Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time to reconsider extracurriculars

As the fallout from Bill 115 continues across Ontario, I've had this conversation a number of times with colleagues and friends. It's time to reconsider how extracurricular activities are offered in our community schools.
Currently, running an extracurricular requires the presence of a paid school-board employee. That's usually a teacher, but can also be a support staff member depending on the activity. This applies whether it's in the elementary or secondary panel, whether it's a sports team or other athletics, after-school club or something that usually takes place during school hours at lunch or recess breaks. Even if the employee isn't directly running the activity in question, her or his presence is required even in an advisory role for the activity to be able to function.
In contractual disputes -- legitimate or otherwise -- education-sector unions usually push their members to withdraw from these voluntary activities. In one swift move, there are no extracurriculars in schools across the province. No sports, no clubs, no after-school help, etc.
Here's the part that doesn't make sense and should really be addressed.
There are plenty of other qualified adults in school communities who could run these activities just as competently (or even more) than school staff members. In many places, these people are already involved in those activities. It's not at all uncommon in high school sports, for example, to see community volunteers coaching or assistant coaching with the presence of a teacher adviser.
Currently, with the work-to-rule campaigns and other moves, these activities are defunct-- even in those situations where there are qualified volunteers willing and able to run them.
The most-often cited reason for these activities being cancelled even with willing and qualified volunteers is liability for school boards and supervision requirements that are built into school board policies. However, these activities, as any union is only too quick to remind us, are voluntary. Even the Education Act does not make them a mandatory part of the job description.
So a voluntary activity, through policy and a lack of momentum to think about other ways of organizing it, can only be run, de facto, by the very same people whose unions remind us again and again their members volunteer for the activity.
What a brilliant way of controlling these activities so they can be cancelled during a labour dispute, only hurting the very students everyone keeps saying they care so much about.
Given we appear to be far from a scenario where these activities are made part of a school board staffer's paid work day, let's open them up to all qualified volunteers in our communities. Screen them, make them sign a piece of paper if you need to deal with liability concerns, make them accountable to principals (where community volunteers are in schools they already do report to administrators).
Aside from allowing these activities to carry on regardless of contractual issues, it also removes a huge bargaining chip from unions and firmly places these activities into the voluntary field, where withdrawal of service has not one iota of influence over contracts.
Do 'em if you wish, don't do them if you don't. By truly and meaningfully opening them up to qualified community volunteers it wouldn't make a difference.