Playing Hooky with the Education Act

CASE STUDY: A student gets physical, bullies kids in the classroom, the teacher too.

Who gets to enforce school discipline? 

It’s not at all clear in Alberta thanks to the NDP and its truant Minister of Education. 

In November of 2012, a new Education Act was passed to much fanfare very late one evening in the Alberta Legislature. I was in the Leg that night, and it was an exciting time. The visitor’s gallery was bursting with teachers and trustees. Over 20,000 Albertans had been consulted. The new legislation would bring the 1988 School Act into the 21st century: raise the dropout age to 17 from 16; allow students to attend school for free until they are 21 (a problem for early school leavers, whom, after a break, wanted to return to complete high school only to find they must pay for their education); clarify the rights and roles of students, teachers, parents and school boards. 

It took two years to draft the regulations. However, the government of the day, the Progressive Conservatives, neglected to proclaim the Act before Rachel Notley and her fellow travellers took office in 2015.  NDP Education Minister David Eggen wasn’t keen to adopt it, preferring to tinker instead. Some of my friends describe his refinements as social engineering.

Two years of public consultation went on permanent leave. Tens of thousands of people have been ignored by the NDP. And as a consequence of playing hooky, the Minister of Education has put our ‘case study’ in a netherworld where anything goes — except the student causing a ruckus. There aren’t clear rules to deal with bad behaviour in the classroom (the only mention of a code of conduct by Minister Eggen in Alberta’s ‘modernization’ relates to school board trustees). 

In Ontario, a Student Code of Conduct was laid down by the Mike Harris government in 2000.  The PC legislation has survived to this day with just a few tweaks and one significant change: the Liberals in Ontario took away a teacher’s right to suspend a student; they were worried about ‘tyrant’ teachers, and the union wasn’t keen.

A Student Code of Conduct is a smart thing to do. It reinstates a process—standards—whereby students know the rules, the consequences of going past the speed limit. If there’s an infraction, students and educators know what can happen. Ornery students who swat around other kids or their teachers can be suspended by the school’s administration. Principals can expel students who supply drugs or alcohol to other students.

In Alberta: teachers and principals have been loathe to discipline a student without getting the nod from upstairs and the school board. It’s an awkward process. Decision-making on critical issues—serious discipline and safety concerns—far removed from the classroom. And it’s not good for the child perpetrator let alone people on the receiving end of their bad behaviour.

It’s the exact opposite of best practices in organizational management. And it can perpetuate the polarizing effect of pitting the culture of the individual against the interests of the community (which in this case includes others in the classroom). 

Let’s get smarter in Alberta’s classrooms.

To be continued…

Donna Kennedy-Glans, June 20th, 2018

5 thoughts on “Playing Hooky with the Education Act

  1. I feel it quite the reach to blame the NDP for all the woes in the classroom today. If the act was such a good deal why didn’t the PC put it in place before they left power? Truth being that they did little if anything for teachers and education and made it such a low priority for any sort of money that my wife gave up her choosen profession of special education to enter a normal classroom. This is well ahead of any NDP involvement. Their inaction and continued gouging of the budget the legacy of today. Yes the NDP have gone to the drawing board to go through the whole thing but that should not be any surprise and the PC side continue to harass the process wanting to drown it in a deluge of parent feedback long long before it is needed or required. From all accounts that I have been privy to is that they have the right people in the room trying their best. It would be nice to see that process complete and come out. It wasn’t the NDP that stalled with any living wage increase for teachers and they have not cut my wife’s wages either. All standard practice under the PC. Sorry I may be PC by origin and upbringing but no fan at all from how they have treated the education system.

    1. Garth, I’m very sorry to hear that you wife gave up special education to enter a normal classroom. That’s very disheartening. And I know other teachers who have done the same. Even quit the profession out of frustration. That’s why I’m raising this alarm. We need to pay attention to what’s happening in the classroom and encourage teachers to be given the professional respect they need and deserve. As for partisan politics, let me reiterate: There was a plan; there was consultation; that was then 1988… the plan was 2012. Albertans spoke. The ND decided on a redundant process with an arguably socially engineered result. We lost ground in moving forward on what Albertans wanted. That’s frustrating.

  2. To further Garth’s point, I fail to see how we can look at this timeline and not wonder why decades of PC government hadn’t bother to update the Act between 1988 and 2012. Maybe they were too busy cutting all of the supplies and nonessential programs out of small town schools like mine in the 90s.

    But griping about parties aside (which I really don’t see as helpful from anyone, including myself), I must point out the risks in any plan that suggests increasing the numbers of suspensions. Until alternative suspension programs (like the very small program run by a couple of YMCA locations) can be implemented consistently, suspending students only leads to further problems. My work with so-called “at-risk” youth gave me a window into a variety of perspectives, but one thing that teachers, administration, and police often agreed upon is that suspending a student will often result in much bigger issues for that student and overall for society. Referring to these students as “ornery” ignores far greater structural and personal issues that leads to their behaviour in school.

    Chances of future success will always be greater when students are kept in school. I suggest the film Paper Tigers as a demonstration of this point, though there is also formal research and personal experience to support what I’m saying.

    1. Thanks for responding Kelli. Glad to know we can set aside partisan politics, and talk about this question. I’m not really cheerleading for anyone on this question. It’s really made me deeply sad to watch and listen to educators in Alberta’s classrooms and their experiences. While an MLA, I saw MANY educators in my office, people who were at wit’s end and didn’t know what to do anymore. Other than quit the profession. And some did. Several did. The educators’ mental health was often an issue.

      The expectations were unreal – inclusiveness run amok. Kids who would have been safer in other school options were in classrooms, with parent helpers and aides trying to keep the disruptions to a minimum. But often (I’m defining often as daily) there were times when the disruptions couldn’t be calmed and teachers had no choice but to focus on the source…and their only option when that didn’t work was to go to a principal who could then go to a school board. And the messages that came down from that chain of command were usually along the lines of, this is your job, make it work.

      It’s NOT that I don’t care about at risk youth – not for a moment. But we need better options for educators. There have to be consequences and not just sustaining the status quo because we’re afraid of change. I have looked at the formal research – I had to as an MLA because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and then when I went into the classrooms, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

      And, maybe even more importantly, we have to do a better job of supporting at risk youth.

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