Wednesday, January 9, 2013

THE SCHOOL COUNCIL CENSORSHIP FLAP



The role of School Councils in the Eastern School District has become the topic of considerable debate over the past few days.

As a school council chair and a member of the Federation of School Councils, the issue of the mandate of school councils is of great interest to me.

Sections 25 and 26 of the Schools Act, 1997 provide the legislative authority for the provision of school councils for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Section 26(2) (7) of the Schools Act, 1997 also grants legal authority to school boards to delegate additional responsibilities to the school councils under their jurisdiction.

Section 26(2) states that the functions of a school council are to:

·        represent the educational interests of the school;
·        advise on the quality of teaching and learning in the school;
·        facilitate parent and community involvement in teaching and learning in the school; and,
·        advise the board on matters of concern to the school and the community.

The evolution of school councils is an ongoing process. Councils are enshrined in provincial legislation. Membership consists of parents, community representatives, teachers and the principal. I would argue that school councils have had a very positive impact on improving the educational opportunities, extra-curricular activities and learning environments at schools.

The role of councils is not as black and white as the legislation or the Handbook for School Councils 2nd Edition (Revised: June 2008) portrays.

Each school council has it’s own dynamics. Personalities, unique circumstances and the leadership style of the principle create unique opportunities and challenges. The most successful councils take a team approach.

School Councils enter into  a protocol agreement with their respective school boards. The agreement indicated an understanding of the council’s obligations, roles and responsibilities. The protocol agreement can differ between schools. As councils evolve, mandates and functions change. The protocol agreement evolves with those changes.

The current controversy appears to center around the clause of the act which states “advise the board on matters of concern to the school and the community.” 

Some feel this conflicts with the Department of Education’s stated position that:

 “It is important that school councils’ discussions and actions are focused on improving the quality of school programs and increasing the levels of student achievement. Items that do not focus on improving the school’s teaching and learning environment should not be brought to the school council table thus should not be added to the school council meeting agenda. It is the responsibility of the chair, in collaboration with the principal, to determine if a proposed agenda item is a suitable
issue for the school council to address. School councils are not a forum to address individual teacher, parent, student or personal issues.”

In light of the department's long stated position, I think it is disingenuous to suggest that the Eastern District School board is cracking down, being less transparent or censoring what councils can discuss.

Perhaps the issue is the school administration's interpretation of  the  Act, or individual school council's interpretation. What has changed since 2008? 

I would argue nothing.

Should councils discuss day-to-day maintenance issues that grow into safety concerns or impact the quality of education? Sure they should. 

Will there be special circumstances?  Indeed there will be. Sure,  the Virginia Park Elementary School Council has funded snow blowers and network servers - both I would suggest should have come out of district funds. Both might be considered day-to-day maintenance issues.

Any council that I have been involved with will continue to discuss issues of concern to the school and the community within the established protocols 



2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"advise the board on matters of concern to the school and the community" is pretty open-ended. Any "protocol" that tries to limit that is not only bullshit, it's not supported by the statute. Shame on any board that tries to do by "protocol" what the act mandates councils to do. More PC government attacks on accountability and transparency.

Peter L. Whittle said...

I think that many of the issues are related to the principle/council dynamic.

Personalities play a much larger role than you seem to want to admit. As for PC attacks on accountability and transparency, when the shoe fits I agree.

I have been very vocal on issues related to school maintenance via proper channels and they have been addressed.

Conflicting experiences, government clampdown or just personality clashes?