Posts Tagged Education
I haven’t blogged in a bit, but with all the political talk now-a-days surrounding the teachers strikes in Ontario, I wanted to share an exchange with an union member I had recently. I’ve written a lot about education issues on this blog over the years, and felt the need to pipe up now.
Photo’s (not the one used in this post, and this photo is of an actual classroom that the teacher allowed the kids to mess up) have surfaced by education union members of trashed classrooms citing the need for more funds and adequate support. I did a lot of advocacy around student safety over the past decade and I wanted to share this particular response I wrote to a teacher defending the need for more funding for supports in the classroom to deal with “workplace violence”:
In 2009 kids from Keswick High School walked out on mass due to an Asian student being wrongfully expelled. I worked along side youth advocates to find out exactly what was going on in the education system. I’m a systems analyst.
What happened at Keswick High was a complete breakdown of the system. Legislation wasn’t properly followed, and funds earmarked for “student safety” never seemed to materialize at the school level despite having traced the funds from the province to the YRDSB.
Our local news paper wouldn’t hold our trustee to account for any of this because she had political and community connections and they were worried they were going to lose advertising dollars. It took this trustee shouting “nigger” to a black parent seven years later before she was held to account. This trustee also suffered from dementia. She was the lead psychologist on the YRDSB’s student disciplinary panel. The YRDSB and her family tried to cover her illness up to avoid the board getting sued.
Shortly after the Keswick High incident I started questioning the boards budget. They withheld any information regarding the breakdown of the budget and refused to provide any details on money allocated towards student safety from the province, citing privacy laws. When questioned about policies surrounding student safety and trying to obtain documents from the board in that respect, they gave me a $900 quote for that information. In 2016 the province sent investigators in due to systemic racism, and fiscal mismanagement.
On the policy side of things when trying to tighten up the language regarding student safety and staff accountability in legislation your unions first agreed with the language, supported parents, and then took great exception to even the definition of student safety and having their members being held to account for NOT REPORTING instances of student violence in the classroom, once all landed in committee. I would provide you with testimony your unions provided to committees studying this, but the current government has recently removed that testimony from the parliamentary website. Legislation was introduced through Bills 13 and 14 in 2012 if you’d like to do more research on that.
To sidestep this, I was the lead advocate advocating for the Ombudsman to oversee the school sector. I eventually won that argument with the province only to find that office handcuffed, not able investigate systemic issues, and pretty much doesn’t investigate anything after this office received it’s expanded mandate to the education sector from Wynne.
When you speak of student safety this is just the tip of a very big iceberg, and no amount of money is going to fix this. Your union leadership knows this, and if this was truly about student safety and the lack of resources, your unions would be taking a greater issue with board accountability then they are right now, and they won’t because it exposes the lack of accountability at the staff level as well, which would become a part of the conversation if they take the boards to task on this. So the best thing they can do is fight for compensation and sick days citing a non-existent problem or lack of evidence to support because they refuse to allow their members to report on student violence, endangering all of you.
As a union member you hold voting power, and up an until union members hold their own leadership to account and not afraid to speak up against them, than you’re all in the same boat to me, and your credibility means very little when measuring facts against talking points.
(Andrea Horwath Looks Tone Deaf on Biggest Voting Demographic)
The decision by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to order striking college workers back to work was a decision that was based purely on politics geared towards getting the millennial vote ahead of provincial election. Wynne has seemingly backed the Ontario NDP into a corner on their union values, as the NDP fights back to stall back to work legislation. It’s an interesting position, considering Ontario students have long suffered under Liberal rule as a result of educational unions, and lack of oversight in the public educational sector for well over a decade. A lot of the banter between both the Liberals and NDP has less to do with Ontario’s students, and more to do with the millennial vote.
The NDP had all the time needed over the past decade to bring up serious concerns of Ontario students, that being the lack of supports and oversight in our public education system on special needs students, the lack of compliance with human and charter rights of students in the system, and the fact that many students attending college and university can’t even afford rent let alone pay for classes they haven’t received as a result of this strike. Instead the NDP decided to die on a hill of its traditional values of workers’ rights. As the leader of Ontario’s NDP party Andrea Horwath put it in the Ontario legislature today regarding standing up for their party’s values for Ontario workers over Ontario’s students:
“We do it before an election, and we do it after an election”
Horwath went on to read a letter from a Niagara College student regarding how this student felt about workers’ rights and how the NDP should stand up against back to work legislation. I attended Niagara College myself for journalism back in the 90’s where our professors and staff were also threatening a strike at that time. Thankfully a strike was averted; however had any strike been applied during my studies I would want to be compensated for that by the college. Nowhere in Horwath’s speech today or even from the Liberals has there been any talk of compensation for lost time in class as a result of this strike (which includes not just tuition but living expenses), and the rights of students to seek such compensation.
