All publicly funded school boards in Ontario are governed by boards of trustees. Trustees are representatives of the public and communities’ advocate for public education.

As education leaders, trustees are expected to act with integrity and adhere to high ethical standards. Codes of conduct set out guiding principles, rules of conduct and ethical behaviour that all trustees agree to uphold. If drafted and used effectively, codes can help ensure boards provide the oversight and accountability needed to foster student success and public confidence in the education system.

Current status

Currently, all school boards must have a trustee code of conduct with content determined locally by school boards. The use of local codes has, in some cases, resulted in different standards of professional and ethical conduct across the province.

Most codes include rules relating to civil behaviour, the use of board resources, avoidance of personal advantage and rules around acceptable gifts. School boards may also have other policies, rules and procedures that govern the professional and ethical conduct of trustees, including addressing issues such as workplace harassment, treatment of confidential information and other matters.

Trustee conduct is also governed by several provincial and federal statutes, including the:

Only a trustee can bring forward a complaint about an alleged breach of a board’s trustee code of conduct. The board is required to investigate the complaint and determine whether a breach has taken place. Currently, the process for investigation is locally determined. Boards sometimes hire third-party investigators (for example, a lawyer) to investigate alleged breaches and provide recommendations for board consideration. These investigators are often referred to as integrity commissioners. Currently, the Education Act does not address the use of integrity commissioners in boards.

If a board determines that a breach has taken place, it may impose one or more (or none) of the following consequences or sanctions:

  • censure or publicly reprimand the trustee
  • bar the trustee from attending all or part of a meeting of the board or a meeting of a committee of the board
  • bar the trustee from sitting on one or more committees of the board for a period specified by the board

The Minister of Education does not have authority to impose consequences or sanctions or remove a trustee from office.

About the consultation

On June 15, 2021, the Minister of Education announced the intention to consult on trustee conduct. An online survey was available between September 16 and November 1, 2021.

We sought input on:

  • what type of content should be included in a trustee codes of conduct
  • how to strengthen the integrity of the trustee code of conduct complaint and investigation process
  • what measures and sanctions could be available to boards when a code of conduct is breached.

The survey was a valuable opportunity to hear from the public and to inform future planning in the province.

Your privacy matters

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