In July 2017, a 15-year-old boy named Jeremiah Perry drowned in Algonquin Park while on a canoe trip with his high school.
Shortly after the incident, the Toronto District School Board acknowledged that Jeremiah had failed his swim test. Fourteen other students had also failed the swim test but were permitted on the canoe trip. As a result, Deloitte LLP conducted a third-party review of the safety requirements identified in the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (Ophea) Safety Guidelines.
The review identified that while most school boards have policies and procedures that are compliant with the Safety Guidelines, enforcement of those guidelines is inconsistent. Deloitte recommended that a centralized policy support centre be created to assist, particularly for smaller and rural school boards, with the training and resources necessary to ensure that school boards are able to enforce the expectations in the guidelines. Deloitte also recommended that school boards audit the implementation of safety policies and procedures in their schools on a regular basis to identify when and why schools are not compliant with the expectations.
Canadian courts have considered the issue of negligence during school board excursions. In the leading case, Myers v Peel (County) Board of Education, the Supreme Court of Canada established the careful or prudent parent standard of care that must be reflective of, among other factors, the activity being supervised, the number and capacity of the students being supervised, and the equipment being used.
The standard of care requires that educators not only appropriately supervise the students while on excursions, but also ensure that students and their supervisors have appropriate training, equipment and experience to address the foreseeable risks of the activities in which they will engage. Where a standard, such as Ophea’s Safety Guidelines, has been established, school boards will be expected by the court, at a minimum, to adopt and enforce the standard established.
As we are heading into the summer months, it is perhaps a good opportunity for school boards to take time to review their excursion policies and procedures to ensure they are meeting the standard identified in the Ophea Safety Guidelines; to identify any necessary training for administrators; and to create an audit process that would assist with monitoring compliance.