The hustle and bustle of the first few days have likely tapered down to a familiar rhythm of waking up to perform daily routines before kids head into class. But for many young people, elementary and secondary students alike, school enrolment is a barrier they are still trying to overcome.
Enrolment in Ontario Schools
The process for school enrollment is relatively simple. Families will generally have to establish a few things when registering a child:
Proof of the child’s age (usually with a passport or birth certificate);
Proof of address (a bank statement, telephone or electric bills with a parents name may suffice);
Proof of guardianship;
Proof of students immigration status.
For most Ontario residents, these hurdles are minimal, and for good reason. A child has the right to attend school; in fact, legislation under the Education Act tends to run congruent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 28 in particular:
States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular...
So weeks into the school year, it is a very curious thing that despite their best efforts, many young people are still not enrolled in a school.
For public policy reasons, the many young people who fall into one of the groups below may find school enrolment a particular challenge. I want to draw attention to those struggles and highlight the need for more timely solutions.
I once watched a show called The Red Bad Society (it was actually was really dope, check it out if you can) when I first heard the term, emancipated minor. It refers to a legal mechanism in America that allows a young person to free themselves from the custody of their parents or guardians, and be responsible for their own support. It's not really a thing throughout much of Canada — except in Quebec, where you can become legally responsible for yourself before you turn 18.
In Ontario, we don't have emancipation. Instead, section 65 the Children's Law Reform Act allows young people between the ages of 16 and 17 to withdraw from parental control with respect to child custody. While it seems that the law in Ontario recognizes all the legal entitlements of a young person who may choose to assert their independence, many schools struggle to understand this.
A person who has withdrawn from parental control may no longer meet the guardianship requirement for enrolment, and in instances where they have left home, may be unable to provide a proof of address. But remember, residents of Ontario have a right to education; although a 16 or 17-year-old may no longer have a legal guardian, this right is not negated. In fact, the authority to attend a school where the young person resides independently is found throughout the Education Act. It reflects the right of 16 and 17-year-olds to live independently and to attend school in their own right. Nonetheless, many schools fail to recognize this autonomy and place onerous burdens not expressed in the law, on the young person who wants to enroll.
Could schools offer more flexibility and understanding for a young person who has left home and is unstably housed? While there may be school administrators who do empathize and support a young person who is an independent student, would it be in the interests of these students to have policy guidelines to assist schools unfamiliar or even resistant to acknowledging a student's rights?
When a young person travels to Canada for the purposes of visiting but remains for an indefinite amount of time, families may want to enroll the child in a school.
While residents are entitled access to schools in Ontario, the Education Act allows for families without status to also enroll their children in school. Parents will be required to pay a fee, thousands of dollars to enroll a child (see s. 49 of the Education Act). However, the Education Act lists exceptions where school board will not charge fees. Some of these include:
The student is part of an educational exchange;
A class of persons prescribed by regulations. This could be considered a humanitarian element of the Education Act that acknowledges events where families may be displaced. At one point, children from hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake had fees waived if they were seeking education at the time;
Where the family is a temporary resident within the meaning of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, but plan to stay in Ontario and apply for permanent residency. Since the Education Act relies on its definition of a visitor from legislation surrounding immigration status. This definition is significant, as many families cease to be visitors if they have been in Canada for more than 6 months, and have formally begun an application for permanent resident status. But for many young people, they are caught in a 6-month window of education-less limbo.
Many people believe that it is not legal for officials to ask for immigration status in Canada. The term sanctuary city may be responsible for this belief, however, a sanctuary city only refers to the limited cooperation by a municipality with Federal immigration law. The consequence of this would be that immigration status would not be relevant to municipally regulated services such as garbage collection. For this reason, it is legal for schools, governed by provincial legislation, to ask for a child's status in Canada; the Education Act requires this information for admittance without a fee.
What we end up with is children recognized as temporary residents, with no access to public school unless they overcome the hurdle of large fees. Although there are legitimate reasons for not necessarily investing public funds into visiting youth, what practical solutions could be implemented to ensure a child caught in these circumstances, still has access to education? Is it possible to provide them with curriculum to learn at home? the Ministry of Education is able to provide these resources, to anyone who requests it, but a proactive, streamlined approached to facilitate the young person's development is necessary. This is a matter of acknowledging the young person shouldn’t be penalized for circumstances far beyond their control.
Young people, from no fault of their own, are at times found to be denied access to school enrolment. The rigidity of policies and legislation, while rationale in their mandates are devoid of reality, in circumstances where a child's right to education trumps many other public interest concerns. Young people from fractured families may find themselves living independently or in new environments for their own well being. It is unjust to create more barriers for these resilient young people. And while I understand that children who find themselves in a new country may not have families that contribute to the public purse funding our public schools, is our legacy as Canadians going to be to bar a child until their guardians are able to meet their legal obligations?
I don't have policy solutions to these uncommon legal issues some students find themselves in before school has even begun for them, but it is a conversation worth having. Don't you?