Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Internet weirdness, and oodles of other stuff

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I’d been going back and forth on email for several weeks with a mother who said she’s been banned for no reason from her child’s school by a principal who holds a grudge against mom. The superintendent won’t even answer mom’s calls, and she wanted me to write about it.

I told Nicole to think about it carefully, to consider if her family really wanted to see this in print if we decided to cover it, and pointed out that the school division would get to tell its side of the story.

She finally decided to give the school one last chance before giving me the details, such as the name of the school. To that point, she hadn’t divulged it.

It goes without saying that Manitoba schools are full of administrators who regularly boot parents out of their children’s schools and ban them from the property for no reason, a practice so frequent that it’s not really news — a pack of scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells, these people running our schools.

When I get these types of stories from parents, I never suspect that the parents may have gone off their meds under a full moon, nor do I ever suspect that there may be another side to the story and that the school has a totally different perspective.

Anyway, Nicole got back to me yet again and said she’s ready to talk.

So I emailed back, cautioned her again about the need to think this over, and asked her for the name of the school and her child’s grade.

Back it came: Prince Hall Elementary School, Grade 5.

Um, I thought.

OK, so I don’t necessarily know the name of every school in Manitoba even after all these years, but still...

So I googled.

I was surprised by the most frequent answer that popped up on Google, so I told Nicole I wasn’t familiar with the school and asked where it is, and within a few minutes, here came her emailed reply, confirming Google: 6101 N Gratz Street Philadelphia Pa 19141.

Oh. Philly. More than a little bit southeast of St. Vital.

I’m thinking, that may be a tad outside our readership area, at least for the dead-trees edition, though obviously not for our online readership.

I was immediately reminded of the request I got last year from a mother who wanted me to write about her son’s dastardly school that was putting pressure on parents to not only lay out hundreds of bucks for a band festival field trip, but extra big bucks for aforesaid son to go skiing while at the band festival.

That band festival turned out to be in Whistler, and the mother was in Washington state, and on the internet she had come across something I wrote about a similarly expensive Winnipeg field trip in 2001.

Anyway, I responded yet again to banned mom, telling Nicole I was really intrigued why she had contacted me, and asking if she did realize (the paper’s full address is on my email signature) that I’m not even in the United States.

And, finally, from banned mom: "I really didn’t know if you could help me or not I think I seen an article that you had written regarding this topic."

Alas... I suggested Nicole try the Philly paper.

Meanwhile, for something completely different...

I’ve been watching those new TV spots from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the ones that ask seniors how they (soon to be we) want to spend the last 10 years of life.

On one side of the screen, there’s a poor old fellow looking incredibly frail, hooked up to machines and tubes and breathing devices.

On the other side, there’s a fit and hearty old dude playing tag with his grandchildren.

I understand what the Heart and Stroke Foundation is saying. As someone whose father dropped dead of a heart attack at a younger age than I am now, and whose mother suffered a devastating stroke at 52, I get the message and endorse it.

I hope to spend my last 10 years as the guy on the left — and I’m hoping the clock on those 10 years isn’t already counting down.

The two guys appear to be played by the same actor, and the inference is that they’re the same age, yet both in their last 10 years of life.

But if I spend those 10 years running and cycling and kayaking and even still playing volleyball if the arthritis in my hand allows me, what happens after 10 healthy and active years? Do the 10 years end like Logan’s Run? Does someone suddenly go all Soylent Green on me?

Will that wonderfully active decade really be the final 10 years for physically active seniors who manage to avoid getting sick, or would all the activity just push back the inevitable to older age?


And back to education...

Specifically, to a sampling of several readers who are most unhappy with me.

Here’s a fellow named Darcy T, unhappy with my coverage of the opposition to Bill 18, Education Minister Nancy Allan’s anti-bullying bill which guarantees that any student who wants to form a gay-straight alliance in his or her school will be supported.

Here’s some of what Darcy said:

"As I read your article I am deeply saddened to the situation we find our schools and children in. We can no longer be silent. We need to stand up for the injustices in the world and speak truth. The truth is being gay is completely against God and the Bible. That’s not law, that is fact.
I am saying no to Bill C18 I want religious freedom to remain, freedom in our country and lets not lie to our kids any longer or grown-ups the Bible clearly states what is right and what is wrong.  We need as a nation to choose to believe what God says. Being politically correct is another way of being cowardly. Be bold the next generation needs Godly direction to keep moving forward."

