What exactly does a new perspective mean anyway? [Re-post from 2014]

This is a re-post of a Facebook post from 4 years ago during the 2014 election. It’s still relevant today, although some of the details have changed since I wrote it.

Three out of four of the current (incumbent) trustees have served in that role for decades – in fact one has served for nearly thirty years. One was first elected in the late 1980s, another in the 1990s, and the third in 2000. So right away when I think about perspective, I look at those numbers, and I can’t help ask, “Can we have someone else sitting at the table? Isn’t there such a thing as being somewhere too long?” That’s not meant to put anyone down; I want to make that clear. But what gets lost when the same people are elected again and again? What new ideas get missed? What viewpoints go unnoticed?

There is something to be said for experience. And frankly, the incumbent candidates will probably use that when arguing for re-election. And that makes sense. Why wouldn’t you? But again, I ask yet another question, “What is wrong with stepping back to allow other opinions to be heard?” And some incumbents will argue that if they get elected over and over again, well, that must mean people are happy with them. Maybe that’s true. But when I look at how low voter turnout is in local elections that gives me a reason to doubt the whole ‘voters are happy’ idea. Clearly many aren’t happy. If they were, then they would be active and engaged.

Why a lack of engagement? Because they don’t feel like it matters. Why don’t they feel like it matters? Because they aren’t being heard. Why aren’t they being heard? Because the perspective is not changing! I talk about a new perspective because it really is so important, and right now, the whole ‘business as usual’ or ‘go with the flow’ approach is failing pretty much everywhere. And it’s really unfair. It’s unfair for me, as someone who is trying to add to and change the conversation, but it’s unfair for the public too when they are the ones who end up feeling muted and ignored for much the same reason.

I am almost 26 years old. I was born with a physical disability and I’ve lived with it for my entire life as a student, as an adult, and a member of the community. It has hasn’t defined me, but it has shaped who I am as a person in many ways. And I really am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had as a result. People sometimes ask, “If you could change things tomorrow, if you could be like everyone else, would you?” No – I wouldn’t change a thing!

I have been actively involved in the community in a variety of different ways. If it wasn’t for my Cerebral Palsy I honestly don’t know where I would be. But I love that it has made me see things differently, I love that it has made me engaged in the community, not just pertaining to accessibility, but in everything I’ve been part of! It has given me insights that I may not have had otherwise and it has helped shape my perspective.

I just want to share that perspective. And hopefully I’ll be allowed [on election day] to give something back, and bring something new to the table.

The feelings and thanks of a new school year

It’s the first day back for public school students across Waterloo region. Welcome back everyone! I hope the new school year gets off to a great start.

Thinking not so long ago to my own first days back at Glencairn, Laurentian and Cameron Heights at the start of a new school year I look at them differently now.

For some students the end of summer vacation isn’t always looked at so fondly (I can’t say I was never one of those, honestly). Others are thrilled to see friends they haven’t seen in months or excited to start something new and different.

To parents sending their kids off for the first time – They’ll miss you and that’s OK.

To parents rejoicing that a new school year is upon us – You’ll still miss them and that’s OK (even if you can’t admit it just yet!).

I remember missing summer vacation and being happy to see friends. I also remember being excited that I was one year closer to grade 6, grade 9 and grade 12 – all milestones that I was proud of and that meant something to me.

But one thing I didn’t really think of as a student was of all the detail that went into the first day of school.

I didn’t consider the custodians, the office and other administrative support staff, the educational assistants and teachers – many of whom were already working for weeks preparing not only for the first day but for the term or semester.

It’s easy to think of the summer ending and be excited for new beginnings and miss our kids. But today, with all the feelings that the first day of school brings, I hope we also think of the people who make first days happen and say thanks.

Thanks to all of you!

David Kuhn html election sign

Reporting concerns: Parents should be heard – but there is a process!

Parents asking questions when they are unsure of something isn’t bad; parents expressing their thoughts about what their kids learn in the classroom is not bad either — we should encourage it and expect it. It’s one of the reasons why I think communication is so important.

However, the provincial government recently announced a website where parents can report ‘concerns about the curriculum currently being taught’.

Information submitted through this website isn’t shared with the individual schools, with principals, or even trustees . The website states that “Reports generated from this site are shared with the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), on a monthly basis.”

The OCT regulates teaching and “investigates complaints of professional misconduct, incompetence and incapacity” with regard to public school teachers in Ontario.

Now, if you are concerned about professional misconduct you should report it. But what rises to that level? And should the school boards be bypassed altogether? The OCT is there for a reason. But so are the school boards.

I think going straight to the OCT has the potential to do more harm than good and that parents should, first and foremost, address any concerns to their child’s school and the school board.

The College notes on its website “If a complaint does not relate to professional misconduct, incompetence or incapacity or if it is frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process, the Investigation Committee will refuse to consider or investigate the matter.”

