A non-partisan group in Ontario is calling for an end to a seniority-based hiring policy in the province's school boards, arguing that the policy is unfair to students.

"People for Merit-based Teacher Hiring," which is described as a group of parents and education advocates, are calling for the cancellation of Regulation 274, which was put in place across the province in 2012 under former premier Dalton McGuinty. The controversial regulation was established in an effort to stop alleged nepotism in school board hiring practices.

The regulation sets out the hiring practices that must be followed for all publicly funded Ontario schools looking to fill a new long-term occasional position or a permanent position. Long-term occasional positions are positions that open up when a permanent teacher takes a leave of absence.

Under the regulation, school boards must maintain two different lists of occasional teachers: a "roster," and a "long-term occasional teachers' list." The school board maintains and updates both the roster and the LTO list, which are based on seniority.

When hiring for a new permanent or LTO position, a principal can only consider and interview candidates from the LTO list who have both the required qualifications and the highest seniority ranking.

When the regulation was first introduced, the government said it was established to promote a “consistent, transparent and fair hiring process.”

But Charles Wakefield, a spokesperson for People for Merit-based Teacher Hiring, says the regulation unfairly punishes children.

"It hurts children," he told CTVNews.ca. ""We're focused on children. It hinders the ability of children to get the best teachers, and by best I mean a combination of required experience, plus talent, plus suitability to the needs of the school."

The group also says that the regulation has made the hiring practice unnecessarily "bureaucratic," and can make it difficult for principals and school boards to find a teacher who can match the specific needs of a particular school.

As well, when a premium is put on a candidate's seniority, other factors such as enthusiasm, special interests and cultural background can be overlooked, the group says.

"It restricts the selection of suitable teachers for the students and makes it very difficult to hire diverse teachers, who are reflective of our school community, and who best meet the instructional needs of the students," David Crichton, principal at Rose Avenue Junior Public School, said in a statement released by the group on Monday.

The group also says that the regulation penalizes younger teachers.

Ron Owston, dean of York University's Faculty of Education, said the regulation has proven to be a roadblock for many young graduates.

"Regulation 274 creates a significant barrier for our faculty's increasingly diverse and talented graduates from entering and renewing the teaching profession," he said, noting the problem will worsen when the school graduates its first class of its new two-year bachelor of education program in 2017.

Wakefield says the group has spoken with nearly 100 schools and education advocates, and has sent letters on behalf of these stakeholders to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals, requesting that the regulation be scrapped.

Last September, Wynne admitted that Regulation 274 may have resulted in an "over-correction," and said that a number of working groups had been set up to study the issue.

But the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the union representing teachers and other employees working in Ontario's public elementary schools, said the regulation is being unfairly targeted.

ETFO President Sam Hammond defended the principle of seniority, stating that it is at the "core" of ensuring fairness in unionized workplaces.

"It provides educators with some measure of control over hiring decisions, which might otherwise be based on favouritism or discrimination," he said in a statement to CTVNews.ca.

He said that while the federation recognizes the frustration of the thousands of qualified teachers who have not been able to find jobs as quickly as teachers in the past, this is not the fault of the regulation.

"The real issue is that the government has funded too many places at faculties of education," he said, adding that the teachers who are placed on the school boards' lists are qualified, and most have considerable classroom experience.

However, the ETFO recognizes that the regulation needs some adjustments, Hammond said.

"The regulation is currently under review by the government and stakeholders. ETFO will wait for the report expected shortly before commenting further on the regulation," he said.