Archive for category York Region District School Board

York Board Sets Georgina Community Consultation For March 23rd, 2017

 

The York Region District School Board [YRDSB] has set its “community consultation” on how to fill the vacant seat in Georgina for March 23rd, 2017.  This is remarkably right after March break, when most parents are getting caught up on other things, and very little notification is being given out, so I’m not sure if this consultative process will be an accurate representation of Georgina as a result.

What the YRDSB is NOT telling parents and citizens is that any costs associated with t a by-election will not cost the tax payers extra money.  The board has a “contingency fund” it can rely on already factored into its current budget to pay for any by-election.  There would be no extra costs to the tax payers or the province.  Something board Chair Loralea Carruthers confirmed to Mind Bending Politics today in a phone call, and something that hasn’t been properly communicated to the public, by Carruthers and the YRDSB.

There are three options the YRDSB wants the people of Georgina to consider:

  1. Appoint runner up trustee from the last election Cynthia Cardova (Cynthia was the only candidate that ran against Nancy Elgie who resigned earlier last month).
  2. A Consultative appointment which will mean the board would appoint from a select number of candidates
  3.  By-election

Those that do show up should recognize that it is very difficult to remove an incumbent from a position.  So if the board appoints someone, we’re pretty much stuck with that person.  I for one prefer a by-election. I think the people of Georgina need to vet each candidate themselves, rather than having the board do it, and having a good selection of candidates running in a by-election will foster not only interest in the problems we have in our local schools, but also have our voice properly heard and represented at the board, than from some board appointee.  A lot of interest has been generated for this position locally as a result of Nancy Elgie’s resignation.  Choice is a good thing.

Interested residents are asked to go to Sutton High or Keswick High on March 23rd, 2017 between 7:oopm – 8:30pm to let the board know your choice.

 

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YRDSB Leadership Crisis Builds As True Cost of Trustee By-Election Not Known

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers (right) Still Dealing with Massive Public Confidence Issues

This past week there was much indecision at the York Region District School Board [YRDSB] on how to fill former Trustee Nancy Elgie’s seat, punting the ball in an unprecedented move to the people of Georgina.  Trustee Elgie stepped down last month after being caught making a racial slur to a black parent in a meeting regarding systemic racism at the board.  The YRDSB has two options under law.  One is to appoint a trustee; another is to hold a by-election. Both options are being put to the people of Georgina in a “community consultation” process.

A report tabled on March 7th to the YRDSB listed the costs for a trustee by-election at a staggering $300,000. That may be an exaggeration Mind Bending Politics has learned.  In an e-mail to Mind Bending Politics, Georgina spokesperson John Espinosa stated that the estimate for the $300,000 that was provided to the YRDSB was a “very rough” estimate, and noted that the basis for the high costs was the 2014 municipal election in which was a full election of town council, school trustee, mayor, and not a trustee by-election. The breakdown of the by-election estimate provided to the YRDSB is displayed here.

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers has been largely stating in media (page 7), that the approximate $300,000 is a lot of money to spend, and potential candidates for trustees would also be on the hook for thousands of dollars due to campaigning. Questions have arisen over whether the YRDSB is actively trying to deter the people of Georgina, and potential candidates away from the electoral process due to high costs.  In an e-mail to Mind Bending Politics, Carruthers replied:

I’m just speaking the truth – no agenda here.

It is unclear when the YRDSB plans on holding its consultations with the people of Georgina, or what form this consultation will actually take.  Several witnesses to last Tuesday’s meeting including some in media got the impression that these consultations will be in a town hall in person format, something Carruthers denied in her response to Mind Bending Politics when asked about the town hall style approach.

Carruthers stated to local media that the people of Georgina would have to fill a room in order to ensure that there is enough interest to justify the expense of a by-election:

With the board currently under investigation by the province as a result of a major loss of public confidence, can it be a realistic goal that the public will actually show up for a meeting like this in droves?  Realistically if people have lost confidence in the board itself, how can they not expect a low turnout for a meeting like this? An election is much different since campaigning and a good selection of candidates generates interest, something that is currently happening in Georgina’s Ward 1 by-election.

I’ve asked whether or not the costs of the trustee by-election to the Town of Georgina should be shouldered directly by trustees and staff (rather than taken from kids in the system) as a by-election would be seen as trying to regain public confidence in the board.  Carruthers replied:

I’m really not sure what this means.

