Explaining Education Law

Education law refers to the rules and principles that govern the interaction of individuals, institutions and organizations associated with the education process.  These rules and principles are derived primarily from the Canadian constitution, federal and provincial statutes, regulatory codes of conduct, standards of reasonable behavior established by the courts and contracts between parties to the education process.

Who are the parties governed by Education Law?

There are many parties to the education process, each of which has rights and obligations essential to the function of the process as a whole:

  • students, whose minds are intended to be advanced;
  • teachers and professors, who are knowledgeable in subjects and are responsible for advancing the minds of students;
  • administrators, who provide logistical bearings in near endless matters to maintain an educational structure;
  • school board trustees and provincial ministry officials, who regulate, manage and work to fund (to varying degrees) educational institutions; and
  • parents or guardians, who deliver students into the education process.  

These individuals operate within the education process through institutions that dispense educational services, which may be funded privately or publicly, designed for adults or children, oriented to a narrow social group or more broadly to all, and are certified to grant one or several degrees of educational achievement.

Organizations are established to promote the interests of these groups of individuals and institutions, including student societies and federations, teachers’ and professors’ unions, and regulatory bodies designed to establish and enforce professional standards. 

How have the educational and legal communities become increasingly intertwined?

The traditional image of educational institutions as small, isolated knowledge-generating communities has been replaced by vibrant, sophisticated and savvy creatures that function predominantly in a business-oriented manner to achieve educational purposes.  Actors within the educational system are increasingly turning to experienced legal advisors to enable them to fulfill their roles while assisting students to reach academic success.  Their legal needs intersect tradition legal practices in many ways, including:

  • Labour and Employment: Educational professionals and their unions are subject to a series of rules and guidelines, some of which are unique to the educational context and others that apply generally to employees and labour groups, such those pertaining to the negotiation and application of collective agreements.
  • Torts: Educational institutions are liable in tort for a direct act or through vicarious liability for acts of employees. In particular, these institutions have a duty to provide a safe environment for students, which raises issues in relation to bullying and injuries that can be suffered by individuals on school grounds.
  • Human Rights: Constitutional freedoms are defined significantly by disputes arising within the educational experience, specifically in relation to freedom of speech and expression, equality rights, and the rights of children with special needs.
  • Administrative Law: The decisions of adjudicative bodies within educational institutions and other organizations on a wide range of issues are subject to judicial review before the courts, and these bodies are treated similarly to administrative agencies. 
  • Corporate Governance: Universities generally manage their affairs through a bi-cameral structure composed of a board of directors or governors and a senate, which structure creates opportunity for jurisdictional conflicts. 
  • Real Estate and Commercial Leasing: Educational institutions require diverse property interests to adequately provide forums for learning, and administrators are frequently obliged to deal with zoning, assessments, and ownership and leasing issues. 
  • Citizenship and Immigration: Students and professionals from jurisdictions outside Canada and the United States are generally encouraged to attend and teach at our educational institutions. 
  • Regulatory Compliance: Educational institutions are subject to a comprehensive statutory framework and must consistently and vigilantly abide by a myriad of different rules. 
  • Intellectual Property: Teaching materials and research initiatives often raise issues regarding reproduction and ownership of intellectual property. 
  • Taxation: Educational institutionsbenefit from favourable tax rules that can result in substantial tax savings. 
  • Aboriginal Law: Aboriginal governments are increasingly assuming jurisdiction over education within their communities.
  • Privacy: Institutional administrators control student records, which contain information that is deemed to be private and, in some circumstances, privileged.