Kootenay Lake school district administrators, politicians, teachers and parents are all heaping scorn on the BC government’s recently-passed Bill 11, saying it threatens local autonomy and puts student privacy at risk.
At the end of April, a series of strongly worded letters addressed to Education Minister Peter Fassbender warned “this bill will cause further damage to a system that is already challenged” and asserted that “teachers’ professional autonomy to make decisions … is being undermined.”
The letters were signed by the likes of school board chair Lenora Trenaman, Nelson and District Teachers Association president Paul Boscariol, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall and others.
“Our board is dismayed by the way in which the provincial government has chosen to proceed with its initiatives, not only failing to consult with boards of education but also by not considering input from those closest to our children in the classrooms,” wrote the board.
“We, like many boards of education across the province, recognize that in recent times we have not been a part of the decision-making process around public education and worry that Bill 11 is just the formalization of the muzzling of our local, democratically elected voice.”
Regardless, Bill 11 passed this week. When the Star reached Mungall shortly after the vote, she was crestfallen.
“We [New Democrats] voted against it and the Liberals voted for it. What we did try to do is refer it to the select standing committee on education, which is a committee I’ve sat on for four years but has never met.”
Mungall told the Star the government has yet to convene the committee, and she doesn’t understand why. But she takes it as a sign of disrespect for education. The committee would’ve gone through an extensive consultation process with stakeholders, school boards and parent advisory boards, she said.
Now that won’t happen.
“The government has said they will consult with teachers and school boards and parents on this. But historically they have not been very transparent, and they are not very good at consultations or collaborations. They basically say ‘here’s what we’re doing, deal with it’.”
Boscariol heartily agreed.
“Basically what’s going to happen is Bill 11 is going to give the minister of education incredible powers to override democratically-elected school boards and issue directives and replace community members with government appointees.”
He said the bill is further proof of the government’s disregard for teachers, and cited the sacking of the Cowichan school board for refusing to balance their budget. “This is an autocratic style of government they’re creating.”
Boscariol also finds it disrespectful that the government is trying to interfere with teachers’ professional development.
“They’re basically coming right out and saying: ‘we don’t trust you’. Does the government dictate what doctors do for professional development? How about lawyers? Why, just because one group falls under the broad umbrella of government, are we being singled out as not being capable of determining our professional development needs?”
He further said student privacy is at risk because the bill allows unprecedented access to school records.
“We feel there should be the right to be forgotten. In this day and age, it can be really problematic. Maybe a child had social or emotional development challenges in their early teens. That information is all in there.”
Boscariol doesn’t want students to have that concern hanging over their heads and wonders why the government didn’t consult teachers before going ahead with it.
“They go ahead without checking in first, and one has to ask: what’s the underlying motive here? If these were issues of concern, why wouldn’t you have approached a governing body like the BCTF?”
Mungall said though the bill has passed, voters should keep it in mind when they head to the polls.
“What people need to do is remember this in 2017. Remember that this government doesn’t value public education. And they don’t value the people in those classrooms day in and day out. They don’t work with them; they dictate to them.”
Boscariol hopes this will convince parents of the government’s ineptitude and neglect.
“Bill 11 is turning into a circus sideshow that’s diverting attention from the fact that they’re still underfunding education.”