Telling Tales out of School
with Nick Martin
05/17/2013 4:00 PM
One Montana educator is horrified by the prospect of Manitoba’s potentially reflecting sexual orientation and gender identity issues in school curricula.
That’s a proposal going before the annual meeting of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society next week, and if it passes, Education Minister Nancy Allan has said she is open to listening to the teachers’ union.
And before I hear again from one particular less-than-admiring reader, no, you should not assume that I consider the word ‘union’ a pejorative.
Back to today’s topic.
I just received an email which was also copied to several Manitoba Teachers' Society senior players, from Glenn Wehe, an educator working for the Evergreen School District in Kalispell, Montana. While Wehe says he’s not speaking for his employer, he uses his employer’s email and signs the message with his work information.
Here’s some of what Wehe had to say:
"Unfortunately, Manitoba is a little too close to Montana for us to simply laugh out loud at the attempt of MTS to force parents to subject their children to information about an unnatural lifestyle and an unpopular political view.
"At least here in Montana we teach morals and ethics without the need to also teach debauchery and sodomy.
"I am sorry for our Canadian brothers and sisters in the teacher unions to the north, for they are forced to accept standards against their desire to teach the children. If I were teaching in Canada I most surely would leave the profession out of shame."
Wehe also talks about Canadian society being degraded, about multitudes of Manitobans being opposed to the MTS proposal but driven into anonymity by the fear of retribution from government, and he tosses out the possibility that the abduction and rape of children can be linked to such teachings. He casually uses the most vile and loathesome word in the English language, Nazi.
This comes from an educator who works with children. Various websites list Wehe as technology co-ordinator for his Montana school district, and the newspaper website The Missoulian says Wehe has run unsuccessfully for office. There is no mention on-line that I could find of his being a certified teacher.
Yes, it’s from someone in Montana, but when Manitoba public school teachers consider their executives’ proposal next week, they should keep in mind that Wehe’s type of attitudes are not necessarily confined to him. And maybe some teachers in Montana will hear about what Manitoba is doing, and consider whether their own children could benefit from some of those ideas.
05/16/2013 3:38 PM
It shouldn’t be this challenging to write about the positive things happening to make schools safer.
I went last Friday to Education Minister Nancy Allan’s conference on safe and caring schools, which drew all 37 public school divisions and other major education players.
Allan gathered more than 300 participants and experts, with special emphasis on cyberbullying. At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was downtown with his own group of participants and experts on cyberbullying, and there were no connections or pooling of resources between the two gatherings.
I knew the agenda for Allan’s conference because I had it in my calendar and asked ahead of time. But the forum was already under way when the government sent out a news release, which may help explain why I appeared to be the only media member there.
The emcee was Mary Hall, director of Safe Schools Manitoba, who talked briefly about some of the good work she does in schools. Hall severed her agency’s relationship with the Free Press on April 21, 2005, and we don’t hear about all those good things Hall does to make our schools and children safer.
Allan singled out for praise Evan Wiens, a student at Steinbach Regional Secondary School. Allan cited his extraordinary bravery and determination to establish a gay-straight alliance in his school.
Alas, Wiens only talks to the CBC.
The best events of the day, as far as potential newsworthiness goes, were Allan’s meeting with 50 students from across Manitoba, who told the minister about the reality of life inside their schools, and a session in which students from the Gray Academy of Jewish Education explained how they had established a gay-straight alliance in their school.
Again, alas, the province had decreed that any session involving students was off limits to the media.
05/9/2013 4:09 PM
I was surprised to hear Evan Wiens on CBC this morning talking about the gay-straight alliance he’s started at Steinbach Regional Secondary School.
Surprised, because when I called Wiens to ask how the first meeting went last month, he declined to be interviwed, told me he was withdrawing from the public spotlight to concentrate on school, and asked the media to respect his privacy.
Wiens had courted and received a lot of media attention the previous few weeks, as he tried to persuade Hanover School Division to allow him to promote the GSA within the school.
So I contacted Wiens to find out what had happened, and pointed out to him that those of us who’d complied with his request to respect his privacy, would have difficulty explaining to our bosses and our readers why CBC had a story that we didn’t.
And here was his reply: "CBC has been kind to me as I’ve been working closely with them on a diary project. So I allowed them a small update on the GSA. I don’t believe that’s any of your business. I believe I’m allowed to use my freedom of speech in whichever way I choose."