When asked if appointing a trustee would be largely seen as sending the wrong message to the public regarding public representation, and public confidence at the YRDSB.  Carruthers replied:

I think we answered that [on Tuesday] by going to the public to ask them what they would like.

On the outside allowing members of the public to decide whether or not to appoint a trustee or go to a by-election looks to be a good idea.  On the other hand what seems to be transpiring is a lot of misdirection and misinformation to protect the board from criticisms over a decision to go to the polls, or to appoint.  If the YRDSB goes to the polls, then they are likely to get heat for spending any money on an election as a result of how current trustees have mis-spent tax payers money.  On the other hand if they appoint than it’s viewed as a detriment to the electoral process, and the democratic nature of the board.  What better way to avoid more controversy, than to punt the ball to someone else, in this case the people of Georgina.  That doesn’t really sound like leadership, it sounds rather representative of the protectionist nature of the YRDSB – a nature that has currently landed the board and all its trustees under a provincial investigation.

What’s even more troubling is that I sent Carruthers several e-mails to get her response on questions relating to the $300,000, and the by-election for this blog.  When none was offered I took to twitter, in which Carruthers told me she had not received any of my e-mails and asked that I delete any tweets suggesting she didn’t respond:

 

It seems to be clear to me there is no credible public representation at the YRDSB. Trustees have pretty much decided not to decide on how to handle the most basic of functions of democracy on the board leaving the decision to others to save the institution from more criticism – or worse – they are intentionally misleading the public on costs and manipulating a process to ensure a desired outcome of an appointment.

One thing is for certain though, the YRDSB seems to be in a lot worse situation that I had previously thought with its leadership. Can the board be justified whatever the outcome of this “consultation” is to appoint while in a crisis of leadership and public confidence?  Would anyone appointed be legitimate to their constituency under these circumstances? If an election is held, where will the money come from, and how much will it cost?

I have requested an accurate quote from the Town of Georgina regarding the actual costs associated with a trustee by-election, and I’ve asked Carruthers to provide me with an explanation as to why board staff have seemingly left out the fact the $300,000 quote was a very rough estimate, and essentially that the costs reflected in the $300,000 are the costs of the full municipal election in 2014.  I will post a follow up blog once I receive that information.

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Serious Questions Remain as York School Board Trustee Steps Down

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(York School Board Trustee Nancy Elgie Tenders Her Resignation via Youtube)

Yesterday York Region District School Board [YRDSB] Trustee Nancy Elgie told her constituents via a Youtube video that she would be stepping down as a Trustee, months after uttering a racial slur by “mistake”.  In the almost 10 minute heavily edited statement on youtube, Elgie stated that the whole situation is a misunderstanding, and she didn’t mean to say those hurtful words to a parent in York Region. Elgie went on to say that there is no “sanction” under employment laws for trustees under which she was investigated and she felt was wrong (Elgie under the employment investigation was ordered to take “equality training” as a sanction). She also stated she didn’t resign immediately because she wanted this to be a teachable moment for the kids and the community.  I fully agree with this being a teachable moment for the community in Georgina, and also within York Region.

Over the past several months there has been a lot of questions as to why the York trustees chose to investigate this matter as one that suits “employment law” rather than the appropriate trustee code of conduct. By treating this incident under employment law, the board and its trustees effectively shielded Elgie from accountability measures that were put into place nearly 14 years ago by the Province of Ontario to deal with trustee conduct (who are publicly elected officials).  Trustees are NOT employed by the board. They are employed by the tax payers of this province and the YRDSB had no authority to make this matter one of employment law.

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers (who is a defeated Liberal candidate in York-Simcoe and long time YRDSB trustee) posted up a statement after a tremendous amount of public pressure was put on the board to follow through with a code of conduct review on Elgie.  Carruthers stated:

The Education Act does provide Trustees with the ability to initiate a Code of Conduct complaint when a colleague commits a breach. The Trustee Code of Conduct process is complex, has limitations, must be conducted in private and its outcome is not always able to be made public. We are unable, under the rules that govern us, to even let the public know if we are proceeding with a Code of Conduct complaint. The process typically takes months, is expensive and, should a breach be confirmed, Trustees are limited in terms of what sanctions can be applied.

