Opinion

School trustees are hurtful bystanders

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“A bystander sees or knows about bullying.  He can be part of the problem (hurtful bystander) or part of the solution (helpful bystander).”

 

Bullying stops when students are helpful bystanders.

Strategies taught in B.C. schools – endorsed by trustees – encourage kids to take a responsible stand when they witness bullying.

They tell them to make it clear they won’t be involved in bullying behavior, won’t stand by and watch bullying, will support anyone being bullied, and report incidents.

School trustees – the custodians of public education – should be more than helpful bystanders; they should be fearless defenders when it comes under attack.

In 2012, Cowichan Valley school trustees accepted that responsibility. Instead of submitting a balanced budget that would have victimized programs and services yet again, members sent one in with a $3.7 million shortfall.

Trustees were fired.

“We felt we had ceased to be able to provide equal access to quality learning opportunities for all the children in Cowichan,” said board chair Eden Haythornthwaite (CBC News, July 1).

Cowichan trustees made it clear they wouldn’t be involved in bullying behavior, would never stand by and watch bullying, would support anyone being bullied, and would report incidents.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows board hasn’t the courage to do anything like this. Instead, it coaxes parents to protest underfunding – they already do on Facebook pages like Protect Public Education Now, and picket lines.

In stark contrast, a weak local board writes a bizarre letter to Education Minister, Peter Fassbender (The News, July 18), asking him to “acknowledge the board is managing resources properly,” and that continuous budget cuts “will have a negative impact on students.”

How do you get a gold star when you deny your students music, special needs support, or library services and excuse yourself by saying you had no choice?

“It’s strange to have to prove the benefits of a library, one of civilization’s greatest and most enduring institutions,” UBC professor Ken Haycock wrote in his 2003 report, The Crisis in Canada’s School Libraries: The Case for Reform and Reinvestment.

It’s difficult to find polite words to describe this weak-kneed approach to managing education. Hurtful bystander might be the closest.

MRTA president George Serra (The News, July 23) says board letters are “too little, too late,” pre-election politics.

“What would  happen if two or three more boards did what Cowichan did,” he asks. “It would pressure the government.”

Instead, the local board submits balanced budgets in compliance with a declaration by secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson (The News, May, 2012):  “We have to get the education plan to fit the financial envelope,”  setting the bar for our board.

Its 2014 budget increased class size, cut CUPE staff, and saddled parents with a $215 student bus fee.

The 2013 budget had increased class sizes, eliminated 19.4 full-time equivalent teachers, reduced student support services, and helping teachers, reduced clerical and maintenance position, and cut teacher librarians in half.

“We’re just really afraid that what we stand for might be lost,” chair Mike Murray (The News, April 2013) said while predicting another 35 positions would be lost in this year.

The balanced budget the board was proud of sucked $1.51 million from a reserve fund.

It took from the future of public education in Maple Ridge.

Recently, the board declined a public forum to discuss the educational crisis as teachers prepare to go back without a contract, and students who need support do without.

Some trustees seek re-election. Serra says the public is entitled to know “what’s important, schools or their jobs.”

If any candidates plan to be hurtful bystanders, instead of going to the wall for public education, they shouldn’t be on a ballot.

 

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

 

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