While Horwath’s speech focused in on the rights of college professors to earn a living, the rights of students to simply live with a roof over their head, and food on the table seemed to have been grossly disregarded. With the biggest voting demographic now up for grabs, will the Ontario NDP’s traditional values line up with those who out number financial donors to the party, and whether or not the Ontario NDP just shot itself in the foot with the millennials as a result of being completely tone deaf to the biggest voting demographic in Ontario. Wynne may be playing politics with respect to this back to work legislation; the NDP’s wounds seem to be rather self-inflicted.
(Ontario Ombudsman Taking A Hands Off Approach To Systemic Issues With Ontario’s School Boards)
Just as the Ministry of Education’s probe of more mishandling of public funds at the York Region District School Board becomes clearer, the Ontario Ombudsman has sent a strong message to tax payers that it will not comment on the lack of systemic investigations into the education sector.
In a response to questions this blog sent into the Ombudsman’s office outlining several concerns of those that have written into this office over the past two years, spokesperson Lina Williamson had this to offer:
Your email asks our office to comment on complaints and issues in a public forum (your blog). Due to the confidentiality of our process, this would not be appropriate. We invite you and any parents with whom you are in contact who have unresolved issues with school boards to contact us through our confidential complaint process (more info at this link):
Williamson also has a message for parents of special needs kids that have complained into the office and feel that the Ombudsman isn’t taking the issues seriously:
[Their] allegations that the Ombudsman has not been tackling issues that matter to Ontarians are unfounded and contrary to the facts. The Ombudsman and his team are deeply committed to enhancing governance in the public sector by promoting transparency, accountability, and fairness. We do that by resolving more than 21,000 complaints and inquiries every year in the most efficient manner and at the lowest level possible. In fact, 80% of cases are resolved within two weeks. In the 19 months since his appointment, Ombudsman Paul Dubé has published two Annual Reports, reported on 47 investigations of closed municipal meetings, and published five reports on systemic investigations, calling for policy and procedure reforms in police training, the placement and tracking of inmates in solitary confinement, supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities, and most recently, the provision of school busing services in Toronto. All of the Ombudsman’s 161 recommendations in these investigations have been accepted, and the organizations in question have pledged to implement them.
The office seems to be deeply concerned about transparency, accountability, and fairness just not within the education sector or for children with disabilities this sector serves. With respect to the Ombudsman’s mandate, Williamson had this to offer:
As is typical of a Parliamentary Ombudsman, we are an office of last resort. The Ombudsman is appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislature (not by the government), is impartial (not an advocate), and is completely independent of government, all political parties and interest groups. Anyone with questions is welcome to contact us through our website or at 1-800-263-1830.
Finally, our office recommends all school boards and municipalities have independent integrity commissioners. This is a widely recognized best practice, as local accountability mechanisms within the communities they serve can usually resolve complaints and issues more efficiently (the province recently amended legislation to require all municipalities to have an integrity commissioner by March 2019). The Ombudsman does not replace local accountability officers, but can take complaints about them.
Once again, anyone who has an issue with a school board or other public sector body within our mandate is encouraged to contact us through our confidential online form, complaints phone line, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org/
UPDATED: 11/9/2017 7:15pm
In the quest for transparency, I’ve followed up with the Ombudsman’s office regarding their responses. There’s been some back and forth since the original posting. Here’s what has transpired:
JK: The allegations surrounding your office not tackling the issues in the education sector, are not my own. Those allegations come from those who have directly complained to your office and are being referred back to their respective boards for complaint resolution. Your response below to questions regarding a specific mandate the Ombudsman has on the education sector, seems to be more generalized. Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved? Can you please clear that up.
LW: “Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved?”
No. First, the Ombudsman has done a SORT (systemic) investigation in the school board sector: The report The Route of the Problem was released in August, and all of Mr. Dubé’s recommendations were accepted. It can be found here: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Toronto-school-busing-issues.aspx
Second, we cannot discuss individual cases with third parties. To reiterate, anyone who has a problem that they have been unable to resolve at the school board level is welcome to contact our office through our confidential complaint process.
For your general information, we oversee more than 1,000 public sector bodies and receive more than 21,00 complaints per year. Most are resolved informally. Receiving multiple complaints on an issue does not necessarily mean the Ombudsman can, should or will conduct a systemic investigation. Several factors go into any decision to conduct a systemic investigation, including the number of complaints, available resources, whether other resolution mechanisms can address the matter, whether there is evidence of a systemic issue, whether the matter relates to administration rather than broad public policy, and whether is being addressed by the institution in question.
