Editorial – Selective consultation

Last week, officials from the Upper Canada District School Board presented that board’s concerns about a potential online learning plan by Ontario’s Ministry of Education, to members of the SDG Counties Council. UCDSB chair John McAllister warned of the grave danger that permanent full-time online learning could have on small rural schools in Eastern Ontario. McAllister was asking for support from councillors against this potential provincial action, and for consultation.

During the May 17th meeting, Councillor Lyle Warden (South Glengarry) made the point about bus and school time changes that his area is now facing. The UCDSB, along with its Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario consortium partner, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, are finalizing year three of its three-year bus and school time change plan. The plan, which harmonizes secondary school schedules, and moves elementary school start times to a later start, was first planned in the 2018-19 school year.

Warden asked at the SDG Council meeting where the consultation for this STEO/UCDSB/CDSBEO plan was and McAllister responded that the parties were consulting now with parents about what changes would go into place for the next school year. Unfortunately, Warden’s point was missed altogether.

When the STEO/UCDSB/CDSBEO plan was first hatched, there was discussion between the boards, and the transportation consortium that is jointly-owned by those boards. Those parties were reeling after a $30 million arbitration award to bus companies at the time, so finding efficiencies was needed. There was no consultation with the true stakeholders of the education systems, that being parents and students.

Families were not consulted in any meaningful way about the potential changes to schedules, and unable to give feedback on what the affect of those changes would be. That such an impactful decision was made behind closed doors in board rooms and administration offices with out consultation is unfortunate.

Since the beginning of this term of County Council, there has been increased dialogue between the UCDSB and SDG. That is how relations between these parallel entities should be. Communication and consultation is a two-way street though. It should not be selective, when only one party wants or needs something. True communication and consultation is ongoing, meaningful, and beneficial to both parties. It is hoped that the bus consultation was an oversight, and that improved communication and consultation lines continue to grow.

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