Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Yes, Homeschool in Ontario is Legal

I am posting this information for a friend who is considering taking her child out for school for half of the instructional day. I'm incredibly excited that someone I know is attempting something outside the 'normal' way of sending a child to school. 

But as an aside, I must mention that many people who have learned that we are homeschooling have asked "Is that legal?" or "Is that allowed?". I always respond with, "Yes, Canada really is a wonderful country of great freedoms, isn't it? Free education for some, free from education for others."

Actually, the law in Ontario states that school attendance is mandatory. However, exceptions do exist. The Education Act of Ontario specifically mentions 'instruction at home' as a legitimate reason why a child may be excused from school.

Subsection 21
When attendance excused

(2) A person is excused from attendance at school if,

(a) the person is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere;
For many years The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents asked the government to clarify their relationship with homeschoolers. Unbeknown to me, there are places around the province where homeschoolers are or have been regularly harassed by the local school board authorities. Eventually, the government of Ontario created a memorandum to help school board officials recognize the rights of homeschoolers and to know the limits of their authority. The result is Policy/Program Memorandum No. 131 which was issued in 2002.  (A person wishing to withdraw their child from a public school would do well to read the entire document. It is not particularly long.)

Parents who decide to provide home schooling for their child(ren) should notify the school board of their intent in writing. Parents should provide the name, gender, and date of birth of each child who is receiving home schooling, and the telephone number and address of the home.

This section pertains primarily to families who are withdrawing a child from school. Families who have never enrolled a child in public schools are not required to notify the local school board of their intention to homeschool.  This is an important distinction.

Procedures for School Boards

When parents give a board written notification of their intent to provide home schooling for their child, the board should consider the child to be excused from attendance at school, in accordance with subsection 21(2), clause (a), of the Education Act.  The board should accept the written notification of the parents each year as evidence that the parents are providing satisfactory instruction at home.

This sentence is perhaps the most important part of PPM 131 because it frees the majority of parents from further contact with the school board and other authorities of the Ministry of Education.  It means that the school board and its agents are not permitted to ask how or why the parent intends to homeschool the child.
Although most parents are unaware, children of any age are permitted to attend public schools on a part-time basis.  'Part-time' is considered to be less than 210 minutes of instruction time per day.  When I was a teacher I was unaware that part-time attendance was entirely permissible and I wonder if today's principals are similarly uninformed.  (PPM 131) states the following regarding part-time enrollment:

Funding for Part-Time Attendance

The Ministry of Education provides funding to boards for students who attend school on a part-time basis. The per-pupil grants are prorated according to the amount of time the student is in attendance at the school.

Enrolment Registers

A school will not record a child who is receiving home schooling on a full-time basis in the enrolment register for full-time day school students. If, however, a student is receiving some instruction at a school operated by a board, the student's enrolment for this instruction will be recorded in the appropriate register.

So if I a child has been attending school, the parent will need to prepare a letter for the principal informing him/her that the child will be withdrawn from school for part of the school day.  I would suggest that the letter be very clear as to the preference for attendance.  For example, you should indicate that the child will attend mornings only or afternoons only or Mondays and Tuesdays only or whatever is going to work best for your child.

Circumstances do exist which permit the school board to investigate whether or not a parent is actually providing for the education of the child at home.  I think it is important to know the reasons why an investigation might be launched so that the parent can avoid the unnecessary intrusion into their lives.

Reasons for an Investigation

As stated above, it is the responsibility of school boards to excuse children from attendance at school when home schooling is provided, in accordance with subsection 21(2), clause (a), of the Education Act. However, where a board has reasonable grounds to be concerned that the instruction provided in the home may not be satisfactory, the board should investigate the matter.

The following is a list of some of the reasons that may give a board cause to investigate a particular instance of home schooling:

refusal of a parent to notify the board in writing of the intent to provide home schooling

a credible report of concern by a third party with respect to the instruction being provided in the home

evidence that the child was removed from attendance at school because of ongoing conflicts with the school, not for the purpose of home schooling

a history of absenteeism by the child prior to the parent's notifying the board of the intent to provide home schooling

The first, third and fourth reasons for an investigation can reasonably be controlled by the parent.  In other words, don't fight with the school about something or keep your child at home for a while and then withdraw your child from the school.  A parent in Toronto recently faced legal action when he withdrew his disabled son from school after months of fighting to get proper support for the child while at school.  So if you intend to withdraw your child after a period of regular schooling, don't get involved in a conflict first.
The risk that a third party might report you to school for lack of satisfactory instruction is always present.  Whenever a neighbour or someone who has sporatic contact with my family (such as the dentist or the mailman or the gymnastics coach) asks about the schooling of my children I always let them know that I was a teacher for 10 years so I know what to do.  This leads the prying person to believe that I am replicating school at home.  I'm OK with that if that's what it takes to keep people out of my business.  Parents should be careful who they tell about the details of their family's private life.
The PPM 131 goes on to give instructions about the type of questions that a parent should be prepared to answer should an investigation be launched into their homeschooling practices.  I won't even bother to start a tirade on how ironic it is that a school board official has the power to decide if a parent is providing satisfactory instruction--in most cases, if the school system were capable of providing satisfactory instruction the parents would send the child to school, wouldn't they? 
There are instructions to the investigator to be aware that different styles of instruction exist, but there is also a checklist of specific things to look for (such as evidence that a variety of subjects are being taught.)  I think my perfect job would be as a homeschool investigator.  I could really help parents as opposed to trying to prosecute them or force their children to attend school. Having an intimate knowledge of the public school system as well as experience as a homeschooling parent might turn out to be the perfect combination to get into a new career someday. 



  1. Thank-you so much for posting this info! It is so clear and concise, and your argument so well balanced. I have been hovering on the brink of officially sending my daughter part-time...she is currently enroled full time. I have had to face the inquisition of the school board attendance "counsellor" and the principal, neither of whom knew that part-time attendance was a legal option until I informed them. Your posting touches on every single one of my concerns regarding how to deal with potential "persecution" by school officials who are ill informed and functioning in an old authoritarian paradigm. So thank you for providing this and helping me to bolster my courage, to arm myself with info and to finally commit to what my heart feels is right for my daughter!

  2. kool thanx soooo much...this has made my fight much more powerful! nuff respect to the ppl out there standing up and taking action!