JK: I’m not asking you to comment on individual cases, just systemic issues that your office should be aware of through individual complaints, and media reports. While I congratulate this office for ensuring school children get to school on time in an isolated incident within the province, I’m more than curious to see such a reluctance to put forth investigations on what happens when these kids get to school, the lack of support for special needs, the lack of application of the education act systemically, and a general lack of accountability within the school system itself. These issues are not just widely known to your office through individual reports, they are widely documented in media.
There’s no valid excuse for not following your mandate when it comes to the education sector. It’s truly unfortunate that our most vulnerable are caught in the middle and paying a heavy price due to the unwillingness to further, and independently investigate. That will surely reflect on policy discussions as it comes to any future mandates your office will or will not receive by government post 2018. The lack of engagement by your office on education issues over the past two years has been duly noted by Ontarioians who have written in to your office for help and have been slapped in the face by this office, and their respective boards. It’s unfortunate.
JK: While the discussion revolves around recent issues, I’ve attached a response this office gave to 400 individual complaints in 2010, in which your office has outlined concerns regarding the lack of independent oversight on the education sector. There has been very little movement in law regarding those concerns since 2010 other than your mandate. As a result the education system is in crisis, with our most vulnerable taking most of the hits in the classroom. I’ve attached this offices 2010 response, and I’ve highlighted what should be self-explanatory. Your office is fully and completely aware of the problems. While I know that your office can not comment on these 400 individual complaints, it will make for some interesting public discussions around your mandate moving forward. I’m still waiting for an interview with Dupe. The people of Ontario would like to hear directly from him on his mandate and the independence of this office please.
What has your experience been with the Ombudsman’s office, and the school boards? We would like to hear from you. Leave a comment, or message us anonymously at jkobopoli at rogers dot com
(Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dube is Falling Short on The Provincial Education Crisis and May Not Be Following His Mandate)
With media reports of students across this province being under supported almost on a weekly basis now, frustration with parents who often approach the Ombudsman’s office on lack of compliance of board staff on the education act, to what looks to be systemic misappropriation of tax payers funds by school boards, to education sector unions demanding more money be spent on their members rather than kids – I thought it might be necessary to write into the Ombudsman’s office and find out why after two years of his mandate which is retroactive, there has been not one systemic investigation into the education sector on these issues in this province with a crisis growing by the day.
Below is a list of questions/concerns I sent into the Ombudsman’s communication department. Apparently they don’t have a canned response to handle any of the below, and I am told this has been moved up the ladder to the Ombudsman himself, and his staff. I’m told I should be receiving a response to this “soon” and I will post that response when it comes in.
I’m a syndicated blogger and contributor to a political and policy blog called Mind Bending Politics which follows political policy in Ontario and Canada Wide. I’ve been following the crisis in our education system now for over ten years. The predecessor to your office Andre Marin was quite adamant in getting this mandate to look into Ontario’s education sector since your office was fielding a number of complaints regarding the lack of compliance within the education act on a systematic level. I was one of the primary advocates to ensure that your office received a mandate through the province in investigating complaints within the education system.
Two years into your mandate, we’re not seeing a reduction of these issues outlined in the above article, in fact since your office has received your mandate on the educational sector, we’re seeing the lack of compliance within law grow exponentially across the province.
I have followed quite a number of complaints into your office, which should have sparked SORT investigations into the public education system, and the lack of compliance with the education act that is systemic and has been for some time.
I’ve received word by several parents that have written into your office that instead of actively investigating complaints on systemic non-compliance of the education act, you are telling parents that you are a last resort option and referring 100% of these cases I am aware of back to their respective boards where often these complaints end up being not resolved with respect to compliance with the law.
I have a few questions I would like to ask.
1. First, since your mandate the York Regional District School Board has and is the latest board to come under fire for non-compliance of the education act, and misappropriation of public funds, and systemic racism. It took a parents complaint into the human rights tribunal regarding racism before the province decided to step in. Can you explain how or why your office over the past two years were not aware of the situations within the York Regional District School Board that were later outlined by provincial investigators as being long term systemic issues across the YRDSB? Many parents within the YRDSB have written into this office regarding compliance with the education act, and your office has thus far refused to get involved. Can you further explain why that is?
2. Second, in your 2016/2017 annual report, this office gave praise to boards like the YRDSB who are setting up a self policing integrity office, and recommended that other boards do the same. Can you further explain why this office is advocating for a non-independent integrity review when your office has the mandate to independently and systemically investigate compliance with the education act? Why would an integrity office would be needed with your mandate, and why is this office endorsing a non-independent review of the integrity of board employees in the first place?
3. Since September 2017, I’ve seen almost weekly reports in the media and social media of special needs kids being sent home pre-maturely, not properly supported in the education system, lack of compliance with the education act on IEPs, a lack of hiring properly trained staff. Is this office monitoring those reports, and if so could you please offer comment as to why your office isn’t taking any public initiative to conduct a SORT investigation into special needs education in the province of Ontario?