If the YRDSB followed through with a code of conduct complaint after Elgie was sanctioned under employment law, the board would have needed to take Elgie to court to argue the board erred in law and sanctions needed to be under the trustee code of conduct. This would have cost the tax payers and the board massive amounts of money had Elgie fought the board legally on this.

Under the trustee code of conduct, not much can be done to sanction a trustee other than short term suspensions.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was recently questioned on the lack of “teeth” in the trustee code of conduct, too which her reply was basically – we put that in over 13 years ago, and its better than nothing.  Last year the Ontario Auditor General found the Wynne Liberals gave a $22 million blank cheque to the school unions, and just this month gave teachers across the province a 4% raise.

The huge problem not just the YRDSB is having – but boards across the province – is protectionist behavior.  Protect their own, rather than be held accountable for their mistakes, which continues to this day even when the YRDSB is under investigation.  This should be of great concern to the tax payers of Ontario.

York trustees on February 13th, 2017, one by one urged Elgie to resign, effectively throwing her under the bus to protect the “institution” and once again tried to sweep the misconduct of other trustees who fought to wrongfully protect Elgie from a code of conduct review under the rug.  Wynne has stated in a presser earlier last week that the province has sent in investigators to the YRDSB to uncover why the YRDSB did not follow through with a code of conduct complaint, and to determine if other trustees are in violation of that code of conduct as a result.  Wynne also stated that the investigators she has sent into the YRDSB may make recommendations to the province in order to tighten up and properly sanction trustees around their code of conduct laws.

Now that Elgie has stepped down, the residents of Georgina need to ask themselves; is this cover-up of misconduct by Elgie at the YRDSB an isolated incident?  Over the later part of the week, the Toronto Star was in contact with Elgie, and her family for several days. Several of her constituents came forward to the Star regarding Elgie’s conduct as a trustee.  The Toronto Star over these several days questioned the family and Elgie herself on several situations where she was seen to be dismissive and non-responsive to concerns of the community.  In one instance the Toronto Star brought up:

“Desiree Makuto, whose son was videotaped being beaten and racially taunted by classmates in a high-profile incident at Sutton District High School in 2014, said she called and emailed Elgie for support, to no avail.

“She never did respond — she was surprisingly silent on the issue,” said Makuto. “… She had an obligation, a role to play.”

Elgie’s son Stewart dismissed the concerns of the community stating to the Star:

“these allegations are a disappointing attempt to re-write history and smear the record of a trustee who has earned consistent praise from her colleagues and constituents over the years.”

There was growing pressure for Elgie to step down over the past few months, and her resignation seems to have come following serious questions from the community she serves on her conduct, and leaves serious questions about the conduct of other trustees and the board in its wake.  If we are truly looking to reform the YRDSB, than we must take a good close look at the protectionist behavior these institutions are well known for, and why it’s been allowed to continue in law for so many years while the province has known about the problems of conduct, and developed legislation with nothing meaningful in play to stop it.

As a resident of Georgina in which Elgie has served and parent myself, one can only hope that the members of my community will elect someone who understands that the role of a trustee is to hold the board to account, knows the problems in our local schools, and can properly and effectively advocate for ALL in their constituency. A board meeting will be held on February 21st, 2017 to discuss whether the board will appoint a replacement or rightfully allow the community of Georgina to go to the polls.

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The Circus That Is Our Unaccountable Education System Coming to A School Board Near You

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(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Likely To Read From A Blank Book On School Board Accountability)

Over the past few months, the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) in Ontario has been embroiled in controversy surrounding governance, accountability, and racial tensions. The governing Liberal Party of Ontario promised to get to the bottom of these systemic issues at the YRDSB by appointing two “arm’s length” investigators to the board to look at recommendations on how to solve systemic issues, rather than using the independent Provincial Ombudsman who in 2015 was given the legal authority and jurisdiction to look at the specific issues the YRDSB investigators have been tasked to look at.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals who have a long history of throwing blank cheques at the education unions are all that serious about systemic change at the YRDSB which would require legislation with the ability to hold those in the system to account.

