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