These educators are calling for drastic changes to Bill 40
MONTREAL -- School boards, parents, and others with a stake in the education of children are calling on the provincial government to drastically revise its planned reform of Quebec's education system.
Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge is expected to introduce several amendments to Bill 40 this week following rounds of public hearings that took place in the autumn.
However many critics are calling on Roberge to go back to the drawing board and begin again, with a different goal in mind.
Instead of the CAQ's goal of replacing school boards with "service centres," they're asking the province to think about how to best serve children.
Alain Fortier, President of Quebec School Boards Federation (FCSQ), said the government should withdraw the bill from the legislature.
"It's an extremely bad bill, of course we all know that. The unions are saying that, a lot of parents are saying that, it's discriminatory between the anglophones and the francophones, it's an extremely bad bill. So we're asking the minister to stop it and to reunite everybody and to ask two questions: how can we increase perseverance in schools and increase school success?" said Fortier.
Fortier said the minister admitted that nothing in Bill 40 is aimed at improving the high school graduation rate of students, or otherwise improving academic success.
"He said that himself," said Fortier. "He said there doesn't have to be anything for school success, we're doing something else."
Liberal MNA David Birnbaum said that key partners in education are concerned with getting the best outcome for students and preparing them for the future.
"There's enough to do with worrying about that instead of having one more debate about structures," said Birnbaum.
"We have a bad law in front of us with 400 articles that don't talk about student welfare and success."
Fortier said that Roberge and the CAQ government set themselves up to fight everyone in the public school system without really considering whether their plan would work.
"I'm still hoping that he's going to listen, work with us instead of against us. He'll be a much more effective minister if he works with the people instead of against the people," said Fortier.
"We should all work together and have general reflection on public schools and to see how we can be a 21st-century public school in Quebec."
FAE calls for rethink
As Fortier critiqued the government in Quebec City, other stakeholders also called on the CAQ to reconsider its reform bill.
The ten-thousand members of the Autonomous Federation of Teachers (FAE) sent letters to Roberge calling on him to scrap his plan, while dozens of teachers went to the National Assembly Tuesday morning to unfurl a banner as MNAs returned to the legislature for the Winter Session.
Teachers like Shawn Richardson pledged to remind Roberge they oppose the legislative reform.
"We don't accept changes that we haven't been consulted for," said Richardson.
In particular, teachers say that Roberge's latest plan -- having grades reviewed by teachers from other districts -- seems strange.
"Having my marks confirmed by a teacher who teaches at a different school, who does not even know my students, I think is absolutely absurd. If I was asked to do that for another teacher in another school I would refuse. I think the only person who can mark a student is a teacher who knows them well," said Richardson.
The president of the FAE, Sylvain Mallette, said Bill 40 "fails to recognize the expertise of teachers and does not improve the day-to-day experience of children and adults in the public education network."
The FAE said Tuesday it is concerned not only with the elimination of school boards, but in drastic changes planned to report cards, the independence of teachers in grading pupils, and the amount of power granted to people appointed by the government.
"Bill 40 doesn't really eliminate school boards as much as it replaces them with a new structure in which several people, who already blindly obey directives from the minister and ministry, will defend all their powers to the detriment of the needs of those people who work on a daily basis with students," said Mallette.
Parents say reform misses the point
While the CAQ has said Bill 40 is supposed to give more power to parents, the association that represents the existing parents' committees in Quebec schools said the government has to concentrate on what's important: the best outcome for students.
"The issue is not to be for or against this bill. Our sole objective is to obtain the best solution for our children," said Kevin Roy, president of the FCPQ.
He said that whatever shape the reform takes, parent representatives must be chosen by members of a parents' committee.
Other provinces eliminated, then restored boards
Fortier said that this week the FCSQ is launching another information campaign about the importance of elections and school boards.
He said it's the only way to ensure that people with a vested interest in education are accountable, and other provinces have learned this lesson.
"In Prince Edward Island, four years ago they abolished school boards. Now they're putting them back. They did it in New Brunswick. They did it in Nova Scotia," said Fortier.
"Why do we in Quebec need to make the same mistake that other provinces did?
Fortier added that if the government's main reason to eliminate school boards was because of the low participation rate, it should instead take steps to increase the voting rate, noting that successive governments rejected every suggestion made to make it easier to vote in school board elections.