Two weeks into getting the investigation set up, the YRDSB investigators (Patrick Case + Suzanne Herbert), are already hearing from a staggering number of parents.  These two investigators appointed by the province seem to be ill-equipped to handle the sheer volume of complaints coming in, to which the province’s ombudsman would have been better equipped to handle.  I had a conversation with Patrick Case on twitter yesterday.  Here is that conversation:

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Both Case and Herbert are widely connected to the education sector in Ontario.  Herbert was a deputy minister in Ontario, including deputy of education (way to close to government for my liking), while Case served as former trustee for the Toronto District School Board which has had its fair share of problems.  While I don’t question these investigators credibility to pin the vast majority of problems with board governance on YRDSB Director J. Philip Parappally and a few “rouge” trustees implementation of more equality training board wide, and quietly sweep this controversy under the rug to avoid any drafting of accountability legislation to deal with systemic problems province wide; I do not see how this investigation would be beneficial to the kids the public education sector serves. The only beneficiary to this investigation as it stands right now would be the education unions who have deeply embedded themselves in Wynne’s government.

Racial intolerance in any profession or work place is wrong, against our values as Canadians, and most importantly against our civil rights in the charter of rights and freedoms. One of the root causes for racial intolerance at the YRDSB is the lack of accountability on staff, directors, trustees.  It’s a symptom of a much larger problem in the province.  The lack of accountability in the education sector is province wide, and if we are truly looking to send a message that racial intolerance is not accepted in our public school system, than it is law and legislation with teeth that is needed to hold those in the education system to account, not non-binding “recommendations” from a rushed, arm’s length investigation.

A much better more responsible approach would be to slow down, allow the community to appropriately respond to identify systemic issues, and ensure that the investigation is done in an independent way, rather than recommendations that in the end will duck any real legislative accountability and favor political donors over that of our school children due to the closeness of the investigators to the legislative process.  To do otherwise would only serve to pass the buck to the next school board to have issues due to the lack of legislative accountability, and put more of our children across the province at further risk.

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Ministry’s Hands Are Tied On The Racial Slurs Of Trustee Elgie

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(The York Region District School Board Acted To Protect Trustee Nancy Elgie From a Code of Conduct Review)

This week has been a very tough week for the York Region District School Board (YRDSB).  After Tuesday’s emotional meeting with parents, and bizarre apology for racial slurs by Trustee Nancy Elgie,  the Ministry of Education has appointed two investigators to come in and make “recommendations” on how to improve leadership and equality at the York Region District School Board.

Today, Ontario’s Minister of Education appeared on CBC’s Metro Morning to discuss the issues plaguing the YRDSB and did not commit to removing Nancy Elgie as a trustee after several calls from the community for her to step down.  One of the reasons why, is because the YRDSB treated the racial slurs coming from this Trustee’s mouth as a human resources complaint, rather than a code of conduct complaint thus protecting her from the accountability mechanisms that are in place to hold trustees publicly accountable under board bi-laws.

By treating this as a human resources complaint, her fellow trustees at the board can not hold Elgie to account on those racial slurs on code of conduct violations and neither can the Ministry of Education.  Nor can they speak publicly on it as a result of this complaint being confidential.  This is precisely the problem at the York Region District School Board who continually ducks from public accountability, and I fail to see how exactly trust can be instilled back into this institution without Elgie’s outright dismissal which is unlikely to happen as a result of her racial slurs.

Patrick Case, a University of Guelph political science professor is one of the two investigators the Ministry of Education has sent into the YRDSB.  In a recent interview Case stated:

“People need to look at the process as one that will take time. It’s not that the two of us are going to go in there and sprinkle pixie dust. What people should be looking for is steady progress, rather than a quick fix.”

What I think is likely to happen, is that these investigators will come in and provide “short term” solutions to equality.  However, for long term solutions the board and its trustees need to be held accountable if those solutions are to be solidified within the board.  Otherwise this “investigation” by the Ministry seems to be rather a public relations stunt by an unpopular premier looking to solidify votes in the 905 rather than acting on the issue of systemic racism at the YRDSB which requires that Trustee Elgie be held to account publicly under the Trustees code of conduct.

This isn’t just a YRDSB problem.  The school boards are set up as self governing with public representations and accountability.  If the public can’t hold a trustee to account under codes of conduct, than this is going to send a message province wide, that if you become a trustee in the school system, you can do and say what you want without fear of being held accountable.  That’s not a system that has the best interests of the children and communities they serve.  In fact this is and already has made our kids less safe as a result, and this systemic racism will stop short term, but it’ll be business as usual at the YRDSB a few months after the public attention has gone away.

No matter what these “investigators” recommend, if trustee accountability is not put forth regarding Elgie than those recommendations are meaningless and nonbinding.

