Monday, December 19, 2011

Not pretending GSAs are panaceas

The introduction of Bill 13 by the government last month (along with the introduction of Bill 14 by PCPO education critic Elizabeth Witmer) has led to weeks of continuing discussion, angry opposition and name-calling by all those who have a stake in trying to reduce bullying in schools.
The contentious clause in Bill 13 reads:
303.1  Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,
  (a)  activities or organizations that promote gender equity;
  (b)  activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;
   (c)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or
  (d)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.
The 303.1(d) is the clause that people have either manned the gates to defend (often over-interpreting it to mean every school must support the creation of create gay-straight alliances) or storm the gates to destroy by making the same interpretation. Which of course, has led media coverage on this, some examples:
And all the big players chipped in as well. I was particularly impressed by the night-after-night coverage given by CBC Radio's As it Happens, which had the opposition on one night, Minister Laurel Broten on the next, a student who pushed for a GSA at her Catholic school and then the subsequent response from the president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association.
All the coverage that I've seen neglects to mention the related Policy and Program Memoranda 144 from 2009, upon which Bill 13 adds a legislative and regulatory framework.
So what can we determine from all this?
  • LGBTQ kids get bullied in school due to their differences from a perception of what 'normal' should be.
  • Lots of other kids get bullied in school regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, fashion sense, etc. for the same reasons.
  • Lots of bullying happens at school because that's where kids spend most of their day.
  • Schools reflect our culture in how well or poorly they've responded to bullying.
I've never believed that GSAs (or whatever the hell you end up calling them) are a panacea because they're not. They can be instrumental in helping build a culture within a school community that's more accepting of all students regardless of sexual or gender orientation, but we shouldn't be so naive as to believe that the mere presence of those three words to a club in a school fixes all bullying. It doesn't and it won't.
Does that mean they shouldn't be part of Bill 13?
The Liberal government has hit the right tone with Sec. 9 of this bill, which amends Sec. 303 of the Education Act. It allows students to decide what sorts of student groups they'd like to have in their own schools. It (deftly?) allows the innate conflict of funding a faith-based school system that is outright against promoting any sexual/gender behaviour that doesn't lead to procreation (and, of course, even then not until you're duly married) and the requirement to accept all students to continue. As I've written in the past, until we get a government that wants to tackle the Catholic board question, we should stop being surprised when Catholic schools behave in a manner consistent with the tenets of their faith.
My worry? In our preoccupation over whether or not some kid at a Catholic school can name their club a gay-straight alliance, we're taking our eye off the ball. We're becoming obsessed with three words that in and of themselves don't do that much to change our culture-- one built upon bullying in so many different layers. The people in that club, whatever it's actually called, are the ones that will act to change others' behaviour. That can happen regardless of the name of the club -- heck, it can happen regardless of whether there is a club to begin with.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday link dump

Hey, I'm off work for a few days. So, um, here's a link dump to celebrate all my open browser tabs!
Policy / procedure
  • The Globe and Mail on the People for Educaiton report on the reading data from Education Quality and Accountability Office testing; and,
  • The Waterloo Region Record on a silent protest by the Canadian Auto Workers in response to Waterloo Region DSB cuts.
Happy browsing. Some of the links touch on matters covered by other media as well, but I am posting the first coverage I saw of the issue above.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Babysit me!

With apologies to Arrested Development, who I stole that title from. It's a flippantly provocative choice, given what's been flying around and being thrown around in at least two areas of the province when it comes to the programs that wraparound the core portion of Ontario's full-day kindergarten program. I don't think FDK is babysitting, for the record.
One model, reported on by the Ottawa Citizen, shows school boards partnering with existing third-party childcare providers and children's agencies who're already present in schools offering before- and after-school programs.
Compare that to the battle underway in Waterloo Region, where the district school boards have decided they will operate all wraparound programs for full-day kindergarten. This is the model that was set when the province first released the details about FDK, as well as the one written into Bill 242. The subsequent regulations gave a multi-year reprieve, then Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a permanent extension of that reprieve around this time last year, providing everyone follows the provincially set FDK curriculum.
I received an interesting email from a lawyer in that region, parts of which are quoted here:
There is an 'uprising' of parents in this community that do not agree with the way in which this school Board is executing its plan for the extend day program. There is a petition of 408 parents calling for a change in their plan. The petition website is at There is currently a Notion of Motion served to the Board, which is signed by two Trustees. WRDSB requires the signatures of three in order to get the Motion on the table. Not a single trustee will come forward to put this Motion to debate and discuss why it is they think the parents of their community do not deserve consultation on this matter. They don't feel 408 parents, a countless number of children/students, and the stakeholder are worthy of that discussion. According to the Education Act, Section 218.1(e) they each have a duty to “uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board”. But, by their own admission this decision was a 'management decision' (, and there is no resolution in place concerning the use of the third-party operators. And in the absence of a resolution in this matter, their duties must be such as outlined in section 218.1(d) that is to “bring concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board to the attention of the board”. Currently, they are not fulfilling this duty which is a requirement under the laws of this province. And they clearly appear to have no attention to ever performing this duty on this matter. 
The Record's education reporter Luisa D'Amato wrote about the issue behind the petition recently.
I'm puzzled by the Waterloo Region stuff-- though the boards are exercising their right under Bill 242 to implement wraparound programs for kindergarten-aged students where the demand exists. The last two words there are key-- the boards are only forced to setup these programs, either themselves or in partnerships, if there is enough demand from the parents of kindergarten students to do so.
No demand, no requirement to put these wraparound programs in place.
The programs are also funded by the parents -- which can be a key issue for parents since board early childhood educators on union contracts make a higher wage than their counterparts working in the private non-profit sector. Yet, having third-parties on board moves away from the original FDK program design, that was supposed to be a seamless day from before-school, through school, to after-school programming with three adults-- a classroom teacher and two ECEs.
For boards that are willing (and able, considering contracts with their own employees) to allow non-board ECEs into the classroom, this could still be the scenario envisioned by the program's designers.
That said, allowing existing children's agencies to continue working with kindergarten students at a lower cost isn't going to render the program moot either. I've said since the first announcements of the program that the children's agency / childcare sector was going to have to adjust their revenue models since FDK was going to eliminate their best source of funding-- kindergarten students needing care during school hours when they weren't in class. Given the five-year phase in, that's plenty of time for adjustment-- although as the take up on FDK continues we can't expect every childcare program to continue at its current level. Part of me wonders whether the argument in Waterloo isn't partially underwritten by this. The concern in the sector is palpable-- see this St. Catharines article as an example.
Charles Pascal did say, on several occasions, that implementing FDK would be messy and that mistakes would be made throughout the rollout. Once these wraparound programs are in place, let's see how they change into their second and third years based on that line of thinking.