Friday was a terrible day in B.C. Even with our exceptionally low testing rates, we recorded 634 new cases, we reached six deaths in the Cowichan Tribe alone, the variant is all through our schools, and over 100 children were infected. Since December, the highest positivity rate has consistently been in children aged 10 -19 and WorkSafeBC has confirmed that Covid infection claims in the educational sector are up 250% since December. Yet our PHO called it a milestone day! We are the worst per capita performing province in the country, and both our Government and the PHO have completely forsaken the plight of our schools. Teachers helped this Government get elected and certainly deserved better treatment from them, but even more concerning is how their local School Boards have shown no support and no leadership.
This week a parent who had written to ask a North Shore School Board for a stronger mask rule received the following response from the Superintendent:
“As was mentioned at the most recent Board meeting the school district follows the direction and most up-to-date guidance from the Provincial Health Office and the K-12 Ministry of Education”.
This response exemplifies the problem with our current educational governance model. Boards are elected to lead not “to follow”. Section 85 of the School Act gives the Board the authority to “make rules respecting the establishment, operation, administration and management of schools by the Board”. Areas such as wearing masks would fall under this section. However, as the letter says, Boards refuse to lead and have decided to follow!
There was a time when School Boards had the authority to levy a local tax to ensure their budgets met the needs of the students. In the late ‘70’s the Social Credit Government, under Bill Bennett, took that power away from Boards. However, even with that power removed, Boards of the day continued to exercise bold leadership even if it meant taking on the Ministry of Education. For example:
1) School Boards approved programs like Super Achievers and a variety of sports academies which gave credit for programs offered outside of the Boards’ jurisdiction. These Boards forced the Ministry to change the School Act to allow these programs.
2) A small district in the north initiated a provincial on-line program in which students from anywhere in the province could take their education and receive their graduation from that district. The district benefited monetarily from the online enrolment and this was the precursor for programs like NIDES in Courtenay and KOOL school in Kamloops. The Ministry eventually intervened and established bureaucratic rules that hamstrung the original district.
3) All day Kindergarten in this province was also the result of Board leadership against some serious opposition. When K-plus was introduced in a district as a play-based learning program for the second half of a kindergartener’s day, it was a hit with parents but not with the Ministry. The Ministry did everything in its power to try and stop the program up to and including threatening to take funding away to offset the money the Board was charging for the K-plus program. The Board stuck to its guns and when the Ministry found they could not legally stop the program they asked the teachers’ union to challenge the offering. Even though it would create more teacher jobs the union took the matter to the Labour Relations Board. After a 13-day hearing the ruling was in the School Board’s favour. Two years later the Ministry capitulated and created all day Kindergarten throughout the province. This was true Board leadership!
4) The same Board began the for-profit international programs that are now evident in districts across the province. This is another area the Ministry has done everything in their power to try and intervene to gain access to the supplemental funding.
I could give many other examples of past Boards showing exemplary leadership. Vancouver is the only current board to show a modicum of leadership. They created a unique timetable to assist with social distancing and, true to form, the Minister is trying to stop it because of political pressure from a minority of parents. Other Boards have shown no leadership at all but instead, like the North Shore board have become lackeys to the Government and PHO. The President of the BCSTA would rather have her moments of fame, standing beside Dix and Henry, falsely claiming schools are safe when students have the highest positivity rate of any of our populations.
In their refusal to mandate masks, Boards abrogated their first responsibility; they have failed to provide the conditions to ensure the safety of our children. While almost fifty years ago School Boards had their financial ability to lead taken away by the Government, today, through their own actions during the pandemic, Boards have relinquished their moral authority to lead.
In 2018 Nova Scotia abolished School Boards and in 2020 Bill 40 in Quebec did the same in that province. The pandemic has demonstrated that School Boards in B.C. are not even willing to mandate masks in the classroom, a policy that is supported by 80% of the public. By adopting a different governance model, as two other provinces have, millions of dollars wasted on bureaucracy could be put directly back into the classroom!
Education needs leadership, not followership! The pandemic has demonstrated it is time for a new model of educational governance in British Columbia! For the sake of our children’s health and futures, change is the only way forward.
We need to find the lost leadership!
Doug Player, March 7, 2021