Hazing scandal highlights lack of oversight for private schools

Clearly parents are choosing private as an option, but considering the alleged assaults at St. Michael’s, are kids less safe at a private school?
Clearly parents are choosing private as an option, but considering the alleged assaults at St. Michael’s, are kids less safe at a private school?

The recent scandal at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto illustrated some dark practices at the private school.

“We are deeply saddened by the recent incidents that have taken place at our beloved school. They are offensive to everything we stand for and to the values we strive to instill in our students,” wrote Michael Forsayeth, board chair on the school’s home page.

(The school’s president Jefferson Thompson and principal Greg Reeves resigned last week.)

The school, which offers schooling to boys in grades seven through 12, was founded in 1852 and it is the only “independent Catholic school for young men,” in the province, according to the site.

But, the school (and many other private schools) do not operate under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of Education. The exact level and nature of governance is not well understood by most.

“The Ministry does not regulate, licence, accredit or otherwise oversee the operation of private schools. Parents/guardians and students must do their research before registering for private schools,” according to the ministry’s web site.

It regulates the curriculum, but only if the school wishes to grant credits toward the awarding of the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), said the site. There are inspections, but only to ensure the school is complying with the diploma rules: there is nothing about teacher behaviour or anything that students may become involved in. The schools must abide by the Education Act, however.

“Private schools were exempted from almost everything under the Education Act,” said John Schuman in an interview with CBC. Schuman is part of the Family Law Group at Devry Smith Frank LLP.

According to the Fraser Institute in its 2017 report The Funding and Regulation of Independent Schools in Canada, there are a lot of parents who send their children to private schools. “In 2013/14, Canada had slightly fewer than 2,000 independent schools enrolling more than 360,000 students.”

“Non-funded independent schools have fewer regulations than funded independent schools. In the five provinces that offer public funding, non-funded independent schools are subject to fewer requirements than funded independent schools in that province,” said the report.

Clearly parents are choosing private as an option, but considering the alleged assaults at St. Michael’s, are kids less safe at a private school?

In a 2016 Ottawa Citizen story, there were “significant concerns” raised by the auditor general’s 2013 report on private schools in the province. Ontario has “one of the least regulated private school sectors in Canada.”

In one case highlighted by the Toronto Star, a convicted sex offender was found to be working as a tutor at a private school and the only discipline possible at some of these schools is between teacher and principal.

And because they are considered private businesses, any discipline imposed is also private.

“Critics claim the case has unveiled major flaws in Ontario’s education sector, including a complete lack of regulation over private tutorial programs and weak oversight for private schools,” wrote Olivia Carville.

In Alberta, private schools do receive some funding and oversight, as exemplified in a recent case in which schools were warned they will be sanctioned if they don’t comply with a recent law, Bill 24, that would “require all Alberta schools to adopt policies affirming the charter and human rights of students and staff, along with privacy rights, and to post those policies on their websites in a ‘prominent’ location by last June 30,” according to the Edmonton Journal.

Education Minister David Eggen threatened 61 private schools in the province that aren’t following the new rules. The stick is no more public funding.

And the stick in B.C., amounts to risking an estimated $426 million per year, which is what the government sends to the province’s private schools in per-student funding.

It seems that private school oversight in Canada depends a lot on where you live. Best advice is to do your homework, extensively, if you want the best education possible for your children.

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