The Waterloo Region District School Board’s plan to seek community-based input through school councils before implementing bell time changes for next year is commendable, and reflective of the six-figure investment it made last year in a new community engagement platform.
The board should be seeking input from parents and students. If they do, I’m sure they will get an earful from students who remember having their winter sports and activities taken away during the last school year, when teachers withdrew from extracurricular activities at the direction of their union.
But trustees should get the brunt of the backlash if they push back the school day to 9:30 a.m., forcing teachers to choose between coaching or leading a club and meeting the needs of their own families.
Suggesting that high schools should start at 9:30 a.m. because teenagers are sleep deprived is like saying we should increase the speed on the 401 to 140 km an hour because plenty of irresponsible drivers travel at that speed anyway. I don’t dispute that many high school students get less sleep than they should; but that has been the case for decades, and it has not stopped the vast majority of teens from becoming productive, responsible, self-regulating adults ready to face the challenges of the real working world.
Two years ago, board staff tried to sell the bell time shift as a boon for student achievement; this time, to their credit, they’ve been upfront in presenting bell times changes as a cost-saving measure. They’ve recognized that the vast majority of studies favoring a later start to the school day come from U.S. jurisdictions where start times ranged from 7:15 to 7:30 a.m., and were moved to 8:15 to 8:40 a.m. We already qualify as a “late start” school district.
There are myriad reasons why a 9:30 a.m. start doesn’t work, and trustees and board staff have already recognized them. School-based sports and clubs level the playing field for low-income students who can’t afford privately-run lessons or teams. Students applying to university need to demonstrate their extracurricular involvement as well as academic achievement if they hope to compete for a spot in increasingly-competitive programs.
Students from lower-income families need to hold down part-time jobs in order to help pay their way. To suggest that employers will just change their scheduling practices to accommodate students is irresponsible. Recent statistics show the student job market is tougher than ever, largely due to the “trickle-down” effect of the recession. High school students are now competing with university students (who have far less scheduled class time) for jobs that used to be almost exclusively theirs – because university grads are vying for the jobs that used to go post-secondary undergrads.
The most important role of trustees is to advocate for student learning. That includes advocating for at-risk students whose only motivation for staying in school is the sports team or drama club to which they belong. It must also include standing up for students who rely on afterschool programs such as Pathways to Education or on afterschool tutoring which may not be available if they aren’t dismissed until 4 p.m.
I believe the majority of parents are prepared to accept shifts of up to 20 minutes in the school day to save the estimated $1.13 million – which is actually $30,000 more in savings than the 9:30 a.m. start option. Still, it is critical that each school community provide feedback relevant to its unique circumstances, such as a high proportion of ESL students, or magnet programs like Eastwood’s Integrated Arts Program and Cameron’s IB program, which require students to participate in school-based activities outside the classroom as part of those programs. For those students, the activities are not “extra.” They are mandatory.
There are several other ways that the board could find much-needed savings, such as by filling empty buses and changing walk distances. The board should be seeking input from parents and students, who may have more ideas to offer. It appears they are trying to do so. Good for them – and for students.
In order to avert a budget shortfall next year, the public school board is considering shuffling bell times to save nearly $1 million in busing costs.
For about half of the region’s elementary and high schools, it could mean starting up to 20 minutes earlier. Most of the area’s 16 secondary schools could start between 8 and 8:10 a.m. next fall. Read article
By Liz Monteiro
In The Record, October 7, 2013
Pinto Wray James LLP of Toronto has penned a legal opinion letter in response to parents’ concern that the WRDSB Board of Trustees did not follow proper legal procedure in June of 2012.
Apparently one parent made the initial complaint to Chair Fife and the other trustees on June 15, 2012. After an unsatisfactory response from both the Board of Trustees and the Director of Education, the parents felt they had no other recourse but to seek a legal opinion on the matter.
It turns out the Board of Trustees, including Chair Fife, held votes in-camera on June 4, 2012 which, according to the letter, should have been held in public:
It is our legal opinion that the Waterloo Region District School Board did violate the Education Act if and when it held a closed meeting during which it voted on a resolution to determine whether Trustee ******** breached the board’s code of conduct.
It is our understanding that this issue currently resides with the Ministry of Education and parents are continuing to seek full transparency and accountability by the Board in this matter.
Download and read the opinion letter.
The Waterloo Region District School Board faces a $3.5-million budget shortfall after the provincial government announced its budget last month.
Catherine Fife, chair of the board of trustees, said most of the impact would fall on technology and transportation budgets. Read Article
By Paige Desmond
In The Cambridge Times, April 19, 2012
I would like to share my opinions as well as constituents concerns about “recommendations for changes to procedures” for delegations from the Waterloo Region District School Board policy bylaw committee. Read article
By Cindy Watson
In the Cambridge Times, April 19, 2012
The following is a delegation that Ashley Ross brought to the Board on Monday, April 16, 2012. Take a few minutes to read her well-crafted thoughts on the matter of the delegation process. As always, with Ashley her point of view is always ‘spot on’.
The Waterloo Region District School Board is also struggling to find new ways to maximize its school spaces in southeast Galt, address outdated buildings, as well as reorganize JK-Grade 5 and JK-Grade 6 schools in favour of JK-Grade 8 schools.
Schools involved in the review include Blair Road, Dickson, Highland, St. Andrew’s and Tait Street schools. Read Article
By Lisa Rutledge
Cambridge Times, April 19, 2012
In September 2011, I brought forward a request for the policy and bylaw committee to review the delegation procedures of the Waterloo Region District School Board. At that time, the request did not raise any concerns at the board table. Last month, the committee finally did discuss the current procedures and the resulting minutes of the meeting, which did not include any recommendations to change the procedures, were presented to the board of trustees. Read article
By Ted Martin
In The Record, April 17, 2012
The recent uproar over the board of education to modify the procedural bylaw, to make it more difficult for parents and members of the public to participate and make presentations to the board, is not surprising to me.
As a former trustee from 1990 to 1996, I experienced firsthand the utter disregard for democratic principles of open and accountable government, from not seconding motions presented to the board by sitting members, illegally held closed meetings and sanctions imposed by the board on those who defied the majority. Read Article
By Uwe Kretschmann (former Trustee)
In the Cambridge Times, April 12, 2012
Trustees at the Waterloo Region District School Board are now hatching plans to make it much more difficult for parents to speak their minds at board meetings. Presumably this will cut down on bothersome outbreaks of public opinion. And ensure embarrassing policy reversals such as the extended day debate never occur again. Read article
By Peter Shawn Taylor
in The Record, April 7, 2012