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Head Injury to Blame For Racial Behavior At York Region District School Board

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(York Trustee Nancy Elgie Blames Racial Slurs on Head Injury as Public Calls for Her Resignation Grow Louder)

The scandal ridden York Region District School Board met with emotional parents Tuesday night.  Many parents in York Region are concerned about the level of accountability the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) currently has in place, and presented the YRDSB with a petition asking for the resignation of one of its Trustees over racism allegations.  The YRDSB in recent months has been hit with several human rights complaints of systemic racism and bullying by staff members and students that are seemingly shrugged off by the upper ranks of the board and their trustees. Now the racism that was observed in one York Trustee is a result of banging her head on a foreign object according to official public records read in during Tuesday’s meeting.

At issue; York Trustee Nancy Elgie was overheard by several throwing out a racial slur towards parent Charline Grant who was confronting the board in a meeting in November last year (get this) regarding racism.

On Tuesday night, parents and media packed the school board meeting looking to confront Elgie and the Board regarding systemic racism and bullying the board is currently observing.  Elgie was supposed to be in attendance but wasn’t there for “medical reasons”.  A very bizarre apology letter from Elgie was read aloud by the board in which Elgie blames her actions and words on a head injury, prompting quite a few amusing twitter responses:

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During the meeting Tuesday night York’s Director of Education J. Philip Parappally walked up to the Grant family, and apologized.  This family has been at several of these meetings since November, and I find it extremely interesting that it wasn’t until the cameras were present that the director actually engaged.  Prompting this tweet from Newstalk 1010 host Desmond Cole who was at the meeting:

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Considering that Parappally is on the public pay roll for the next decade with a handsome salary no one seems to have vetted publicly, you would think he would meet with Cole to discuss the issue of racism, bullying and student safety.

Trustee Elgie is also my trustee.  I’m a resident of Georgina, and I have been following the lack of school board accountability regarding racism since the 2009 Keswick High indecent. I have been in contact with  Elgie several times over the years on several concerns I’ve had with the York Region District School Board’s implementation of the “Safe Schools Act”.  The safe schools act is legislation that was put into place to help curb bullying and racism in Ontario schools by the province.  Currently the Ministry of Education does not audit boards for compliance with this legislation nor tracks each boards programs to ensure the money is actually being spent on successful projects.

I have found Ms. Elgie to be rather combative and dismissive of several concerns I have brought up to her over the years regarding the conduct of the board and following through with proper legislation and law regarding safe schools legislation.  I have heard from several parents locally here over the years, even wrote about one instance around this time last year where Elgie refused to respond to complaints within the system, often leaving parents and students to fend for themselves.

In the complaint I wrote about last year, Elgie in an interview for this blog and on the record blamed the parent for lying with no evidence to back that allegation up. She refused to fully look into the situation and provide any sort of advocacy on this family’s behalf towards the school board and work towards any type of solution when questioned. Elgie stated eventually stated she would meet with the parent at a scheduled protest, but never showed up.  This is something that over the years seems to be a common theme with Trustee Elgie.

In one instance while I was questioning Elgie on the Keswick High situation in 2009,  Elgie claimed on the record I was bullying her when requesting a full break down of the boards budget around the Safe Schools programs supposed to be implemented by the board under legislation to fight acts of racism and bullying.  As a result she would refuse any further requests for that information and completely cut off any communication with me on the subject. The board quoted close to $900 for that information through freedom of information, which is why I had approached Elgie on trying to obtain this information since it should be publicly available on the boards website.  To this day a full and complete break down of the money allocated to safe schools and tracking of those programs is still not posted on the boards website.

A trustee’s job is the public overseer of the school board.  They are there to hold the board accountable on our behalf.  Too often than not I hear from parents across the province where trustees turn into lap dogs for the school board. That can be clearly observed at the YRDSB, when just last year trustees voted to approve an unprecedented 10 year contract and a 40% wage increase to their current director Parappally, after only being on the job for a year and a half. Not one board across the province as granted a decade long contract, let alone a contract of any length to a director that has been on the job at that length of time.

Last year it was also revealed that Trustees at the York Board took advantage of traveling overseas at the expense of the board with little to no value added for those trips.  The Ministry of Education put a moratorium on York Trustees travel expenses and just a few months after that was lifted, Elgie took her 3rd trip to Finland and was unable to come up with any benefit the trip had towards the board when questioned by media.  The systemic racism that parents have been reporting to their trustees, as well as trustee expenses are now currently under investigation by the Ministry of Education.

