npiuuwh · 2021-03-01

School boards react to code of conduct recommendation

Catholic school board chair John Grise is expecting lively discussion around a provincial report that could mean the mandatory creation of a code of conduct for trustees to define the role of board positions.

The Ministry of Education report, School Board Governance: A Focus On Student Achievement, calls for a clarification of the roles of individual trustees, board chairs and directors of education. It also suggests creating a provincial code of conduct for trustees and creating audit committees to oversee school boards.

The code of conduct could require trustees to act with integrity, respect others and not speak out against board decisions once made. Trustees violating the code could be censured by the board, lose their honoraria or be barred for up to three meetings, according to the report.

Grise said it’s good to define the roles of the board.

"There are a lot of positive recommendations and many of them simply serve to define those things that we have been informally doing," said Grise.

He said the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and the Simcoe County District School Board operate in a transparent manner.

"I feel that not just on behalf of my board, but for my co-terminus boards, that Simcoe County can be really proud of the trustees in the public and separate boards," said Grise.

The public board already has an optional code of ethics trustees can choose to sign. Simcoe County District School Board chair Diane Firman said because the current code is optional, it doesn’t really have any teeth when it comes to enforcement. She said she thinks the recommendations are a step in the right direction in updating the current education policies.

"It’s a very important step to modernize archaic legislation," she said.

Public board trustee and immediate past chair Mary Anne Wilson said she was happy to see the report included input from the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. Several school boards, including SCDSB, took part in the development process of the report.

Wilson said overall she was pleased with the report, but she did still have some concerns however. She questioned why school board trustees should be held to higher standards than other elected officials. She said if trustees are bound by a code of ethics, so too should municipal, provincial and federal representatives.

Wilson was also worried about the recommendation that trustees not speak out against the board after a decision had been made. She said it could keep some trustees from trying to revisit past decisions that they think need to be updated or changed.

"Like any other body, we will occasionally make mistakes, or the world will change around us," she said.

Wilson said she isn’t necessarily opposed to the entire concept of the provision, but she would like to make sure it was worded carefully to allow trustees and boards to reconsider decisions when necessary.

Work on the report started in November 2008, when Education Minister Kathleen Wynne asked the governance review committee to meet with the education sector to look into how the governance system could be modernized.

The Ontario Public School Board Association has welcomed the recommendations in the report. A press release from the association said the report includes many of the association’s recommendations, and "affirms the importance of school boards as an effective and vital level of governance for promoting democracy and civic engagement at the local level."