4. Recently Janis Jaffe-White, co-ordinator, and Reva Schafer, resource parent, of the Toronto Family Network wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star outlining concerns regarding the lack of compliance with the education act province wide for special needs students. I would like this office to further comment on this op-ed and what this office plans on doing to thoroughly investigate these issues with compliance with the education act both at the board, and ministerial level.
(CUPE Says Money Should Go To Its Members Rather Than Autistic Kids)
CUPE who is the union representing educational assistants (EA) in the province of Ontario released a press release this week in which it has lambasted the provincial government for piloting a project which will allow autistic kids to receive privately purchased therapy to be administered in public schools. CUPE says by doing this would open the door to privately funded education, and that its current members are not qualified to handle special needs students despite millions that have been negotiated in front line workers with the province over recent years.
As part of its revamp of Autism services in Ontario the provincial government is expected in the next few months to allow families a choice to purchase Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism privately or go through publicly funded Centre’s. This move by the province to offer a private option paid for by the province is expected to reduce wait times for this needed therapy.
The move by the province to pilot a project to allow privately purchased workers to administer this therapy in school would be a necessity to the success of students receiving that therapy at the choice of the families, and lighten the load on parents who often have had to drive autistic kids to and from these appointments, often in separate cities in which the these children are being educated in and miss days at work. CUPE on the other hand thinks that the province should shell out that money to retrain EA’s across the province, rather than give parents a choice or say in their child’s therapy:
“We represent 13,000 Educational Assistants who work hard, with other Board employees and parents, to develop and deliver individualized educational programs to assist students with multiple challenges, including those with autism,” said Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “They are deeply concerned by any initiative that opens the door to the privatization of those critical services in our schools.”
Parents of children with special needs, including children with autism, have every right to expect they can walk into their local school and receive the services their children need, fully funded and publicly provided,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They shouldn’t have to worry about securing outside funding, finding a private provider or paying out of their own pockets, to ensure their children succeed at school. That is the responsibility of the government and instead of just abdicating their role to private operators, they should be properly funding and providing all the necessary services students with special needs require.”
The ABA therapy these kids will be receiving will most likely be publicly funded as part of the new Ontario Autism Program. Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee essentially stated in this bizarre press release from CUPE that the union negotiated $52 million from the province for front line workers recently, who by admission of this press release are not qualified enough to be working with special needs kids in our public schools, and the government must pay for unqualified staff to get degrees in behavior analysis (which is a two year full time university course at Brock University):
“As education workers, we know students with special needs need more front-line staff support,” said Preston. “It’s why, in contract extension talks with the government, we negotiated $52 million over two years to increase front-line staff working with students with special needs. Even with those hard-won investments, more support is needed for students with a variety of complex needs and that’s why the government needs to finally conduct a long-overdue funding formula review.”
The press release gets a hell of a lot weirder as you read on. In its closing remarks after blasting the government for allowing parents a choice and complaining that its membership is under-qualified to support kids with special needs ended the press release with this statement:
“Many of us already have ABA training or incorporate ABA principles into our work with students,” said Laura Walton, an Educational Assistant who is also Vice-Chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “Educational Assistants are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, often at their own expense, so any funded training opportunities are always welcome. We have been asking the government to ensure Educational Assistants, and all board employees who work to address the complex needs of our students, have access to an array of professional development opportunities, including ABA training.”
Wouldn’t working with privately funded ABA therapists which I would think would be the goal of the government here, be more beneficial to both their own members and the students they serve? Wouldn’t that give EA’s workplace experience in ABA working alongside these therapists? Where’s the outrage from CUPE that university or college programs educating future EA’s are not required under law to ensure an extensive ABA training? After a $52 million investment from the province in front line EA workers to support special needs, why is the province agreeing with CUPE to hire unqualified staff in a $52 million negotiation in the first place? In our view it should not be the position of the province or tax payer to front the bill for unqualified staff. Simply hiring qualified staff would be a better more economical option, or better yet CUPE can pick up that tab.
The problem that exists right now in the education system is one where there is money in the system, but it’s not getting to the students that need it. There’s no accountability in the education system right now. From this press release, it sounds that CUPE wants to be showered again with government coffers, while the rights of special needs kids in the system are yet again pitted against the needs of education sector unions. For its part, in its press release CUPE blames successive Liberal and PC governments for the lack of supports in our school system, yet falls short on criticizing the NDP who have yet to come out with a platform recognizing the lack of accountability the public education system is currently facing right now – the lives that have already been lost across the province to due education sector unions ignoring student mental health issues – the full time battles parents of kids of all levels have had to deal with as a result of these unions – yet we continue to shove money down the throats of this unaccountable system in hopes it gets better. $52 million CUPE negotiated went towards unqualified staff. When will the rights of all students in Ontario be put before union demands, and when will we have an accountable public education system?