School Closure Policy - Independent Schools

Date came into force or revised

Sept 3, 2021

Status

Current

Policy statement

School closure, particularly with short or limited notice, may have educational, financial, social and emotional impacts on students, families and school staff.

The decision by an independent school authority to close a school should be made in a considered manner and should be supported by a school closure policy and plan to minimize the impact of any closure on the school community.

Rationale or purpose of policy

This policy outlines the considerations and requirements for independent school closures in an effort to minimize the impacts of these closures on students, families, and staff, to facilitate an orderly school closure and to ensure compliance with legislative requirements.

Authority

Independent School Act (PDF), section 4

Independent School Act (PDF), Schedule, section 2

Independent School Regulation (PDF), section 9

Student Records Order (PDF), section 5(3)

Teachers Act (PDF), section 80

Personal Information Protection Act

Policy in full

Whether a school closure is planned or unplanned, an independent school authority is required to take steps to limit the impact of the school’s closure on the school’s community.  Planning, communications, and awareness of legal and other requirements are key to reducing the impact on students, families, teachers and staff.

Beginning in the 2021/22 school year, school authorities of all new independent schools are required to develop and maintain a school closure risk mitigation plan during the first five years of operation to minimize the impact of a potential school closure on the school community.

At the discretion of the Inspector of Independent Schools, independent school authorities of schools deemed to be at risk of a potential school closure may be required to develop and maintain a school closure plan.

All independent school authorities closing a school are required to follow the procedures described in this policy.

Context

Independent school closures can be caused by a variety of circumstances including a financial shortfall, enrolment decline, or damage to the school facility due to accident or disaster. Typically, in these circumstances, the school’s closure will be initiated by the school authority.

School closure can also be the result of suspension or cancellation of a school’s Certificate of Group Classification by the Inspector of Independent Schools due to non-compliance with the requirements for certification. The Inspector may cancel or suspend an independent school's Certificate of Group Classification if the school fails to maintain the standards and requirements for the certificate or breaches a condition of the certificate, or if it fails to comply with the ISA, regulations or orders made under the ISA, or a requirement of the Inspector. Independent school authorities are promptly advised by the Inspector of any issues that could result in the suspension or cancellation of a school’s certificate to enable the school to respond in a timely manner. In exceptional circumstances a school may have its Certificate of Group Classification cancelled without an opportunity to resolve the issues of concern.

The external evaluation and inspection of independent schools is intended to ensure that independent schools understand, meet and maintain the legislated standards and requirements for their Certificate of Group Classification under the Independent School Act (PDF) (ISA). This process focusses predominantly on student safety and delivery of the educational program.

Certification should not be seen by a school community as a guarantee that the school will remain operational in the future.

The Ministry of Education does not provide supplemental funding to independent schools or to their communities in the event of an unplanned school closure. Schools are solely responsible for setting their fee refund policies. In the event of a school closure, the school community is advised to refer to the school’s fee refund policy and to work with the school authority on the issuance of refunds. The Ministry of Education does not mediate disagreements between the school authority and members of the school community regarding issuance of refunds.

Group 4 independent schools are required to maintain a bond held for the purpose of providing partial tuition refunds. See the Group 4 Independent School Bonding Policy for additional information.

The Ministry of Education carefully monitors school closures and, within the bounds of applicable legislation, strives to ensure 1.) students and parents are aware of the processes and options for transitioning to a new school, and 2.) teachers, staff and administrators are aware of options for employment with boards of education or with other independent school authorities in BC in the event of a school closure. 

Procedures related to policy

A. Planning

As an aspect of emergency preparedness, independent schools within the first five years of certification should develop and maintain school closure plans that specify how responsibilities will be fulfilled in the event of either a planned or unplanned school closure.

If declining enrolment, financial position, or other unforeseen circumstances undermine the viability of a school’s operations, the authority is solely responsible for making pragmatic, considered, and timely decisions regarding the future operation of a school.

Only when exceptional circumstances make the continued operation of the school impossible, should an authority consider closing a school while instruction is underway, or just about to begin. Ideally, a school’s formal closure should occur at the end of a school year, after all courses are complete and student marks finalized, recorded, communicated to students and submitted to the Ministry.

In the event of a school closure, even in exceptional circumstances where a school is closed with little warning, the authority has multiple responsibilities to families, staff, creditors, and to the Ministry of Education.

In any school closure, the independent school authority is expected to undertake the following procedures:

  1. School closure plan

The authority should submit a school closure plan to the Independent Schools Office at the Ministry of Education. Plans should be sent to: EDUC.independentSchoolsOffice@gov.bc.ca.

  1. Health and safety

School authorities are responsible for student health and safety while students are in the school’s care. In the event of a school closure, schools that offer boarding and/or homestay programs for international students have a particular responsibility, in consultations with the parents, to ensure that minor students are safely returned to the care of parents or guardians.

