Understanding the Premise Behind the Ontario Ministry of Education School SafetyAct
By Lisa Lahey
Zero Tolerance in Ontario’s Public
Bill 212, Ministry of Education, 2000
Bill 212, or the Safe Schools Act, was added to the Education
Act in 2000 in order to address several issues including bullying,
violence, possession of weapons and the sale and use of illegal
drugs on school premises.The Act was not intended to objectify
students from disadvantaged communities but rather to ensure
the safety of educators and students.
Bullying is defined under the Education Act as “repeated, persistent and aggressive
behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause fear and
distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation.”
The use of social media (eg Facebook) to bully another person is included in this
Possession of Illegal Drugs
The crime of having one
or more illegal drugs in
one’s possession and of
giving alcohol to a minor
is not just grounds for
expulsion but also for
criminal charges being
levied against a student.
Usually schools and
school boards try not to
charge a student
particularly on a first
offence but police are
being involved more
Physical or Sexual Assault
Any physical or sexual assault against an educator, administrator or student is also
punishable by criminal charges, suspension and/or expulsion. During the first seven
years of the Education Act administrators were permitted to expel students and
teachers had the right to suspend.
Possession and/or use of a Weapon
Even in the event where a weapon is not used or threatened to be used against a
student or educator any student caught with an illegal weapon in his/her
possession can be suspended or expelled.The right to search the student’s person,
locker and personal belongings is included in the original Bill.
Ontario Human Rights
Alerted to the growing number of minority students who were being
suspended and/or expelled as a result of zero tolerance in the schools the
Ontario Human Rights Commission appealed a number of facets of Bill
212 resulting in Bill 81, a revision of the original bill.The revision displaced
the notion of zero tolerance in the schools in a number of ways.
Revisions to Bill 212 state that school boards and schools are responsible to
create and use anti-bullying campaigns in the schools and curriculum to inform
and educate teachers and students about bullying in the schools.
Schools are expected to use progressive discipline rather than suspension with
students who experience consistent behaviour problems, particularly those with
behavioural needs and disorders. Principals retain the power to suspend where
necessary but are urged to consider “mitigating factors” such as student’s
behaviour disorders when suspending students.
Factors that impact an administrator’s right to suspend include the age and
history of a student, whether the behaviour was in response to harassment,
and in cases of special education students whether the behaviour was listed
in the student’s behaviour plan (IEP).
Certain offences remain
•Possession of illegal
•Giving alcohol to a
•Possession of a weapon
with a weapon
Principals no longer have the right to expel a student. S/he may offer a recommendation to the
school board for student expulsion but ultimately it is the board that makes the decision whether or
not expulsion is in both the school’s and the student’s best interests. In the case of student
expulsion however the board is required to provide a viable alternative educational opportunity.
The issue of suspension, expulsion, increased incidents of violence in the
schools present an ongoing challenge. Overall Ontario public schools do a
respectable job at educating, disciplining and socializing students. The
majority of students appear to benefit from
Ontario’s school anti-violence and anti-bullying
campaigns. An equal emphasis needs to be
placed upon the home environment and parental
And community influences in order for school initiatives
to be fully effective.