Provincial ombudsman finds Sask. government failed to adequately investigate complaints about independent schools

Saskatchewan’s ombudsman found that the Ministry of Education failed to investigate complaints against independent schools properly.

In an Early Resolution Summary, the province’s ombudsman, Sharon Pratchler, found the Ministry “lacked reporting and investigation guidelines for addressing complaints related to registered independent schools.”

Pratchler recommended that the Ministry of Education create and implement complaints handling policies and procedures based on Ombudsman Saskatchewan Best Practices.

“A fair and effective complaints process should adhere to the key principles of being citizen-focused, objective, fair, timely, accountable, and confidential,” the summary said. “This entails providing accessible means for submitting complaints and clear guidelines for handling them.”

“Complaints should be assessed promptly, with simple ones resolved quickly and complex ones escalated for further review.”

Pratchler also recommended that when investigating complaints, the Ministry should ensure the independence and qualifications of those conducting the investigation.

“Adequate and properly trained staff, using trauma-informed practices, are important in ensuring a review of a complaint which treats the complainant with dignity and respect,” the report stated. “Key steps in investigating a complaint are establishing the facts, reviewing relevant rules and regulations, and applying them to the situation.”

She said the Ministry also needs to improve its communication skills regarding the finding and decisions of the investigations.

“Communication of findings and decisions should be timely, providing clear reasons and addressing all relevant issues. Information about the appeals process should also be provided. Learning from complaints helps identify recurring issues and improve systems and services.”

The summary comes after a former student of a registered independent school complained about the lack of response from the Ministry of Education to abuse allegations. The complaint raised concerns regarding the oversight, action, and enforcement of regulations by the Ministry of Education concerning registered independent schools.

Pratchler said that given its regulatory role, the Ministry should anticipate receiving complaints about independent schools.

“It is crucial for the Ministry to have a well-established process in place to handle these complaints in a comprehensive, timely, impartial, and fair manner.”

According to the summary, the Ministry had only documented two serious complaints, both referred to the police. Upon receiving notice from the ombudsman’s office, the Ministry recognized the existence of this problem and proactively reached out to our office for further assistance.

The Ministry of Education said it “welcomes the opportunity to work in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Ombudsman in implementing and improving processes that promote the well-being of all Saskatchewan students and ensure their right to safe schools and quality education.”

It has also ensured “all complaints received were properly addressed and resolved.”

The summary noted that the Ministry had implemented the best practices and provided the ombudsman’s office with a draft of their complaint handling policy and procedure.

Education Critic Matt Love said that any changes come too late.

“Instead of jumping to action to protect our kids, the Sask. Party government swept abuse allegations under the rug for years. Who were they protecting? It certainly wasn’t our kids. Student safety and public accountability should have been their number one priority.”

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