It’s almost a full circle. Parents for many years have had to sit and watch as this board protects its image rather than the children within it.  As parents have sat helpless in bringing in accountability and change to a board that puts its public image above everything else, the YRDSB now looks at Elgie and the damage she has caused to the reputation of the YRDSB. The longer Elgie stays on as a trustee, the more and more damage is done to the Boards reputation, and there is nothing meaningful enough the Board can do to force that accountability on Elgie to save its own reputation from this women. It’s Elgie’s lone choice to resign or not.  How fitting for a board who is obsessed with its own image over that of the safety of its students, to not be in the position to control the public perception of it.

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Ontario’s Education System in Crisis: Proactive Change Needed in Youth and Education Services

As a parent with a non-verbal autistic kid, one of my worst nightmares is to have to deal with a teacher that isn’t qualified to ensure the care of my child. We’ve been pretty lucky. The teachers and staff taking care of my son in the school system are extremely caring, professional and have been a huge support for my family. The vast majority of the education system is like this, however there seems to be a growing concern in Ontario’s school system when issues with bad apples arise, and with developing meaningful policy at the provincial level to insert accountability in order to deal with these bad apples. Ontario faces quite a few bad apples.

Last month CBC’s marketplace did a special on problem teachers. CBC has found that in Ontario, teachers who have been found of misconduct continue to teach for years until the College of Teachers gets involved in dealing with stripping those teachers of their license to teach. In one case, an Ontario teacher was found to have been sending suggestive sexual messages to the kids in his class. It took 4 years for the complaints to reach the College of Teachers which allowed this teacher to continue his behavior thus increasing the amount of victims of it, and later he moved to a different country to skirt accountability, where he is still teaching. What’s worse is that teachers found of misconduct are often “recycled” to different schools until matters can be heard years later at the College of Teachers allowing for more abuse to continue and increasing the number of victims of abuse.

 

For me as a parent, let alone one with a non-verbal ASD kid, this is unacceptable. If a teacher is found abusing kids with special needs, they are continued to be allowed to teach. The strength of the education lobby is of great concern in this province. Too often than not, parents voices are drowned out by powerful unions and school boards during committee and policy processes. When complaints arise from parents in the system, this lobby more often than not, dismisses any concerns from parents, often bullying them with threatening behavior to protect their own interests rather than those of kids.

Remember that parent that vented out on facebook? The facebook post went viral about her special needs child being ordered to do over 80 crunched in one day. Mindbendingpolitics as learned the York Region District School Board did their investigation into the matter. They completely exonerated the teacher of any wrong doing, and blamed the child for lying due to issues at home. The parents called in the Children’s Aid Society to investigate which found the teacher was guilty of misconduct but no child protection issues in which they could legally intervene. With the current situation this teacher will be allowed to teach other special education students for years to come. The York board in this current case is also refusing to provide transportation to this special needs child to her new school further adding stress to this family as a result of coming forward with their concerns.

Granted that not all teachers are bad, but the few that are, are being protected by their unions and boards and recycled to different schools. Parents concerns are often set by the way-side and bullied into silence. This is creating an epidemic of child abuse in our school system in Ontario as a result, and should not be tolerated by our law makers.

Youth advocates for years have been fighting to make the system better and more accountable only to find unions and school boards hijacking policy too further protect their own interests over that of even basic human rights. Politicians for the most part gladly oblige due to political donations. An example of this I followed was through the introduction of two pieces of legislation in 2012. Bill 13, and Bill 14 which had to do with creating a safe environment for our kids. After heavy lobbying by youth advocates, the Ontario PC’s adopted a bill with a lot of recommendations to define issues such as bullying, and accountability of schools and government to ensure our kids remain safe bill 13. The Liberals supported by the NDP introduced their own legislation Bill 14. As a youth advocate it was nice to see non-partisan support for keeping our kids safe, but a close inspection of both bills revealed a lot of union influence with a lot of anger from parents. This spilled onto the committee floor with parents testifying regarding their concerns. Particularly from Owen Sound parent Joe Grieco who testified in 2012:

Having carefully looked over both bills, we have grave concerns that, although there appears to be a desire to reduce the impact of bullying in Ontario, the proposed additions and amendments to the Education Act are not comprehensive enough and will not lead to the necessary outcome: safer schools, safer students and improved learning success for all Ontario students.