Darcy, there’s no point in my arguing theology with you. I don’t believe what you believe, and we obviously have diametrically-opposed values. Let me just say that among my friends, the most devout Christian I know is a 73-year-old gay man who would never belong to a church which considers him an abomination, nor would his interpretation of the same scriptures you both read lead him to conclude that he is an abomination.

Someone else sent in a photo of the sign outside Augustine United Church: What would Jesus do about Bill 18... protect all vulnerable students.

To which my Christian gay friend would probably say, amen.

Then I heard from Charlene, who urgently alerted me to the alleged truth she’d discovered about gay-straight alliances. She told me that the GSA website teaches hatred about religion and encourages violence against people with religious faith.

So I dutifully combed through both the American and Canadian GSA websites, and couldn’t find any of this. Charlene then sent me a link.

What she sent me isn’t ‘the’ GSA website, it’s ‘a’ website that isn’t signed and doesn’t offer a contact link. It appears to be someone involved somewhere in a GSA. The website tosses around the word fascists in a manner I haven’t heard since the 1960s, and does argue that several religions say in their own writings that there are grounds for violence against anyone who doesn’t share the belief system.

Charlene, I did find in the official GSA websites two other points you raised, and I must say I don’t know why unions and Planned Parenthood being involved in anti-homophobia would be sinister. But then again, you know what I’m like.

Finally, Charlene pointed to a link to author Dan Savage, whom she accused of being an atheist and of directing hatred against Christians so horribly that Christian journalism students walked out of one of his speeches.

OK, again dutifully, I read through the links. Major surprise, Charlene, but I don’t see atheism as a negative. Savage is an author and gay activist fighting suicide among GLBTQ youth. At this particular speech, reports the English paper The Daily Mail, Savage was refuting claims that passages in the Bible condemn homosexuality.

I’ve heard Christians at the WSD anti-homophobia education hearings here in Winnipeg, some of them clergy, make the same argument Savage made, that the Bible in no way condemns homosexuals, though they used less colourful language than Savage reportedly used. And, Charlene, while acknowledging that I’m quite dim at times, I still don’t see what any of that stuff with Dan Savage has to do with a student’s right to establish a GSA in a Manitoba school.

And one more email, from Christa T., most unhappy with my one-paragraph summation of what she had to say to the Winnipeg School Division budget forum. Here’s what she says:

"I have just finished reading your article 'School Division Budget Draws Little Interest' and was saddened that you have misinformed the public on what I presented at the board meeting on Monday night.  Your article states that I said 'there’s no reason similar schools with more single parents should be getting milk subsidies denied to kids at her school.'  I indeed spoke to both of these issues, however in very different parts of my presentation. 

"I was presenting two arguments to the board last night.  The first issue was in regards to funding for a nutrition program.  It was in this segment of my presentation that I compared our school to neighbouring schools and spoke of single parent families and two parent families.  I stated that our family incomes, according to the most recent data found on the board website, were infact lower than our neighbour schools and that our families often support an extra adult as more of our families are two-parent families compared to our neighbouring schools.  Thus this criteria for determining schools that recieve funding is flawed and needs to be reconsidered. 

"I then went on to speak about bussing begining in nursery for our Ukrainian bilingual students and that our parent council did not support the increase in bussing fees and milk subsidy as we feel this is falling on our language program families as they require bussing (children attend from across the division) and for their children to stay for lunch (that includes milk).  These increases will make attending the English Ukrainian Bilingual Program cost prohibitive, especially for our new immigrants. 

"I would also like to point out that you have mixed my answer to the question 'How much would it cost to run a snack program' with Ms. Grant-Jury’s lunch program expenses. You stated '$1000 a month would mean parents would no longer have to pay $25 a month for lunch supervision.' I stated it would cost approx. $1000 a month, plus a paid position to prepare and distribute the snack.

"I thank you for attending the meeting but am disappointed to be misquoted in the paper. I hope in future you will correctly convey what has been discussed to the public."

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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