  1. Communications

As soon as an authority decides that it will close a school, it should provide an initial notice to the Inspector of Independent Schools and the local school district(s), as well as the Federation of Independent School Associations, if applicable. Students, families, and staff, should be informed in a timely fashion, enabling sufficient time for those groups to react to the school’s pending closure.

After initial notification, the Inspector should then be provided with formal written notice of closure from the authority that provides the following information:

  • the name of the school or authority representative that will oversee the school’s closure, including email, phone and cell phone details;
  • timing of the school’s closure;
  • confirmation that the students, families, and staff have been informed of the closure;
  • confirmation that the local school district(s) has been advised of the school’s closure and the expected number of students who may be enrolling with the district;
  • confirmation that student course work and progress assessments have been completed, communicated, and submitted to the Ministry;
  •  confirmation that transcripts have been sent to the receiving schools;
  • confirmation that refunds have been provided in accordance with the school’s fee refund policy to families for educational programs not completed or begun;
  • steps taken to assist students to find placement in other educational programs and to assist staff to find other employment; and
  • confirmation that the school’s website, social media accounts, and other publications have been updated to reflect the school’s impending closure (all online publications should be further revised to reflect the school’s closure after the last day of classes).
  1. Educational continuity and student records
  • The authority should take all reasonable steps to ensure that the impact on students and families is minimized by
    • timing closure for the end of the school year, term, or semester, if at all possible;
    • ensuring that all student records have been maintained and are up to date as required;
    • submitting TRAX files to the Ministry, where appropriate;
    • assisting students to transition to new schools;
    • transferring Permanent Student Records to new schools or the Ministry of Education as outlined in the Student Records Order
  • If the school closes after the completion of classes, it is still required to send the Permanent Student Records to the Ministry as required in the Student Records Order and the school should provide reasonable assistance for students transitioning to other schools.
  • Schools using MyEdBC should contact the MyEdBC Independent School Group for information on the proper disposition of student records in the case of a school’s closure.
  • Records (electronic and physical records) not in MyEdBC must be sent securely to the Ministry. Please notify Ministry staff of the need for transfer and staff will assist the authority in making arrangements for the secure transfer of electronic and physical records to the Ministry.   
  • In accordance with the Personal Information Protection Act, the authority should make plans for the final disposition of any records containing personal information that are not required under the Student Records Order to be transferred to other schools or the Ministry.
  • Closed Group 4 independent schools should also provide the Ministry with students’ course completion records for preparatory programs, such as English as a second language courses, where final marks were not submitted to the Ministry via the TRAX system. 
  1. Employment matters
  • As an employer, it is the authority’s responsibility to be aware of and ensure compliance with all applicable provincial or federal employment legislation and requirements including severance and wages.
  • The school authority should make teaching staff aware of the Make-a-Future website which lists teaching positions in B.C. schools.
  1. School fee refunds

The ISA does not, except in the case of Group 4 schools, provide the Inspector of Independent Schools or the Ministry of Education with a role in relation to school refunds. Group 4 schools are required to maintain a bond for the prorated refund of fees in the event of a school closure. Group 4 schools are expected to provide refunds directly. See the Independent School Group 4 Bonding Policy for additional information.

If a school’s closure results in an interruption in the educational program, such as classes not being completed and final marks not being assigned, it should consider full or partial refunds in alignment with the school’s refund policy. School authorities will be the primary source of information relating to refund policies for the school. Please consult the Fee Refund Guidelines for further information.

  1. Grants

All independent schools authorities that received grant funding must complete an ES Audit Form for each school they operate for the school year in which the funding was issued. Depending on the timing of the closure and information provided on the ES Audit, an authority may need to repay a portion of the grant funding.

  1. Outstanding debts

The independent school authority is solely responsible for any outstanding debts or other financial encumbrances it has upon closure.

  1. Dissolution of the authority

The authority is responsible for any processes relating to the dissolution of the society or company and should seek its own legal advice regarding dissolution.

Authorities of Group 4 independent schools are advised to maintain the school authority until the Ministry of Education has completed the administration of all bond-related matters. Please see the Independent School Group 4 Bonding Policy for details.

B. Acquisition or transfer of the authority

As per section 2 (c) of the Schedule to the ISA, an independent school authority may acquire a school from another independent school authority, provided that certain conditions are met.

Authorities contemplating the acquisition of a school or the transfer of a school to another authority, are required to inform the Inspector of Independent Schools in writing of the intent prior to the acquisition/transfer, and both of these authorities must consent in writing to the transfer prior to the request being submitted to the Inspector. The Ministry cannot transfer a certificate for a school to another authority without the written consent of the current authority. Information regarding school transfers will be supplied upon request. The acquiring authority must submit an application to the Ministry of Education following, at the Ministry’s discretion, the full or a modified application process as outlined in the Establishing an Independent School policy. Off-cycle applications for transfer may be accepted in circumstances where the continuous operation of the school is demonstrated to be in the best interests of the school’s students. 

C. Reopening a school

A former or prospective authority seeking to reopen a closed school must reapply to open under the policy set out at: Establishing an Independent School.