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New Westminster school trustee calls for parents' bill of rights

A New Westminster school trustee is proposing a parents' bill of rights in a bid to repair the often adversarial relationship the district has with individual parents and parental groups.

"Let's be really clear that most of the engagement has largely been adversarial. It needs to be collaborative," said trustee Casey Cook, who submitted his proposal for discussion at Tuesday's board meeting. "What's happening is merely symptoms of a system that is ineffective and needs to be changed. We need to have a decision-making process where people feel valued and advocacy is welcomed, where parental and caregiver participation is an ongoing process. We need to view parents and the community as a resource and not as an impediment. They need to be part of the education process."

Cook's "bill of rights" provides for parents being able to expect all of their children's educational needs to be met by the schools, and the right to access school and district administration and information, as well as knowing how to go about complaining and appealing decisions.

"We need to communicate a lot differently, and we need to value their input a lot more," said Cook. "Educational outcomes have better results when that sort of culture is promoted. A lot of what is going on back and forth are symptoms that we need to find a different way of doing things, we need to communicate differently."

Cook admits many of these rights are embedded in the provincial School Act, but "who accesses the School Act, who knows how to access the School Act? And when they find it it's in a legalese they don't even understand."

Michael Ewen, who has been a trustee for more than 30 years, said he would be "very happy" to support most of the suggestions but wants to think some of them through.

"I'm not quite sure why somebody would think this would be necessary," said Ewen. "I think that some people see [the adversarial relationship]. I think for the vast majority of people in the district it's not an issue. I don't know how this would make it any different or any better."

The first right, in part, gives parents the right to expect their child's unique and special needs be met by the school. Ewen doesn't think the board can go that far.

"I'm prepared to say 'will attempt to meet the needs within the budgetary constraints given,’" he said.

Cook calls for parents to have the right to communicate with teachers, principals and resource staff "as often as you see fit," which is something Ewen would like to see clarified.

"Are we saying staff have to be available 24/7? As you see fit leaves it wide open," said Ewen.

Another right calls for parents to be treated fairly without discrimination or prejudice by any employee of the district.

"I am not aware of any discrimination that has happened. I have never heard of an educator retaliating against a child," said Ewen.

The bill also contains a right for parents to attend all public meetings including those of parent advisory councils. But Ewen said the board and the district can't guarantee that because the district has no authority over the PACs.

Ewen said there should be expectations of parental behaviour as well so that issues are resolved in a clear, respectful and timely way that meets the needs of everybody.

"We want to have a collaborative, successful environment where staff and caregivers can meet the needs of the child within the constraints of which we operate," said Ewen.

COOK'S PROPOSED BILL OF RIGHTS

The parents/caregivers bill of rights proposed by New Westminster school trustee Casey Cook, who acknowledges parentsmatter.org for significant parts of the material:

1. You have the right to be your child(ren)'s best advocate and expect that their unique and special needs are met by the school(s) in a safe and supportive learning environment in each grade in each school year.

2. You have the right to communicate with your child(ren)’s teachers, principal, and resource staff as often as you see fit.

3. You have the right to easily access and understand information about your child(ren)’s school(s), school district, teachers, administrators, facilities, policies, procedures, and programs.

4. You have the right to have access to your child(ren)'s educational records, information regarding services offered by the schools, and expectations about your child(ren)’s instructional programs, grading criteria, attendance and behaviour.

5. You have the right to be treated with respect, fairness, and understanding, free of discrimination and prejudice, by all staff, faculty, and administration in your child(ren)’s school(s) and school district.

6. You have the right to attend all public meetings, including Parent Advisory, District Parent Advisory Council, Board of Education, and board committee meetings.

7. You have the right to comment, to raise concern(s), or to register complaint(s) to teachers, district administrators and to the Board of Education without fear of reprisal or retaliation.

8. You have the right to attend Board of Education meetings and to address the board during the visitor’s (or if applicable, during Question Period) part of the meeting.

9. You have the right to know official complaint and appeal procedures within the school, school district, and to pursue them if necessary, without fear of reprisal or retaliation.

10. You have the right to ensure that your child(ren) is/are learning in safe, healthy, and caring schools, free of discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment, and that their physical, emotional, social, academic and special needs are met daily.

11. You have the right to participate in, and be a representative for, advocacy groups/organizations and to be assured that you and/or your group/organization will be treated with respect and in a collaborative manner.

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