Community members brought forward their concerns related to Bill 64, the Education Modernization Act, at a recent virtual town hall organized by École Lansdowne School Parent Council.
On June 14, parents and stakeholders heard from Betty Edel, chairperson for the Winnipeg School Division board of trustees and Ward 8 representative; Tamara Kuly, community activist and École Luxton School parent; Yijie (Jennifer) Chen, president of the Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative and Ward 6 trustee; and Nello Altomare, education critic for the Official Opposition and Transcona MLA.
Speakers addressed concerns and fielded questions related to the PC government’s legislation, which proposes to transform the Manitoba public education system by dissolving 37 English school boards and placing schools into 15 regions across the province, creating volunteer councils, and establishing the Provincial Education Authority to oversee the system.
The province says the reform is necessary to improve students’ academic performance and cut costs. But Edel said that won’t be solved by standardized testing and comparing results, which is what the government intends to increase.
"It’s our belief that the success of a child is not based on a number, but rather to provide a learning environment that fosters the growth of each student’s potential, and provides equitable opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for meaningful participation in our society," Edel said in the meeting.
"The K to 12 education system must support students with programs and services that are equally diverse. So Bill 64, in my opinion, destroys current school board governance, which allows school boards to address the local needs of school communities, and provide programs, services, and supports to ensure a child has all the tools necessary to be successful in school and beyond."
In Manitoba, trustees representing wards are elected to school boards by the public every four years. The province’s proposed reform would eliminate paid trustee positions and replace them with school community councils that rely on volunteers. Each region would have one paid representative who would serve on the Provincial Advisory Council. Kuly said replacing elected trustees with volunteers would create an inequitable environment.
"Many parents and caregivers cannot and will not participate. Time constraints (and) language barriers … are just some of the barriers that will exist," Kuly said.
Kuly added that schools already struggle to fill executive and volunteer positions to run programs and raise "enough money to fill the gaps left by insufficient funding."
Chen said volunteer-based councils favour a specific demographic.
"Only the most privileged parents who have access to time, wealth, and knowledge will be able to participate on the new school community councils," Chen said.
"Whose voices will not be heard? Marginalized, racialized, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) … LGBTQ communities, communities with lower paid workers, immigrant and refugee families and children."
The town hall ended with a call to action — for parents, caregivers, and other stakeholders to write their local MLA and voice their opinion on Bill 64. The event can be viewed on YouTube.
The Times community journalist
Sydney Hildebrandt was the community journalist for The Times until September 2021, when she joined our sister paper, the Brandon Sun.