A parent of two elementary school students, Kelowna mom Shelley Courtney says proposed changes to the B.C. School Act will make it harder for parents to have input into what is happening at their children’s schools among a variety of changes that she says should be of concern to everyone involved in public education.
Under the legislation, which has yet to be passed into law, school districts will no longer need to have school planning councils in place. Consisting of administrators, parents and teachers, the councils were used as a way for parents to hear about, and have input into, the specific plan for their school.
“At our school what we have been doing is looking at all the work our teachers have been doing and how it’s directly improving students’ performance and it’s been fantastic,” said Courtney. “It’s the ability to give input but also to hear what is going on in the school. It’s a deeper understanding of the system where parents are able to advise the administration about where they see concerns and the administration can advise parents about what is going on in the school.”
Central Okanagan School Board chair Moyra Baxter confirmed the school planning councils have been deleted from the School Act under the proposed legislation announced during the second week of spring break. She says it was an effective tool that the local board utilized however she admitted not all districts were using the planning councils.
Baxter says they will still meet with school planning councils this year as the meetings are all scheduled but adds if the changes are passed into law, parents will have to re-think how they become more involved in decision-making at their schools while the board will have to find another way to keep parents involved.
“I feel very strongly about this,” said Baxter. “In our district some of the planning councils were incredibly involved and I’m hoping parents will still want to be involved. Just because school planning councils are removed from the School Act, doesn’t mean we can’t put something similar in place in the school district.”
The elimination of the school planning councils means local Parent Advisory Councils would become the link between parents and schools. Since the inception of the councils in the late 1980s PACs have become more of a fundraising arm for schools as more and more cuts have been made to programs and parents are forced to help fund certain programs such as music.
Courtney says it’s just another example of the government taking things away from the public school system and she says teachers have been wrongfully villified over the past several years due to labour disputes.
“The government is there to represent us, not just tell us what is going to happen,” she said. “We are supposed to tell them what we want to see and we weren’t even consulted. Teachers have been the canary in a coal mine saying there is something going on (with public education). They have been so villifed in the media. Parents and teachers have been projected as two opposing sides but really we share the same concern and the same desire for a better education system.”
A member of the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council, Courtney added there are many things in the proposed bill that are concerning to her as a parent and most have not been reported in the media, which has focussed on what the government itself released about changes to teacher professional development.
She said she has combed through the bill and says there are changes proposed to the reporting of literacy rates in schools as well as achievement contracts that documents success rates for students and these changes will have a negative effect on schools.
Courtney has joined with other parents to plan a rally for public education for April 12 where parents will meet at Parkinson Rec. before marching over the Harvey Ave. overpass to try and put the spotlight on what’s happening with education.
“Public education is in need of support and it needs all of us to engage to succeed,” she said.
For more information search Facebook for a group called Families Against Cuts to Education – Kelowna