We reported in December 2014 that new powers were coming to the Ombudsman that would permit the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and make recommendations regarding complaints with respect to school boards.

This new authority began on September 1, 2015.  A week following the implementation of the new powers, the Ombudsman reported that 50 complaints had been made during the first week.

While this power to investigate and make recommendations to school boards regarding complaints from the public is new, for several years the Ombudsman has been reporting in its Annual Report the number of complaints about school boards received on a yearly basis.  Last year, it was reported that 260 complaints and inquiries about school boards were received by the Ombudsman’s Office, which included issues such as transportation, special education, school closures, hiring, and the maintenance and condition of facilities.  The total number of complaints received for all sectors under the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction was 23,153.

Section 14(1) of the Ombudsman Act gives the Ombudsman the power and authority to investigate “any decision or recommendation made or any act done or omitted in the course of the administration of a public sector body and affecting any person or body of persons in his, her or its personal capacity.”  Such an investigation can be initiated by a member of the public or by the Ombudsman. The power of investigation is subject to the exercise and completion of an appeal, hearing or review of the matter at issue or the expiry of the period for the right to be exercised.  The Ombudsman also has broad discretion to refuse to investigate a complaint.

During a presentation to the Ontario Catholic Trustees’ Association in April 2015, the Ombudsman reported that complaints received by his office were investigated by lawyers.  In addition, there is an internal committee called the Special Ombudsman Response Team that was created to conduct “specialized systemic investigations on high-profile issues affecting large numbers of people1” that are identified by the Ombudsman.

Since an investigation by the Ombudsman cannot take place before an internal review process is complete, school boards might want to consider ensuring that their process for resolving parent and community concerns is a formal procedure pursuant to board policy.  A procedure outlining a process for the review of concerns may assist a school board to resolve the issue before a complaint is made to the Ombudsman, as well as avoid the Ombudsman from determining that there is a systemic issue with the way in which parent and/or community concerns are managed by the school board.