Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bill 177 - Parents should be extremely concerned


The Chair (Mr. Shafiq Qaadri): I now invite our next presenters to please come forward: Ms. Steel, Ms. Morell and Mr. Hurst of the London District Catholic School Council and Parent Involvement Committee. Welcome. You've seen the protocol. Please do introduce yourselves individually for the purpose of Hansard recording, and I would invite you to please begin now.

Mr. Craig Hurst: Thank you. My name is Craig Hurst. I'm a former school board trustee with the Simcoe County District School Board and a former member of the provincial parent board. We are here today to discuss true and effective embedding of parent engagement into the legislation. Specifically we bring forward three points: One is that section 17.1 of the current legislation should not be removed. Number two is that consideration for the legislation of parent trustees similar to student trustees with the same rights and responsibilities and sitting on school boards be considered. Number three is that we clarify parent involvement committee mandates and entrench a parent as the chair of parent involvement committees.

I would now like to ask Arlene to speak.

Ms. Arlene Morell: Arlene Morell, chairperson of the Thames Valley Parent Involvement Committee. There are an estimated 2.3 million parents of students in publicly funded education, who make up both a formidable potential resource and the largest single constituency for publicly funded education. Parents give credibility by providing a practical, culturally relevant contribution from a unique perspective. With no governing parent body, parents have been and are the most under-represented partners in provincial education policy deliberations, despite our wealth of first-hand knowledge about our children. Accessing this parent knowledge and experience is critical to shaping policies that are responsive, appropriate, sensible and effective in the province. Our perspectives can help design and implement more effective programs and help reduce barriers.

Clear legislation is needed to bring parents into the decision-making process in a meaningful way. In 2004, Minister of Education Gerard Kennedy appointed 20 parent leaders from across the province. The task of the parent-led project was to give advice on how to create an independent, representative, province-wide parent voice accountable to parents. Over 1,150 submissions representing thousands of voices representing parents' views on education matters, to ensure that the parent voice at the provincial level remains inclusive and effective-they saw that a parent voice at the provincial level is something that would support and enable parents to speak directly to the minister and other decision-makers.

The more experienced parents voiced, "We have been asked this before and little has changed. When is someone going to act on our suggestions?" Including parents in the policies and planning processes is critical to building a trusting relationship between providers, ministry and school boards and consumers, parents and students. Taking this one step further by acting on their advice, this builds confidence in our publicly funded education. Listening to parents' perspectives and learning from our experiences can result in more responsive policies and programs that truly improve the lives of children and families across the province.

Ms. Linda Steel: I'm Linda Steel. I'm chair of the London District Catholic School Council and Parent Involvement Committee.

Please do not remove section 17.1 from the Education Act. Parents across the province have not even been told they are losing their provincial voice and that this government plans to renege on the promises made to Ontario parents in 2005. I refer you to appendix D to see the promises made.

The provincial parent board was silenced and shut down in August. Our reports were never published or acted on. Thousands of volunteer hours were spent creating a document that not only identified all barriers to parent engagement but the solutions to eliminating those barriers. The report is currently sitting in the minister's office collecting dust. Parents have been asking and asking for that information and provincial leadership to communicate their concerns.

The PPP did communicate their concerns and provide answers. It seems they will never reach the parents of this province. And now Bill 177 proposes to eliminate any inclusive, accessible provincial parent voice. This is not acceptable, does nothing to create confidence in the public education system or support meaningful parent engagement. Please see appendix A for further details.


Mr. Craig Hurst: We ask you to strongly consider the inclusion of parent trustees in school boards, similar to the student trustees that currently exist under section 55 of the Education Act.

Parent trustees could be given the same rights and responsibilities, and limitations, as student trustees. There is no reason why a strong parent voice can't be legislated within the construct of a school board.

Ms. Arlene Morell: Clarifying and expanding parent involvement committee mandates and entrenching a parent as the chair: The PIC purpose is serving as a school council to the school board to strengthen local initiatives that enhance the engagement of parents to improve student achievement, by providing a direct link to the director and trustees. Parents must be in the majority, and the committee chairperson must be a parent.

