Sunday, January 17, 2010

On persistance vs. knowing when to call it a day

Regular readers here will be well aware of both issues I'm commenting on in this post-- the ongoing campaign to save Niagara District Secondary School in the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake from closure and the imbroglio the Bluewater District School Board has been involved in for approximately the past year as a result of some plagiarism, a lack of consultation on the cancellation of intermediate rotary classes and some other issues.
As I've become more familiar with both, I've stuck my nose out and also commented on how I feel some of the players in both issues are, er, becoming so dedicated to the cause they may not realize they've taken it far beyond where it should go. My opinion on the NOTL council decision to face the District School Board of Niagara at the Ontario Municipal Board in April is pretty clear. More recently, the decision of Bluewater opponents to keep trying to find a new venue to air their grievances was also an opportunity to comment on the efficacy or futility of the strategy.
Just before the weekend -- posted Friday, published in Saturday papers -- the Sun Times and the Standard had updates on both issues.
From the Standard's piece:
In an eight-page missive handed out at a board meeting this week, Thorold-Pelham trustee Gary Atamanyk argues the motion passed in June 2008 to close NDSS after this school year is not legal because the board did not follow proper procedure.
"I believe a judicial review is a necessity," Atamanyk wrote. "Without there being a speedy resolution of all questions through a judicial review, I would anticipate that responsible parents throughout the DSBN may seek to look out for the best interests of their children by considering the options of home schooling, private schools or our co-terminus (Catholic) board's offerings. A loss of students would affect the total funding for the entire DSBN."
Tuesday's write-up is the third in a series of "opinions" about the handling of NDSS's fate that Atamanyk has quietly passed to board staff, trustees and the media at board meetings.
They will continue until someone volunteers to take on the DSBN via the legal system, Atamanyk said.
A judicial review is the only avenue available past an accommodation review and the petitioned administrative review of the process by a ministry appointed adviser. A person or group petitions the court in Toronto to review the matter and outlines the basis in law that wasn't followed or was incorrectly interpreted. It has happened a handful of times in the past decade, and most of the decisions I've read (a Thames Valley one, a few Ottawa-Carleton ones) side with the board. Which, in the Thames Valley case, led to one executive superintendent's continual reminder to all that the school-closure process in place at the time (pre-Kennedy moratorium request) was "court tested."
The key here? Atamanyk needs a knight in legal robes -- or a knight willing to hire someone else in legal robes -- to step forward and do his dirty work for him. Will he find one?
From the Sun Times:
"Premier, families are weeping in Bluewater. Help them," said a Jan. 11 letter to the premier, signed by Peter Ferguson.
"We continue to get calls from parents who are weeping on the phone because their children are in jeopardy," he said yesterday in an interview.
A woman who called him this week cried on the phone because her son was bullied and assaulted in the washroom and the response by his teacher, principal and the police was unsatisfactory, Ferguson said.
"The board is not being held to account for all the weeping children — and apparently (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP) Larry Miller thinks they now number something in the range of 500 — who have already been damaged."
The group will decide this week when it will approach the ombudsman, Ferguson said.
"Our hope is that the ombudsman would not get involved," Ferguson said. "But certainly our hope and intention is that the premier will meet his responsibilities and institute the inquiry."
The commission of inquiry should investigate all complaints against the board and the conduct of the board, he said.
Well, I do hope reporter Scott Dunn asked Ferguson if he could speak with these 'weeping families.' The ones that are so prevalent in Bluewater the group of nine who signed the letter requesting the premier call an inquiry included a bunch of people who likely don't have children in the system anymore and one person who doesn't even live in the district? Are they among the supposed 'over 500' who've contacted the area MP? I become increasingly cynical of these sorts of statements when I've been writing about an issue for a while, and I've reached that point here. If there are SO many opposed, weeping, at wit's end and running away from the Bluewater board's schools, well, where the hell are they? Why do we only keep hearing from the same handful of people?
I do hope the premier actually gets this letter -- I heard last week on the day the Sun Times published the article on the request for an inquiry, neither the premier's office or the ministry had received any correspondence from Ferguson with the request.
In a reflective moment however, I wonder if perhaps I've just become too cynical, too jaded, too tired with these two particular narratives.
Are the players being persistent in the face of these massive roadblocks to reason? Or are these advocates simply unaware their particular time for battle has passed and that every subsequent action just makes paying any reasonable attention to their cause an increasingly moot point?
I lean to the latter, but hope it's not because my own tendency to veer towards cynicism is what's taking me there.


