Parents frustrated, board...
Parents frustrated, board execs absent
PARRY SOUND – Parents were left looking for answers following Tuesday’s School Advisory Council meeting.
Beatty addresses the crowd.
School board trustee James Beatty speaks with parents during Tuesday’s School Advisory Committee meeting. Beatty voted in opposition to the grade configuration change.
Roland Cillers/Beacon Star
The meeting came on the heels of a controversial decision by the Near North District School Board to move Grade 7 and 8 students from several area elementary schools into Parry Sound High School next year.
Roughly 100 parents attended to ask questions and express concerns about the change but, in the end, many left unsatisfied.
Parents wanted answers for a range of issues including what the change would mean for the safety of young students and how this would affect existing elementary programs. At the end of the night, many parents felt their questions were left unanswered as a result of key board executives not attending the meeting.
Officials present included Parry Sound High School principal Andy Gagne, board member James Beatty, First Nation board representative Linda Williams and a number of principals from local elementary schools.
Many parents expressed frustration about, what they felt, was a lack of transparency and consultation before and after the change was made.
James Beatty, who voted in opposition to the change, said there was no support documents provided prior to the vote being taken.
“I share the frustration with you all. I don’t know how the trustees that voted in favor of this had sufficient information to make the decision,” said Beatty. “That motion was brought that very night, there was no discussion ahead of time it was brought up... it was not on the agenda. We were blindsided and the press wasn’t there.”
Staff had set up a system whereby parents were able to anonymously text message questions. The questions would then be projected at the front of the room. One such text requested that First Nations representative Linda Williams explain why she voted in favor of the change.
Williams defended her decision by saying she believes today’s students are more mature and that the change would help deal with decreased attendances at the school. Several parents seemed frustrated with the amount of time Williams took to answer the question, and her contention that she was left in the dark about many parts of the process caused laughter from the parents.
Many of the questions and criticisms from parents related to concerns regarding the safety of their children and how this would affect the students social and emotional growth.
Bobbi-Jo Henry, a parent in attendance, appeared to express the feelings of many in the audience when she spoke about her 11-year-old daughter.
“What she’s going to be faced with and have to deal with she is simply not ready for. She will not be able to comprehend it, and she’s not the only one who’s going to be put in that circumstance - there will be many others. The unfortunate part is, it is unfair. They should be able to keep their youth and their vulnerability for a little longer before you toss them up here to the wolves,” said Henry to applause.
Many parents expressed plans to attend the next public meeting of the Near North District School Board which will be held in North Bay on October 23. A petition in opposition to the change was brought up, and parents were encouraged to get in contact with board members.
The day after the meeting, the board issued a press release announcing an information session for Monday, October 15, at Parry Sound High School where district chair Kathy Hewitt and Director of Education Geof Botting would be present. The session is open to the public and will start at 6:30 p.m.