School is an environment where you should be safe, encouraged and given the tools you need to learn and grow. There are many things that can positively or negatively affect this experience. Here you will find information about attendance, using pronouns and the confiscation of personal property.
Yes. You are legally required to go to school between the ages set out by your province/territory (see School Ages chart) You are legally required to go to school, even if you are not living at home under the care of your parent(s)/guardian(s). This is also until the age set out by your province/territory. If you are 16 years of age or older, and are living on your own, you do not need a legal guardian to register for school. Parents and guardians can be charged for truancy if they do not send their child/children to school or if they refuse to let them attend. If you are 12 years of age or older, and do not attend school regularly, you can be charged for your own truancy.
Ages for attending school by province
Newfoundland and Labrador6–16
Prince Edward Island7–16
Legally you are supposed to attend school, but there are reasons not to attend school, if
- You are being homeschooled.
- You live too far from the school, and they do not provide transportation.
- You have already completed high school.
- You have been excluded. This means that you have been left out of participating in activities in the classroom.
- You have been suspended or expelled.
- You are sick and can’t attend class because of “unavoidable causes.”
- You are receiving musical instruction (this must be up to one half day per week).
- It is a religious or spiritual holiday.
Yes. If there is a legitimate reason, you can be suspended or expelled. However, suspension and expulsion policies can change, depending on the school and the rules they have to follow.
This can depend on your school and the rules set out provincially. Generally, the longest you can be suspended for a single occasion is around 20 days.
In order for the principal/school administrator to be able to suspended or expel you, the incident must have occurred either at your school or during a school related activity or have had a negative impact on the school’s environment. An example of this could be if a fight happened on the weekend, off school grounds, but it affects students from returning to school during the week.
The principal can consider suspension if you
- have threatened to seriously hurt another person (in real life or online)
- have alcohol or illegal drugs
- are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs
- swear at a person of authority
- vandalize school property
- bully someone (in real life or online)
- break any of the rules listed in your school’s code of conduct as reasons to consider suspension
You can be expelled when there is a very serious offence committed or if you continue the behaviours that previously lead to your suspension.
Principals can expel you if you
- have a weapon (including a firearm)
- use a weapon to threaten or harm another person
- physically hurt another person so severely that they require medical attention
- sexually assault someone
- traffic/sell weapons and/or illegal drugs
- do something harmful to others and/or property that was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate
- rob someone
- continue to bully someone (online or in real life)
- give alcohol to someone under 19 or 18 years of age (depending on the law in your province/territory)
In order to suspend or expel you, teachers and principals must have
- accommodated any disAbilities you have that may have played a part,
- acted fairly,
- told you what they think you have done wrong, and
- provided you with a chance to give your side of the story. If this doesn’t happen, you have the right to challenge unfair suspension or expulsion by appealing it with the school board.
No. Teachers can only use reasonable force to restrain or guide you. They can’t use physical force to punish or correct your behaviour; this includes such punishments as slapping, kicking or punching.
Public schools are secular, which means they are not religious or spiritual. As a student you have the right not to participate in any religious activities that you don’t want to (for example, singing the national anthem or saying a morning prayer). You also have the right to freedom of religious or spiritual expression; this includes being allowed to wear religious or spiritual clothing. You can also talk about your religion, spirituality and beliefs or non-beliefs at school as long as you do it in a way that is respectful of others’ beliefs or non-beliefs. This includes the right to Indigenous spirituality and having the appropriate opportunity to participate in spiritual ceremonies.
All other classroom rights apply to you, but you also have some rights that are unique to you. These rights are about accommodation. The Ministry of Education is in charge of identifying and accommodating any disAbility-related needs that you may have. They must ensure that you have access to special education programs and services without additional fees. Your teachers and principals are also required to look into accommodation solutions and grant accommodation requests in a timely manner. Examples of accommodation could be requesting to write your tests in a private room or having a support worker in the classroom with you.
Generally, your consent is needed for searching your property, but if the principal or police have a strong enough reason to believe it contains something illegal (especially if it is weapons or drugs), they can legally search your locker or backpack.
Yes. The school can ask you to hand over items/confiscate items that are banned, according to your school’s code of conduct or if the items are illegal, dangerous/harmful or disrupt other students’ learning process. Your teachers cannot use force to take items away from you, unless you are presenting an immediate danger to yourself or someone else. If the item you have is illegal, the school can hand it over to the police. If the item is illegal for someone of your age but not for an adult, such as alcohol or pornography, they have the authority to tell your parent(s)/guardian(s) (See drinking age chart below) If the item was a distraction, like a cell phone, the school has to give it back to you in a reasonable time—usually the end of the day.
Legal drinking age by province
Newfoundland and Labrador19
Prince Edward Island19
You have the right to your property, and, although your teachers can confiscate your items, they have the responsibility to take good care of them until they are given back to you. If a teacher damages or loses your item, they are required to pay for the cost of repairing or replacing it. You are not required to pay to get your items back. Just because they have been confiscated that does not change the fact that you own them, and you are entitled to get them back.
For expensive items you could ask for a receipt if it is confiscated. This receipt could be as simple as a short, handwritten note with the item’s description, existing damage, the date and the signature of you and your teacher or the principal.
Even though teachers are allowed to confiscate your electronic devices, in most cases they are not allowed to look at their contents without consent from you. The school can only look at the contents if
- They believe something illegal was happening.
- They were acting to prevent a crime.
- They were acting to protect public safety.
- If they did not have a reason to search your phone, and they find something illegal, the school is not allowed to use it against you.
Absolutely! Some schools have a form that you can fill out; this is called a name change form. You can ask your school administrator for this form. In the case that your school doesn’t have these forms, you can make an appointment with your principal, and talk about the need for having your teachers and other students address you properly. You can even ask for a classroom change that doesn’t single you out, such as all students introducing themselves with “Hello, my name is ______, my preferred pronouns are _____.”
You have the right to be called by your preferred name and pronouns. Although it may be uncomfortable at times, you have the right to ask to be called by the name and pronouns you identify with. By simply stating your gender and name, schools must comply with this expressed gender identity. Remember, feeling comfortable and safe is important, and it is always up to you how much or how little information you choose to disclose.
It depends. The Canadian government gives every province/territory power to pass laws that relate to their individual education system. All school boards (example: public school board, catholic school board) have specific policies on what should be included in the code. These policies have to be related to principles, which each board is responsible for picking (for example, cleanliness and preservation of a safe learning environment). Although we all have the right to freedom of expression, schools have to balance everyone’s rights and interests. Even if your freedom of expression is impacted negatively, it may still be okay because the limits are reasonable and serve a bigger purpose. You can be sent home for not following dress code, and schools are within their right to ask you to do so. Even though this may be true, some dress codes affect young women and girls in a discriminatory way, compared to young men and boys.
If you have problems with your dress code, you have the right to challenge it. You have the right to do things to change policy, such as advocate for code policy change, write to school trustees and superintendents or run for student council.