by John Conway, Trustee, Subdivision 5
At the regular meeting of the Regina Public School Board on Tuesday, February 5, 2008 I presented a motion to ensure that all members of school communities facing possible closures or program consolidations would have the right to organize and have access to the schools for that purpose, the right to post information in the schools and the right to send information home with students to parents. I did this because a principal of a school had denied a group organizing against the renewal plan and the future closure of the school the right to send a leaflet home with students to parents. The position taken by the principal was that only the official School Community Council enjoyed such rights. The leaflet was finally sent home, late, only because the School Community Council gave its blessing.
That motion and its rationale are reproduced below. To my surprise the Board defeated the motion by a vote of 5 to 1 (one member was absent).
The effect of this is that only the voice of the executive of the School Community Council will have official status in the debate, and only School Community Councils will be able to organize and argue for their points of view and use the school to do so and send information home with students to parents.
In most cases this will not pose a problem, despite imposing an overly rigid, authoritarian and bureaucratic definition of democratic debate. Most School Community Councils of schools facing closure will be fighting to save their schools and eager to have any help from the community they can get. And this policy makes sense in the routine day-to-day administration of the affairs of the school and the community. But in exceptional cases, such as a school closure or program consolidation debate, the debate/discussion/exchange of information should be unencumbered and completely open to everyone in the school community since everyone has a stake in the final decision.
The example of the incumbent School Community Council of Campbell is perhaps instructive. Though obviously not facing closure, the Campbell School Community Council has very publicly and enthusiastically supported the renewal plan in all its particulars, receiving widespread media coverage. Further, the Campbell School Community Council will make a presentation to the Board endorsing the plan. Three of my four children went to Campbell and I have many links to that community. I have also enjoyed considerable support from members of that community for positions I have taken on the Board over the years, including defending the principle of small neighbourhood schools and resisting repeated efforts to close small schools. I have had conversations with members of that community who are upset with the position taken by the incumbent School Community Council, and thoroughly oppose it. Yet the public perception is that the Campbell community if fully behind the plan. This is the problem with a rigid, bureaucratic approach to expressions of public opinion and sentiment. Only those who hold office get attention, while those who do not have no voice.
At the outset of this so-called renewal process we were told that everything, including the public debate, would be open and transparent, and all input would be encouraged and welcomed.
Apparently this is not the case. Not only has the Board majority denied me the right to post materials on the official renewal web site of the school division, but it has now imposed unacceptable regulations on who can and who cannot freely express their views and have access to the school and to sending information home to parents.
If I hadn’t been repeatedly assured that the opinions of the Board majority have not yet been made up on the key closure decisions, I might suspect an effort to ram approval through over dissent. And rather than a communications policy based on complete openness and transparency, I might conclude that the Board majority’s communication policy is actually one of “muzzle, manage, and manipulate.”
Notice of Motion
RESOLVED that all members of school communities of the schools cited for possible closure, or program consolidations, involved in organizing campaigns, pro or con, be authorized to display posters and information in the school, to send materials home to parents with students, and to use the school for meetings at no charge.
I have been informed that parents and members of the community involved in organizing opposition to the proposals have been denied some or all of the above options, and that they have been informed that only material officially sanctioned by the School Community Council can enjoy these rights. I do not know if this was an official directive from Central Office. But wherever the policy came from, if indeed it is a policy, I disagree with it. In order to make matters clear and unambiguous, we need to establish a clear policy.All members of the school communities of schools cited for possible closure, or program consolidations, should be encouraged to organize and participate in the debate about the future of their schools. Such a right should not be reserved only for the official School Community Council. We live in a democratic society