On July 17, 2019, the Ontario Ombudsman released his report “Lessons Not Learned” about his investigation of the Near North District School Board. The investigation looked at the transparency of Near North trustees’ decision to close a secondary school after a pupil accommodation review process in 2017. The Ombudsman found that the trustees’ final decision was procedurally unfair because key information that trustees relied on was never made public. He made 14 recommendations, including that trustees vote again on the school closure following a new round of public input.
The report is of particular interest to those who work with school boards on governance matters. The Ombudsman looked at case law around procedural fairness expectations, school closure decisions, and open meeting requirements in both the education and municipal contexts to ground his recommendations.
Some of the Ombudsman’s recommendations may seem basic at first glance: provide public notice of meetings, set clear meeting agendas, ensure reports contain all relevant information, keep adequate minutes. However, the Ombudsman’s comments on open meetings under the Education Act and his finding that trustees’ decision-making was procedurally unfair in this case are a reminder that school boards need to be fully transparent when making decisions around school closures and consolidations.