Anonymous said...

I feel the same way ER.
My outstanding question however is where ARE the supportive media stories, letters etc. from all the folks through the roof happy with the Bluewater Board. One would have expected a push-back to the naysayers. I'm not seeing that either, and I've been checking the smaller town weeklies for letters for an challenging the complainers, or articles taking them to task and putting those questions around proof of numbers and "weeping families" into the daylight.


RetDir said...

Well ER - you have reached a stage that I am familiar with - when you have done everything that you can do to try to solve a problem and improve it, and the complainants continue to beat their drums, at some stage you reach the conclusion that the problem isn't yours, it's theirs. I spent more sleepless nights on public complaints than I care to tally - but when it is the same few voices offering up the same issues (with no actual solutions, except firing staff, or making a decision that would be fundamentally unfair to the rest of the students and communities in the district, or making their issue a human rights tribunal complaint) at some stage the question that springs to mind is, "Am I nuts, or are they?" I'm sure they would have disagreed with my conclusion...9 times out of 10....

Anonymous said...


I guess the disgruntled BWDSB folks are asking for the Ombudsman's attention to their issues.
Doesn't look like they're calling it a day after all.


HBO said...

I am quite happy with my children's schooling so far. We have been lucky. They get along with their school mates, they do well academically, and they behave. Their schoolmates are more or less the same, which means no problems with bullying. We have no problems with their teachers. Any issues that have come up have been dealt with.

Supply teachers love to be called to our school - it's that good.

I know this is not the case for all the children at our school, or in other schools, but is it as bad as what it is being made out to be? I don't know, so I don't feel like I can comment publicly.

Other reasons why I do not stand and cheer for the school board are...

1. While I can comfortably write my opinion, I do not have much in the way of background knowledge, and would end up making a fool of myself.

2. I hate speaking in public - public means beyond the boundaries of our house - and do not want to be approached for a debate after I've written to the paper with my opinion and end up making a fool of myself.

3. My husband is a teacher, meaning I would make a fool of both of us, and possibly create a very uncomfortable working environment for him at the same time, if I stated my opinions supporting the board.

4. I will be looking for employment shortly, and do not want to ruin my chances to work at the board, or further ruin the reputation of the board by supporting them and then being hired two months later.

5. I have seen the comments directed to RetDir on MendEd, and I suspect if those comments were directed at me, written or verbally, I might cry.

6. Because school is not an issue affecting my children's enjoyment of life, if I ignore the issues, it's not a big deal. And up until Larry Miller started to voice his opinion, I did pretty much ignore the issues.

7. I'm not sure that I do support the board. I'd have to take more time than I'm willing to give right now to research and educate myself on all that has happened. To me, some of the stories seem a bit exaggerated, and some of the missteps made by employees of the board have been magnified.

In a nutshell, the papers and websites seem very much one-sided, and it would take a very confident, informed person to make the first statement in support of the board. Then perhaps others would follow. I might even have my 2 cents ready to throw in then.

RetDir said...

HBO - I appreciate your empathy, however my skin has been extensively toughened over the years:) Actually, it's more a case of deciding to which voices you need to pay attention. Just as in the rest of life, the criticisms that hurt the most are those from whom I value their opinions the most, not necessarily the loudest or most obnoxious. Those I can ignore, and after spending too much time in gyms full of people screaming at me during accommodation reviews my skills at distinguishing between the two have improved. From what I can see from a distance, I think in BWDSB there would appear to be legitimate concerns that perhaps aren't being addressed appropriately. By and large, however, they are not the concerns of Peter Ferguson and his ilk, or the political games being played by the M.P.
And one doesn't have to be in one camp or the other - it is possible both to support and criticize a school board - in fact, that may be the healthiest way of operating.