amendment of school policies and guidelines, and the development of implementation plans for new initiatives that relate to pupil achievement or to the accountability of the education system to parents, including policies and guidelines regarding a local code of conduct and respecting appropriate student dress.
The Principal must therefore provide support and information, and is required to consult with council on certain matters, but where a council seeks to resolve its position by a vote, the Principal is not entitled to participate in the vote.
School councils are permitted to engage in fundraising activities, but such activities must be conducted in accordance with board policies and Ministry guidelines, and for a board approved purpose.  All proceeds collected must be used for the intended purpose.
Funds that are raised and collected in the school or broader community in the name of the school by school councils, or other school or parent administered groups, are included in what are referred to as “school-generated funds”. Although most councils engage in a collaborative process with school administration in determining council fundraising goals and activities, the Principal is responsible for fundraising activities, and for administering the funds collected.
A council may not incorporate and become a separate legal entity from the Board. School councils are legally created by and form part of the board. Councils are therefore subject to all applicable board policies and procedures.
Because boards are legally responsible for the actions and communications of their councils, it is generally the practice, and in some cases the policy, that councils communicate with the school community through the Principal, rather than directly. The introduction of Canada’s Anti-Spam legislation (CASL), which came into force on July 1, 2014, serves to highlight the potential liability for boards, given the broad definition of a Commercial Electronic Message (“C.E.M.”) and the narrow range of exceptions in sending CEM’s without express or implied consent. Principals are therefore encouraged to seek guidance regarding CASL compliance as it relates to school and school council communications sent electronically.
The Education Act and regulations prescribe that school councils will function so as to enhance the accountability of the education system to parents, and create a means for parents to actively participate in improving student achievement. To this end, the legislation creates a positive obligation on the board and principals to share information and consult with councils on certain matters. Beyond such minimum requirements, there is a further duty to respond to recommendations on any matter which a council brings forward. Councils in turn are required to consult with the parent community at their school.
Parent involvement has been identified as one of the most significant factors contributing to a child’s success in school. Although the activities, culture and priorities of councils varies widely from school to school, councils share a common purpose in providing a unique platform for parent engagement, which is student focused, parent led, and an important contribution to school and board discussions about student success.