What’s even worse is that after bill 14 became law and new money flowed into the system to keep our kids safe, the Ministry of Education in 2014 felt it necessary to divert $1.6 million allocated to safe schools and autism services to protect school boards across the province from a lawsuit. All the work to keep our kids safe and previous efforts by autism advocates was pretty much to help fund the Ministry of Educations slush account for school boards and unions.

Fast forward to 2016 – youth advocates are again engaged over the debate of autism and safe schools funding. I’ve approached York Region District School Board a month ago to find what programs are in place to ensure student safety, and requested a breakdown of the boards budget to show money flowing to each school and what programs that money is being spent on. I was told this would be provided to me. Now the board is stating that information isn’t available to the general public due to “confidentiality” reasons.

As recently as February, the York Region District School Board was called out by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner for not collecting important data too target social programs in schools. I have to question even the existence of safe schools programs in York Region as a result. The board has been unable to provide any information detailing these programs, when this information and break down presumably should be publicly available via the boards website as it relates to the boards budget.

The province has recently stripped needed support to autism services in Ontario. This as prompted concerns from the province’s youth advocate Irwin Elman on what impact this will have on the school system, stating:

One also has to question how the school system will fit into this plan. How is the role of the school and the classroom integrated into plans for service to the school-aged children? Parents of children with “special needs” know that the gap between the promise of the school system and the child’s lived experience at school is a chasm. The Ministry of Education also appears absent from this important discussion.

Enter the teacher unions and school boards. The NDP has been leading the fight with autism services in Queens Park. Members of the NDP are showing a tremendous amount of passion (even members of the party being ejected from question period) to bring forth concerns to Wynne’s autism policy. The biggest financial donor of the NDP is the Ontario Secondary Schools Federation, who has donated more than $249,350 to the party over the past 3 years. I have to question whether this passion for parents concerns is legitimate, or an attempt to politically position their top financial donors at the front of the line with the applause of parents when discussions inevitably turn to the education system. I have concerns over not just current funds but any future funds allocated to autism services in the education system as a result, and whether they will actually reach kids, while parents groups applaud the efforts of these unions and boards.

The Ontario Autism Coalition has been a great support for parents in this political battle; however this organization has been actively seeking the support of teachers unions and boards. When questioning Bruce McIntoish (one of the lead advocates for the coalition) on policy, McIntosh suggested that Policy Program Memorandums (PPMs) be modified to ensure ABA services in the education system.

Bruce2

PPM’s are essentially non-binding statements and as independent youth advocate and founder of the York Region Anti-bullying coalition Karen Sebben stated in an interview with mindbendingpolitics:

The language used in PPM’s are vague and open ended. It creates the illusion that the Ministry of Education is pro-active.

Sebben continued:

The language used is for the sole purpose of continuing to allow administrative discretionary measures, lack of transparency and continued autonomy.

What’s even more horrifying is the fact that these unions appear to have infiltrated a parent led movement, which now is restating support for the very cause of the issues present in the education system. That is that we have to protect union members in order to protect our kids, when it is precisely that situation that is creating an in balance and lack of accountability.

Bruce1

We need accountability injected into this system as a result of the amount of protection union members and boards currently enjoy. The lack of accountability is creating an environment where money isn’t reaching our kids to ensure their education is a safe one, to ensure human rights and dignity of our most venerable are being protected, to ensure that kids with special needs get the proper education by qualified staff and thugs are fired rather than recycled.

It’s not just one political party to blame for this. It’s all of them. There may be a need now as a result to have the Ombudsman or Auditor General reappear on these files to inject that accountability, since advocates and parents voices are continually being drowned out regarding the problems our school system and youth face and a lack of concrete systemic solutions being presented due to heavy lobbying efforts by these unions and school boards.

Parents seeking meaningful change should focus their support on independent youth advocates rather than union lead parent movements. When you make a deal with the devil, you always set yourself up for failure, and I think the current problems the education system faces is representative of too many bad deals made with groups who have no intention in being held accountable for anything, and will do whatever they need too, to ensure that continues. Balance needs to be restored, and a massive injection of accountability ordered to ensure our youth have the right to proper, safe and enjoyable learning experiences, and the services they need.

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