School district calls changes to School Act undemocratic

Bill 11 has drawn criticism from School District 5 — citing its changes as a threat to the democratic process of education.

Changes made to the School Act, specifically the introduction of Bill 11, have drawn criticism from School District 5 — citing the changes as a threat to the democratic process of education.

Following its implementation into legislature on May 14, Bill 11 makes several amendments to the School, Teachers and Advanced Education Statutes Amendment acts that have drawn opposition from school boards, including local School District 5 (SD5).

A key change that has sparked criticism is the shift of power to close a school or sell the property it is built on from local Boards of Education to the Minister of Education.

On this change, SD5 Chair Frank Lento said, “The decision to close a school or sell school property [used to rest] with the local Board of Education, an elected body which is required to consult, in good faith, with their community prior to decision-making. The recently amended School Act gives the Minister of Education the sole authority to direct a district to close a school or sell a property —without ever setting foot in the community.”

He added, “Our Board believes that Bill 11, by transfering important decision-making powers to a single individual in Victoria, is a direct threat to [the Board of Education’s] democratic rights and expectations. Changes to the School Act dilute the decision-making powers of locally-elected Boards of Education while providing broad and unprecedented powers to a sole individual, the government-appointed Minister of Education.”

Lento also argued that leaving teachers out of the amendment discussions is a problem in and of itself.

According to Lento, the B.C. School Trustees’ Association made requests prior to the bill’s introduction into legislation to play a role in consulting on the bill.

“The request went unheeded,” said Lento in a statement.

SD5 decided at their June 9 board meeting to send Premier Christy Clark as well as Fassbender a letter expressing the board’s dissatisfaction with Bill 11’s passing.

According to the Ministry of Education, the amendments are meant to “help school districts reduce overhead costs, establish a modern framework for teacher professional development and put a stronger focus on accountability for student outcomes.”

Accountability for student’s education and improvements to ongoing professional development for teachers were highlights made by Fassbender.

“The proposed amendments to the Teachers Act will provide the minister with the authority to establish a more robust framework. Working with the profession, the goal is to enhance public confidence that certified teachers have access to, and are regularly participating in, high-quality professional development aimed at improving student achievement,” read a statement from the ministry.

Fassbender himself said, “Most professions – such as lawyers, accountants, or nurses — set detailed standards for ongoing learning. Early childhood educators have clear requirements. It’s time to put teaching on a similar footing.”

To read Bill 11 in its entirety, visit www.leg.bc.ca/40th4th/1st_read/gov11-1.htm.