MONTREAL, JANUARY 26, 2011 – The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has established a formal complaint examination procedure for students, their parents or guardians, while also appointing an official Student Ombudsman.
William Hartzog, a noted lawyer, mediator and social worker, has been chosen to serve as the Student Ombudsman for both the EMSB and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Boards. A by-law adopted by the EMSB Council of Commissioners now enables the Student Ombudsman to field complaints from students, parents or guardians who are dissatisfied with or have exhausted the normal process.
“Although the ultimate objective is to resolve any issue at the level closest to where the situation has occurred, if such steps fail, the new by-law is intended to provide another forum for complainants,” states EMSB Chairman Angela Mancini. “Moreover, at anytime throughout the complaint process, the complainant has the right to ask for the intervention of the Student Ombudsman.”
According to the new by-law, the Student Ombudsman must handle any complaints efficiently and effectively. He will also ensure that all complaints are treated with equity, impartiality and transparency, that the rights of anyone involved in a complaint will be respected, and that a clear and detailed explanation of all decisions be rendered.
Within 30 days after receiving a complaint, the Student Ombudsman must give the Council of Commissioners an opinion on its merits and recommend any appropriate corrective measures To ensure impartiality, neither a member of the Council of Commissioners nor a member of the personnel of the EMSB could be deemed eligible for this position. “We are extremely pleased that a Student Ombudsman and a complaints mechanism are now in place,” stated EMSB Commissioner Liz Leaman, the chairman of the Governance and Ethics Committee
The complaint process provided in the present by-law is administrative in nature and not judicial or quasi-judicial Consequently, the complainant cannot summon and examine witnesses or request a hearing. Only the concerned student or his parents or guardians may make a complaint. Before any complaint is to be examined, it is expected that the individual has consulted and attempted in good faith to resolve the issue with the person who made the decision. The recipient of the complaint must have sufficient information to deal with the complaint. Only written complaints will receive a response in writing.
All complaints must first be made to the following people in the following order: the school or centre principal when the complaint concerns a decision made by the staff of a school or centre; the regional director and/or the director of the service concerned by the decision and, if applicable, to the Deputy Director General or Director General.
The Director General may decide to establish a review committee composed of three people to examine the complaint. This committee shall give to all interested parties the opportunity to present their point of view and report in writing its decision to the Director General, who will forward the decision to the complainant with copies to the employee(s) whose decision was under examination. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the manner in which the complaint was handled or its outcome, he must address a written complaint to the Secretary General by completing a student complaint form who will inform the complainant of the relevant procedure to be followed in each case.
A complainant who is dissatisfied with the way a complaint has been handled or with its outcome, must refer the complaint to the Student Ombudsman, in writing, within 90 days from the date initiating the complaint process. When the Student Ombudsman receives a complaint, he must verify that the complainant has exhausted the remedies provided for by the present by-law by contacting the Secretary General prior to examining the complaint. Notwithstanding this, the Student Ombudsman may take up a complaint at any stage if he considers that intervention is necessary to prevent harm from being caused to the Complainant. The Student Ombudsman may upon summary examination of the complaint dismiss it, if in his opinion it is frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith. He may also refuse or cease to examine a complaint if he has reasonable cause to believe that intervening would clearly serve no purpose.
The School Board must take the necessary measures to ensure the confidentiality of a complainant and prevent any form of retaliation against an individual who exercised his rights in accordance with the present by-law. On September 15 of each year the Student Ombudsman must send the School Board a report stating the number of complaint referrals received and their nature, the measures recommended and any action taken during the previous school year. It is understood that no names of individuals and schools or incidents that may identify a person or a school shall be reported publicly.
Mr. Hartzog can be reached at 514-483-7200 ext. 7880 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The complete by-law can be accessed on the EMSB website.