The role of the principal is in constant flux and the number one external influence is change to school regulations that alter the duties of the principal. According to the "The Future of Principalship in Canada," over 70 percent of principals who participated in a Canada-wide study felt that the changes in school regulation had made a significant impact on their school. With new accountability policies and the standardized evaluation of students, principals have more and more demands on their plate. The general duties of the Principal are outlined in the Education Act that can be found in the OPC Handbook or www.e-laws.on.ca. However, it is essential that board policies are followed to avoid corporate liability.
Corporate Liability: Court, tribunal, or other body with oversight determines that there was a failure of some sort, the "fault" may deemed to be that of the corporation, that is, the district school board. It may be that the principal carried out duties in good faith, even if imperfectly, or that the board direction was seen to be insufficient or somehow flawed. The board, therefore, would bear any costs arising out of such a finding, usually through an insurance policy. Common examples of corporate liability can include lawsuits, complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and grievance/arbitration.
The employment contract of a principal contains an indemnification clause that provides legal support to a principal at the board's cost whenever a complaint arises that pertains to the principal's professional duties. This support also provides the payment of any monetary penalties. It is important to remember that a complaint is just that until the claim is determined to have merit. Anyone can file a lawsuit if they feel that they have suffered a loss. The "Statement of Claim" describes that person's view of the cause/effect of the alleged actions or inactions. An investigation will determine merit. This is why documentation is a crucial expectation of the principal. Documentation showing that the principal called the appropriate board personal to seek advice shows due diligence in an investigation. As indicated in OPC’s Handbook: A Practical Guide for Principals and Vice-principals, “develop the documentation habit [by] ensuring that forms, reports, records (detailed) are objective and make sure that tracking, filing and retention of information is precise and up-to-date”. Communication with the SO is also very important to determine clarity when making important decisions.
So what happens when a principal fails to comply with board policy or acts unprofessional? When a principal is “in trouble”, it is deemed that his/her behaviour/actions have been negligent, unprofessional, irresponsible, and having “failed to comply with the board’s policies and procedures”. The Principal is held accountable by the school board and is liable for their actions.
Personal Liability: A principal is responsible for their own actions. A principal who is alleged to have deliberately violated board policy or to have committed professional misconduct could be found personally liable if those allegations were found to be true. In that case, the principal would bear the consequences of those actions such as discipline, demotion, dismissal. Common examples of personal liability are complaints to the Ontario College of Teachers, complaints to the employer-board of misconduct, or criminal charges. A Member of the Ontario Principals' Council is entitled to the support of the Protective Services Team for assistance in responding to such allegations. The indemnification clause does not pertain to wilful acts of negligence or misconduct.
How do we make time to thoroughly acquire the knowledge and skills while covering all the bases expected in the role of the principal?
There are so many resources that a principal must be familiar with and take into account when making decisions:
- Board Policies and Procedures
- Collective Agreements, Labour Laws
- Ontario Human Rights Code and Legislation
- Safe Schools Act
- Health and Safety
- Family Child Services, VTRA, First Aid Training
Those are just a few I'm sure you could think of more to add to the list. It is absurd to think that the average principal would be able to cite policy and regulation related to every decision that they make. What is important is that unless it comes to immediate safety of students or staff a decision does not have to made immediately. Take your time, rely on your colleagues and supervisor for advice and act in good faith and put the student first. Remember that you are part of a team even if you are a sole principal you are not alone!!