Parents’ concerns should never be discouraged or downplayed. I want to see greater parental involvement and advocacy —it’s part of why I’m running — but going right to the body that disciplines and sanctions teachers is serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

I’m shocked that the Ford government has offered this option above others as a means for parents to express their concerns. Ignoring the principals, the school boards and elected trustees is wrong and doesn’t help the relationship between parents and teachers.

 

Phys Ed and the ‘Snitch line’

Trustees held another special meeting about the health and physical education curriculum. They discussed ‘snitch lines’ too!

Attendees and trustees heard again from delegations how important it is that the health and physical education curriculum addresses the needs and concerns of all students; that it allows for teachers to teach when the alternative is students talking to other students and getting misinformation or sometimes none at all.

I’ve said it before – 1998 doesn’t account for the world of 2018. It can’t. It’s encouraging that WRDSB’s Director of Education and leadership team are looking at ways to support both staff and students moving forward; maintaining a commitment safety and inclusion and looking at ways to incorporate modern realities into an old curriculum that doesn’t account for them.

Trustees passed a motion that a formal request be made to the Minister of Education to allow the board to continue following the Ontario Human Rights Code and fulfill the WRDSB commitment to inclusion, safety and respect for all students (as set out in the board’s strategic plan) by teaching the 2015 curriculum.

I think the Director of Education and his team were already looking at ways to do this within the mandated interim curriculum – but I don’t see anything wrong with the request.

Trustees can and should voice what they hear from their constituents; they can ask for clarification from the government; they can request that the ministry does this, that and the other, and state why they request it.

What they cannot do is say to their Director of Education, “Ignore government direction and go your own way.”

I’ve said this more than once, but it bears repeating: It’s not a question of inaction or not doing the right thing or not standing up for teachers and students – it is not within the board of trustees’ role to direct or demand against what the ministry says.

The other issue that was raised was about the ‘snitch line’ where people can report teachers.

Boards already have mechanisms in place to address conduct. Anyone with concerns about what their child’s teacher is or is not teaching should go to the principal. If that doesn’t solve their concerns, they can contact their trustees who can help guide them from there.

I think the outright reporting of teachers sends the wrong message and puts them under a microscope. It’s unfair, invasive and a drastic overreaction. Any concerns can be addressed without calling a special hotline.

Parents with objections to certain subjects have a right to be informed and remove their child if they wish. This is something that the previous government promised under religious accommodation but failed to offer for all who requested it.

If you are a parent, or just someone with concerns about what is taught under the health and physical education curriculum, you have a right to voice your opinions – whether you support the 2015 curriculum or not.

There is no question that these issues are important and that the welfare of students is paramount. But I think the Board of Trustees has done what it can up to this point. The rest is up to the government.

I think educators, students, parents and concerned citizens and groups should all have a say in revisions to the health and physical education curriculum.

The interim health and physical education curriculum

Yesterday the provincial government announced an interim health and physical education curriculum (Grades 1-8) that is to be used in September while they set up consultations and work on a new, revised curriculum.

While I don’t believe the document is perfect (it takes nothing new from the 2015 curriculum into consideration), I echo the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) in saying that I’m grateful Boards (teachers and staff) now have some direction as they head into September.

The government has repeated its pledge to hold consultations around the province as they work on a new curriculum; I firmly believe that parents, students, teachers, and the community need to be involved in any updates and revisions that happen. This is something that is important for our education system, especially in Kitchener and Waterloo region, to make sure all voices are heard, respected and included.

I look forward to taking part in these consultations and encourage others with interest to do the same. Similarly, if you have concerns about the interim curriculum, or want to be informed of any updates, I think it’s important to reach out to your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and let them know.

Kitchener MPPs

Amy Fee (Kitchener South—Hespeler)

Catherine Fife (Waterloo)

Mike Harris, Jr (Kitchener—Conestoga)

Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre)

Please contact me and let me know your feelings as well!

Trustees could have asked Ford government for direction sooner

Waterloo Region District School Board Trustees waited too long in taking a position and seeking direction on the health and physical education curriculum.

As soon as the government said they were rolling back to 1998, our local public board could have responded with, “Our staff need direction, and they need it sooner rather than later, because the new school year is just around the corner.”

Trustees did the right thing in voicing support for the current (2015) curriculum in the absence direction from the government, but without going as far as telling teachers and staff what to teach. That’s not the role of trustees – that’s up to the Minister of Education.

Monday’s board meeting highlighted many gaps such as online safety, texting, cyber-bullying and social issues not addressed in 1998. The province hasn’t been clear on addressing these gaps.

The issue the board has is a lack of direction from the province on how to use the old curriculum in a modern world while the government decides on a new one that they approve of.

In my mind, that direction should have been given by now. But I think trustees could have asked for it sooner.

