There’s been this issue facing my mother for a while now, and she tends to talk about it a lot at home. As I think I’ve mentioned before, she is the board chair of Parkland School Division #70. They just had one mother of a debate, and it sure took a lot out of my mom. If you don’t mind, I’d like to pass on the particulars of this issue to you, in the hopes of getting some outside opinions on what went on. All the information I give you I got through my mother, so naturally there’ll be some bias in my reporting. (Aren’t you glad I was up front about my bias, rather than claiming to be neutral like some journalists?)
Let me present the tale of two cities. A city and a town, actually. We have the City of Spruce Grove; a city roughly the size of Camrose. Just five minutes down the road, there is the Town of Stony Plain; a town about 3/4 the size of Spruce Grove. They both reside in Parkland School Division #70. Now, a few years ago, some disturbing statistics were released to the public. The French Immersion program, as a whole in the province of Alberta, has declining numbers. Parkland School Division felt that, with these declining numbers, something should be done to strengthen the French Immersion program. A study was commissioned, and a year and a half was spent studying the problem. Right there, the Parkland School Division earned kudos. Most other school divisions in the province just arbitrarily made decisions about their French Immersion programs with no studies. A good case study is the Battle River School Division. When faced with these declining numbers, they went and axed the French Immersion program altogether, with no consultation with the people. But I digress.
When the study was completed, the recommendation was made to the school board. Three schools offered French Immersion: two in Spruce Grove, one in Stony Plain. The recommendation was that the French Immersion program should be consolidated at one school. One of the schools in Spruce Grove offering the program was best equipped to handle the great influx of students, and so it was chosen to be the French Immersion School. The recommendation passed through the board with a clear majority. I think it went unanimously, but my mother’s not here to confirm that. This was heralded as a great idea. The board was behind it. The people of Spruce Grove were behind it. The majority of Stony Plain was behind it. One of the most prominent French Immersion supporters in Stony Plain stepped forward and said “this is the right thing to do.” One of the most prominent French Immersion lobby groups in the province stepped forward and said “this is the right thing to do.” But….
For reasons unbeknownst to me, this did not sit well with the principal of the Stony Plain French Immersion school. He felt it was a bad idea. When this decision was made public, there was a handful of parents at the Stony Plain French Immersion school who objected to putting their kids on the bus for five minutes a day, when they could just walk to school. So, an opposition group began to form. A very loud, very mean, opposition group. They started publicly badmouthing this decision. They took out full page ads in the local paper protesting this decision. It wasn’t long before they won over one of the trustees on the school board. Now, this trustee started whining and complaining about the bad decision this board made, and she conveniently forgot the fact that she voted for this “bad decision” in the first place. She whined and complained so much, that a motion to reconsider was put on the agenda for the next board meeting.
When that board meeting came, the opposition group mounted a large protest. What I always find ironic is that they pulled their kids out of school for the day to help protest. To show support for the school, they pulled their kids out of the school. Another thing I find funny is that there were also twice as many pro-protesters that day. So, when the meeting came, the opposition group presented their evidence to keep the French Immersion program in Stony Plain. It wasn’t new evidence, though, and it was stuff that the board had already taken into account. With no new evidence, the motion to reconsider was denied, and the amalgamation was set to begin, with the French Immersion school in Spruce Grove opening in September. As far as the board was concerned, this issue was now done. But, the opposition didn’t see it that way.
The principal of the Stony Plain French Immersion school refused to begin amalgamation procedures. The parents stepped up their protest, making it meaner and nastier. They threatened to pull their kids out of the French Immersion program. This would mean that there would not be enough kids at the French Immersion school in the fall, and the program would die quicker. At this time, the opposition circulated a “fable,” portraying the board as bunch of reactionary nitwits who were anti-French, and didn’t know the whole story. So, let me get this straight. The board spent a year and a half studying this problem. The opposition spent a week studying the problem. And the board didn’t know the whole story. The fable was written anonymously, but the author claimed to be instrumental in ending slavery in the American south and freeing Nelson Mandela. At first, this fable was only mysteriously stuffed in the mailboxes of the school board trustees. The trustees ignored it. It then appeared in the newsletter of the Stony Plain French Immersion school, thus making the board the laughing stock of the community. But this was nothing compared to what was in store.
Remember that one trustee who sided with the opposition? Well, she did something that all her fellow board members considered a traitorous act. She called up the Minister of Education, said the board was dysfunctional and should be disbanded. I don’t know how well you follow school politics, but this is THE most serious charge you can place on a school board. Now, the Minister of Education was involved.
The Minister determined that the board wasn’t dysfunctional, but still felt it proper to conduct a review of this decision, seeing as to how it had “so much opposition.” The Minister sent out an expert to conduct the review. From day one, it was felt that this expert’s review was biased. Firstly, he only met with the opposition. After meeting with just the opposition, he felt that the board had erred, and was prepared to make his report. After much pleading and cajoling, he met with the members of the school board. But, his mind wasn’t swayed. Now, I know I’m still a novice to politics, but don’t you think this report felt a little one sided? If I didn’t make it clear, his report said that the board had made the wrong decision.
Then came the big meeting with Minister. The Minister gave them two options: either the board could reverse their decision and remain in control of the school division, or he could reverse the decision for them, and pretty much run the division himself. The board chose to remain in control, and begrudgingly reversed their decision. That school in Stony Plain gets to keep their French Immersion program.
So, what’s the aftermath? Well, the principal of the Stony Plain French Immersion school will probably be losing his job for his little insurrection. Plus, the English-speaking families in this school feel alienated over how this principal sacrificed all to save this minority of students. The opposition group is beginning to turn on each other. The author of the fable was uncovered, and legal action is being sought. That one trustee who sided with the opposition has pretty much alienated herself from the rest of the board and has gone into hiding. And Mom? Well, Mom just feels bad because she was doing the right thing, and a select few felt it was wrong. Suddenly this reminds me of the “moral” of an episode of The Simpsons: if you don’t get your way, just keep whining and complaining until you do. All this, simply because a select group of parents objected to a 5 minute bus ride. I want to call this a tyranny of the minority, but feel I would be a little extreme in saying that. All the board wanted to do was strengthen the program, and a select few just didn’t want to stick their kids on the bus. So, the program remains week, but no one has to ride the bus.
Oh, and do you want to know the final irony? The French Immersion school in Stony Plain is a dying school, and will probably have to be closed within the next three years for lack of students.