To ensure a parent voice at the school board level, the legislation must include:

-that the committee is a standing committee of the school board, and must be chaired or co-chaired by a parent who is not employed by the school board;

-that the committee is solely responsible for the allocation of base funding;

-that parent members must form the majority, inclusive of the existing parent organizations; and

-that base funding shall not cover board employee salaries.

Committee function:

-to assist school councils and parent groups in establishing goals and actions to increase parent engagement;

-to be consulted on and participate in the development of school and board policies and initiatives affecting education and the educational community as meaningful contributors;

-to act as information conduits to parents, schools, boards, the Ontario Parent Council and the Ministry of Education;

-to develop inclusive bylaws;

-to consult with school councils and parents on matters under consideration;

-to make recommendations to the school board and the Ministry of Education on any matter that affects parent engagement and student outcomes.

Ms. Linda Steel: Collectively, parents across this province raise in excess of $700 million. School councils and parent involvement committees are not even supposed to fundraise, particularly for what is supposed to be a publicly funded education system. We are advisory groups, period.

Parents and students have no unions that can collectively represent their interests. Bill 177 will effectively eliminate the only accessible, fully provincial parent voice we have. How are we to interpret this? "Thanks for the money. Now go away quietly"?

While there are outside provincial associations, these associations require membership fees, one of the first barriers to parent engagement; and most limit membership to certain groups with specific agendas. They operate outside the education system, and by definition they cannot represent all parents.

Bill 177 was supposed to be a governance review. Not once were parents advised during the round-table discussions that took place last February that their provincial representation was going to be removed from the Education Act. They still haven't been told. Why has there been no public or parental input requested on the removal of 17.1? Who is the Education Act supposed to serve?

Despite their claims otherwise, this government is quietly but systematically eliminating the parent voice. The provincial parent board was dissolved effective August 31, with no explanation. The provincial demonstration school council was dissolved last June. School councils were told by the director that she would not listen to their input as there was no requirement for her to do so. Full parental public input on Bill 157, the safe schools act, never took place. And recently, only after a number of parents, boards and media outlets began pressuring the ministry to explain why only select groups were invited to give input on the elementary curriculum, were parent involvement committee chairs invited to participate. We see a trend developing here, and it concerns us.

While we are pleased to see the addition of parent involvement committees in the act, again no public input was requested on how these committees should operate and no details are provided in the bill. Reaching consensus among 72 unconnected PICs is improbable at best, especially during a once-annually meeting. It feels like the old "divide and conquer" scenario all over again.

While the intent of this committee may be to provide an equitable input approach with equal considerations, it quite simply cannot when no timely or informed notice has been given to the largest group of stakeholders and voters-parents. Again, we ask, "Why?" We are the primary educators and advocates for our children; why are we being silenced?

Mr. Craig Hurst: Thank you.

The Chair (Mr. Shafiq Qaadri): Thank you. We've got about 15 seconds per side. Ms. Witmer.

Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: Thank you very much for your presentation. Your viewpoints are very important to be heard and I look forward to going through this. It's most regrettable that the parent voice has been eliminated from providing input. When I was chair of a board, I remember setting up councils-

The Chair (Mr. Shafiq Qaadri): Thank you, Ms. Witmer. Mr. Marchese.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Thank you all. A quick question: How would we elect and/or nominate the parent trustee on the boards?

Mr. Craig Hurst: In the same nominating process as used for students.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Would you find that process to be difficult, easy or-

Mr. Craig Hurst: I think it's straightforward, given that schools have a very good grassroots network amongst themselves within a board.

The Chair (Mr. Shafiq Qaadri): Thank you, Mr. Marchese. Ms. Sandals.

Mrs. Liz Sandals: So if I understand you correctly, then, parents would be selected by school councils to be board members, as opposed to elected by the general public. Is that what you're suggesting?

Mr. Craig Hurst: That's the same process being used for student trustees, yes.

The Chair (Mr. Shafiq Qaadri): Thank you, Ms. Sandals, and thanks to you, Ms. Steel, Ms. Morell and Mr. Hurst for your deputation on behalf of the London District Catholic School Council and Parent Involvement Committee.