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The Ontario Ombudsman’s office gained new mandates to investigate complaints about school boards on September 1, 2015. The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the administrative conduct of school boards that have not been resolved by local complaint mechanisms or appeals processes. These may include concerns about special education supports, school and school board policies, customer service provided by board staff, or other matters within the authority of individual school boards.

Although the Ombudsman’s office has the right to formally investigate complaints, most complaints go first to the Early Resolution Team, which attempts to resolve issues by alternative dispute mechanisms, e.g. mediation. The Early Resolution Team usually starts at the Superintendent level, as the complainant (i.e. the parent) must have gone above the school level before the Ombudsman’s office will get involved.

If there is no resolution through alternative dispute approaches, a formal investigation may be initiated, and the Ombudsman’s Act requires respondents (i.e. the school board) to disclose information and documents in the investigation. After an investigation, recommendations are made and the Ombudsman’s office advocates for adherence. Organizations don’t have to act on the Ombudsman’s recommendations, but historically, almost all recommendations have been accepted.  Results of major investigations are usually published and organizations are asked to report back regularly on progress.

The Ombudsman’s office tracks complaints to flag recurring issues and underlying systemic issues in order to bring trends to meetings with administration, e.g. Assistant Deputy Ministers, Directors of Education.

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