Yes, Wiens can speak to whomever he chooses.
But, with respect, it is my business. When someone who has chosen to become a public figure asks to be left alone, and then re-emerges in a rival medium, it is my business to ask what’s happening.
This is a big story that won’t go away. The right to establish a GSA within a public school and within private schools that receive public funding is at the heart of Bill 18. Steinbach is quite obviously at the heart of opposition to the bill.
Wiens has been a part of that story. Going forward, he’ll be a part of that story on CBC, but his voice won’t be heard anywhere else — not in our paper, not in the Sun, not on CJOB or on Global or CTV or City, or anywhere else. People may talk about him along the way, people may talk about his GSA, but his voice won’t be heard. That’s his choice.
05/6/2013 12:07 PM
Winnipeg School Division trustee Mike Babinsky has been on the phone three times already today — but who’s counting? — about the Great Sisler/Trudeau Scandal of 2013.
No, I won’t add ‘-gate’ to any of those above words, I dare not trivialize this scandal in any way.
Babinsky believes that someone within the division is lying about who told what to whom, and believes that it was not Sisler High School principal George Heshka’s idea to tell the media to leave the school when federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his retinue came by the school last Thursday.
Mike, you might want to take that call, it’ll be Woodward and Bernstein.
A Sisler teacher asked Trudeau about nine months ago if he would come sometime to speak to three classrooms of senior high social studies students. That teacher has invited other politicians, the division says, and other politicians have come into the school at the invitation of the school on other occasions, without the media’s being invited to cover it.
Wednesday afternoon, Trudeau’s people sent out news releases inviting the media to come into Sisler for, it appears, a photo op.
Let’s be clear — Trudeau’s people can’t do that.
The Public Schools Act defines anyone who isn’t a student or an employee of a particular school as a stranger, and strangers can only enter the property with the knowledge and consent of the school, which, practically, means the principal. When my kids were in school, I didn’t want anyone in that school who was unknown to the staff and there without consent; I’ve never believed I have some constitutional right to barge into a school and have unfettered access to children. Yes, I must acknowledge that there is not universal acceptance of that within the profession, but I digress...
When a school wants to hold a media event, it often goes up the chain to the chief superintendent, and if she doesn’t sign off on it, the event isn’t open. When a school invites in the media, the school requires that parents provide written consent for their kids to be photographed, filmed, and possibly interviewed.
That’s why it takes a few days to set it up when we ask for access to a school. That’s why when I go to a school that’s expecting me, I go straight to the office and identify myself. And it’s why politicians, such as Premier Greg Selinger or Education Minister Nancy Allan wanting to announce something, start setting up the approvals well in advance.
It happens more often than you’d think that a teacher will call up with a positive story about her or his class, and want me to come. And I tell this educated, empowered, intelligent adult that that’s not a good career move. Pretend you haven’t called, I say, then go to your principal, who’ll contact the communications director, who’ll talk to the area superintendent, who’ll take it to the chief superintendent, and maybe it’ll come back down the line with an OK.
And it happens quite regularly that an organization, business, company, agency, whoever, will have an event scheduled in a school, and will invite the media to come and cover it. And I invariably email back and point out that third parties cannot invite me into a school, and I copy it to the communications director to ask if the division is aware and has signed off on media access.
What I don’t say is that in 98 per cent of these cases, it would have to be the slowest news day in history to — but I digress.
I’m not naive. I know that Trudeau evokes interest. Politicians go into schools all the time at the invitation of the school, and we don’t demand access to cover it, but this is the guy who’s the flavour of the month. Had I not been booked to cover the heritage fair at U of W, I would have probably walked over to Sisler — though I also would have checked ahead of time with the division about what was going on, since I had never received a news release from WSD.
It’s not clear how many hours before his visit that various trustees and senior officials in WSD each became aware that Trudeau would be in the school Thursday morning. Babinsky says that the division should have known that if you have Mick Jagger in the school, people will want to come, and that WSD looks stupid by its handling of the situation — never one to leave a pot unstirred, our Mike.
Babinsky also thinks this is all an NDP conspiracy to deny Trudeau media coverage — um, Mike, I think the N-Dippers conspire more skillfully than that, and would have known how this would play out.
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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