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Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals was not aware a memo was sent directing private schools to adopt report-card template used by public schools, a spokesperson said.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Education Minister Liz Sandals has swiftly pulled a directive sent by public servants that would streamline the report cards of Ontario private schools because she and her staff were not informed about it.

Principals were surprised to receive a memo from the Ministry of Education this winter requiring their teachers to use the public-school template for report cards, a mix of standardized assessments and personal comments, said Jan Campbell, executive director of the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario, which represents 47 schools.

The issue came up at a meeting on Monday between the heads of some of the province's independent and private schools and a ministry official, according to a source who attended the meeting. Principals expressed concern about having to retool all their report cards for the fall.

By the next day, the ministry had backed down.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Sandals called the memo a "miscommunication" and said the minister had not ordered it.

"A memo was sent by the ministry to the sector regarding the use of the provincial report card template in response to requests from some schools, without the direction from senior staff, including the minister's office," Nicole McInerney said in a statement to The Globe and Mail. She added that private schools have the option of using the report-card template, but are not required to, as long as provincial assessment requirements are met.

"The minister and her staff were not aware nor provided direction on this matter," Ms. McInerney said. "In response to some miscommunication with private schools on this matter, we are following up regarding these requirements."

While private schools offering Ontario credit courses have to meet provincial requirements on assessments and evaluations, they issue report cards that are unique and align with their own philosophy. Adopting the provincial template would have required a lot of redesign and expense, the school source said, adding that the ministry staff "went a bit too far in their enthusiasm."

This is not the first time in the past couple of weeks that Ms. Sandals's office has backtracked or issued an apology.

Ms. Sandals said last week that the government would not implement proposed changes to the child-care system after parents expressed outrage at regulations that would have put 12-month-old babies in toddler rooms. On the same day, she also announced her government would re-open the application process for new students to attend publicly funded schools for children with severe learning disabilities. The province had shut down admissions during consultations on the future of these schools.

And Ms. Sandals recently apologized to at least one teachers' union for suggesting educators abuse their sick days. Responding to a story in The Globe about a report that said the number of sick days was increasing, Ms. Sandals told reporters Ontario teachers and other education workers were taking more sick days because they lost the right to bank them for a cash payout upon retirement.

A 2013 Auditor-General's report found that Ontario's private schools are among the least regulated in Canada, with the ministry providing little oversight to ensure students receive a satisfactory education unless the registered independent school offers credits toward an Ontario diploma.

But private schools offering Ontario secondary school diploma credit courses are inspected and have always been required to comply with ministry requirements, including issuing report cards that are in line with the government's policies.

"There will be no changes to the requirements regarding the use of the provincial report card template," Ms. McInerney said. "The expectation remains status quo, which means inspected private schools may continue to use their own report card template and will continue to have the flexibility to change the format and add additional information to their report cards so long as the provincial requirements are met with the inclusion of grades, learning skills and comments."

Ms. Campbell said her members are still awaiting word from the ministry.

She said she is baffled as to why the memo was sent in the first place when all her member schools, which include Upper Canada College and Branksome Hall, issue report cards that meet provincial standards, even if they do not use the public-school template.

"You have to understand that schools are independent, which means that they've created their own reporting that reflects their schools mission and what they do," Ms. Campbell said on Wednesday. "I do understand that there is some communication going back and forth at the ministry level to make it a little bit more flexible. I'm looking forward to seeing what the changes in the wording are obviously, as are all of our schools. We're sort of in a wait pattern."

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