When he was in Elementary 4, Samuel spent over a month sitting in front of the office of the school principal. Isolated from his classmates because of his behavioural problems, he was not allowed to return to class or to play outside in the schoolyard during recreation periods.
During the entire time, Samuel received no lessons and didn’t see any friends. Even though his mother, Marie-Claude,1 made repeated requests to the school administration to find a solution and to allow her son to return to his class, nothing was done. The school principal admitted that the school lacked resources to provide support to both Samuel and his teacher in order to foster the young boy’s smooth return to the classroom.
After reaching out to the school administration, Marie-Claude could have filed a complaint. Faced with the complexity of the procedure, the timeline for a settlement that she anticipated would be very long and the fear that the process would not be neutral, she gave up.
All school service centres, all school boards and all private schools have a procedure allowing students and parents to lodge complaints. Education Minister Jean-François Roberge recently tabled Bill 9, which aims to speed up and standardize the complaint processing procedure, and enhance the independence of these procedures in each institution.
The bill makes changes to the student protection mechanisms in both public and private establishments, by proposing to appoint a National Student Ombudsman (NSO) and regional student ombudsmen (RSO).
“Although we welcome the Bill, it does raise a number of areas that require improvement,” said CSQ president Éric Gingras. Specifically, school network federations affiliated with the CSQ would like to see:
- Greater independence
To ensure greater impartiality, the National Student Ombudsman should be appointed by the National Assembly rather than by the government, as is currently proposed in the Bill. The appointment of regional student ombudsmen should be carried out by the government rather than by the Minister.
Of utmost importance is the regional student ombudsmen’s ability to properly understand the complaints being filed and to make a thorough, fair analysis, which depends on their competence and their knowledge of the education network. This benefits both complainants and the individuals cited in complaints.
- Dialogue as an initial solution
Although mechanisms are needed to protect students and the services to which they are entitled, before resorting to them, “it is worth allowing room for dialogue and collaboration between students, parents and staff,” said Éric Gingras.
“It is particularly important to be able to distinguish between dissatisfaction and a complaint,” he added. “The dissatisfied individual must be able to reach out to the person concerned to inform them and try to find a solution, without this automatically being considered a complaint.”
However, in its current version, the Bill is at risk of causing confusion in the workplaces because it does not allow for clearly distinguishing between an informal discussion over a a dissatisfaction from a formal complaint.
- A better definition of the concept of service
The bill raises an important issue: students or their parents can lodge a complaint when they are dissatisfied with a service, but the concept of service is very broad. It is essential to clearly delineate what can or cannot be the subject of a complaint.
- Preventing duplication of recourse
Clearly defining the subject of complaints would also avoid duplication of recourse. An initial evaluation of complaints should be carried out to determine whether other recourse might be more appropriate or already underway. In such a case, the processing of the complaint should be suspended. However, the current legislation stipulates that the complaint would continue to be examined.
Lastly, staff members should also be able to reach out to the Student Ombudsman to inform them of unacceptable situations in which students’ rights are not respected. “This could contribute to formulating recommendations that are collective in scope and that allow for suggesting improvements to benefit all students,” concluded Éric Gingras.
1 Marie-Claude wished to remain anonymous.