Health and Phys Ed confusion

My reflections after the Special School Board Meeting on Monday, August 20.

Most of us know the basics—at least what’s been said in the news—the new provincial government in power at Queen’s Park has decided that the Health and Phys Ed curriculum put in place by the previous government in 2015 needs to be rewritten and re-released following more consultation with parents, teachers, etc.

But, while that happens, the new government decided that rather than follow the 2015 curriculum, students would be taught the using 1998 Health and Physical Education curriculum instead. Right now – this September. Understandably, this has left people—notably teachers and staff—pretty confused.

As of Monday night, the Waterloo Region District School hadn’t received direction from the Ministry of Education what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to teach a curriculum that hasn’t been used in years and a curriculum that doesn’t and can’t account for many of the realities of today.

A few concerns from people who presented at a Special Meeting of the WRDSB on Monday about the 1998 curriculum or the government’s decision:

  • It doesn’t address online safety, cyber-bullying, texting (again, 1998 vs 2015 is a big gap)
  • It doesn’t adequately address consent and other social issues of today
  • It doesn’t mention LGBTQ persons, or those with other gender identities
  • Some felt the amount of misinformation and omission is harmful
  • Someone else pointed out that the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum is still on the ministry of education website ( which adds to confusion)

The fact is that we haven’t heard anything from the government on how teachers should apply a 20 year old document to today.

I was hoping that the school board and the general public would have gotten some idea before now, with the start of school just around the corner, what that would look like.

Again, as of Monday’s meeting, nothing official has been sent to the WRDSB from the Ministry of Education. No direction. We’ve heard things like, “Some elements from 2015 will still be taught.” Then the government says it’s a flat out repeal of 2015 without exception, or they waffle a bit both ways. It’s confusing!

Whatever your opinion on certain aspects of the 2015 curriculum, I don’t think anyone can reasonably disagree that applying something from 1998 to today would be largely out of date. There is a lot that just wasn’t addressed back then and which can’t be ignored today.

WRDSB trustees debated a motion by Trustee Millar which would have directed staff to “maintain the 2015 health and physical education curriculum until the government revisions to the curriculum are completed.”

However, in my view, the problem with that motion is that it’s not within trustees ability to direct staff to do that. And it sets the school board directly against the province, which is not where it should be.

While I disagreed with the wording of Trustee Millar’s motion, I wholeheartedly support the spirit of it. In my mind, what the government has done is left everyone in the dark needlessly. And there’s no question that the 1998 curriculum is too vague for 2018 and leaves out things that should not be ignored.

In the end the board passed two motions on the issue, both brought by Chair McMillan:

  1. A statement of support for staff, safe spaces for students and their identities
  2. To request that the Ontario Public School Board’s Association lobby the Ministry of Education on the WRDSB’s behalf, asking that the 2015 curriculum be maintained.

In the absence of any official direction from the Minister of Education, it makes sense to think, “We’ll do this until we get some idea what’s going on.” But realistically it’s not for trustees to say to staff, “Ignore the Ministry of Education and do XYZ.”

In my opinion, McMillan’s first motion expresses support for staff and students. Which is important and was top of everyone’s mind on Monday. The second motion essentially says the WRDSB would like to use the 2015 curriculum. But it’s not heavy-handed, it calls upon OPSBA to express WRDSB’s wishes and is unlikely to lead to a fight with the Ministry of Education that I think the board be on the losing side of.

I think the majority of trustees approved of Millar’s motion. Again, I agree with it myself. But it’s not up to trustees to give that sort of direction to staff. As important as this issue is, people have to remember what the role of a trustee is and what the role of the school board is.

Neither has a role in telling the provincial government or the Minister of Education what to do.

It’s difficult, especially given the subject, and the fact that there’s an election in October, to not do something that’s seen as more concrete. But regardless of my personal feelings, I feel it’s reckless for trustees to forget their role, and it’s disingenuous and dangerous for candidates running for election to say they’d support something that they can’t actually do or that would hurt the board.

Personally what I think the government could have done, given how close the new school year is, is left the 2015 curriculum in place and started consultations. If the provincial government is set on revising the 2015 curriculum (as the premier has stated), then I think that parents, teachers, students, everyone should have a say in those revisions. We also heard that on Monday.

But scrapping the most recent and relevant document for something that’s two decades old? And on the heels of a new school year? That doesn’t make sense to me. No wonder people are confused and nervous.

I encourage anyone in Kitchener with questions, comments and concerns regarding the health and physical education curriculum to reach out to their Member of Provincial Parliament. Tell them what you think, how you feel, and what is important to you.

Amy Fee (Kitchener South—Hespeler)

Catherine Fife (Waterloo)

Mike Harris, Jr (Kitchener—Conestoga)

Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre)

Please contact me and let me know your feelings too!