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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Voice Ends Involvement Ends

This post is in response to a tweet by @Mrwejr  about an article by Jane Steffenhagen from the  Report Card in the Vancouver Sun about parent involvement in school/education. It is about a school board not dealing with a parent advisory group because it did not have representation from enough schools. Should there be qualifications on representation? This is more from an Ontario perspective.

The Ontario Education Act provides guidelines/outlines how School's Advisory/Community Councils and Board's Parent Involvement Committees are to be structured and function. There is flexibility on the composition/representation on the councils/committees. The Act does state that the majority of members must be parents and what constitutes a quorum. I guess it would be within the by-laws and procedures to determine how the councils/committees would determine minimum representation and how it would function below this level. Does it still have a voice?

On School Councils do two or even one parent give voice? Why is there only one voice? Are there other avenues to provide input? Is the input appreciated or just participation show dressing? Ever School  and community is different so every school council is going to be different. Are school councils a voice or action? Each school council must find their way. A voice is a voice but is it representative?

Parent Involvement Committees (PIC) are officially new to Boards although they may have existed previously in some boards in another form. PICs must be clear on their mandate and not to create another level of bureaucracy. Boards can determine how parent representation is determined on the PIC. Is it by selection board wide or by regions? Are members elected by regions or schools? Or is it who volunteers? Are these members to represent their own views or those views of their school or region? Ultimately it should be what is best for all. As with school councils when does representation/voice not be representative? Why is their no representation/voice? What Are PICs To Do?

There is no secret success that works for all School Councils and Parent Involvement Committees. Each has their own strengths and visions. The sharing of best practices and ideas can only help parents that want to be involved. I will leave you with this post by @SheilaSpeaking 'That's It I'm Done'

Don't worry I will be returning to this topic and related ones in the future. This is an area that deserves much attention.  Robert


  1. Robert - thanks for linking your questions re: PIC and School Councils to the parents as partners blog.
    You are bringing out questions that have troubled all levels in the Ontario Education community.

    What is a voice supposed to say? Parents in my experience, the majority, want to communicate their individual and immediate questions about their individual child/ren. You asked, if there are other ways to give input, I'd suggest that we need to strengthen the connection between the classroom teachers and the families of their students. Those stellar teachers like Aviva Dunsinger @grade1 and others who are using amazing tools to include parents in their child's schoolwork. The question of organized parent groups and how they will represent other parents will be on the agenda for a long time to come. At this time I feel that parents are too intimated by the "system" to really speak what is in their hearts.

  2. Thank you, Robert, for pulling us together around your questions and this conversation. Great questions and development of this topic!

    The current legislation is actually more prescriptive for the school level councils than the board level PICs. The school council must have an administrator, a teacher, a non-teaching staff rep, and a student (high school level; optional at elem.). PICs must have a Director and a trustee and a parent majority, however, the representation of teachers, principals, and other staff reps are optional. I will be back more on that later.

    I wonder if anyone has thought about this: We have had school councils for a long time. Is there something that could have happened/changed with school councils that would have made board level parent involvement committees unnecessary? There is a lot of history behind the various organized parent groups/committees in Ontario. I find it interesting that the seed of PICs was further planted under the Ministry’s “Parent Voice in Education Project” back in 2005 or so. And we still have many questions about “voice”. The current activities of many PICs do rest a lot on the parent volunteers. Parent participation is also needed in order to link with parent needs and contexts. But what about voice? What happens if parents do a bulk of the work and then get the impression that their input isn’t genuinely considered? What table is parent voice supported at? Should we worry about that? Who should be at the table? How should they outreach? I am thinking and writing more on that too!

    As Lorna suggested, not all parents want to have “voice” on all areas of education. But we do have to consider this: Our province has various avenues for parent input and participation. If parents aren’t connected somehow to the tables of voice, there will always be some who will be the parent voice. So do we support it, represent it better, take it with a grain of salt, or drop it? Why the need for so much legislation and mandates to connect with parents? What else needs to change?

    What do all these questions mean….? :)

  3. Lorna's and Sheila's comments are excellent. Have we made something so simple (and natural) into a complex network that maybe does the opposite of what it is intended to do. The discussion will continue.

  4. Lorna had mentioned the importance of supporting the teacher-parent connection. I am not sure how much PICs can influence that, or if they can have/are welcomed to a direct role in that. There may be other ways to support that as well.

    Other points to ponder:

    -We hear a lot about US models, research, and strategies in parent involvement. They don’t have school councils and PICs.

    -The Ministry’s document, “Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy”, outlines actions plans for schools, board, and the Ministry. In addition to the requirement that boards develop an equity and inclusive education policy, the document also outlines actions for schools and boards to work towards diverse representation on school committees and also to “implement strategies to identify and remove discriminatory barriers that limit engagement by students, parents and the community, so that diverse groups and the broader community have better board-level representation and greater access to board initiatives” (p. 21). Are PICs a part of this consideration? I am not completely clear on that.

    -Boards are required to have an equity and inclusive education policy, but not a parent involvement policy per se. With ample legislation for PICs, a board policy may not be necessary. However, the new regulations for PICs do not state requirements and expectations in regards to broad representation of schools or the district in the composition in membership. I think it is implied, but not specific. There are, however, clear “shalls” that a PIC will advertise and invite members to the committee.

    I think a lot will depend on vision ahead: ie….how each board considers/defines parent engagement. Does that include avenues for broader parent voice and input? Are school councils a part of the vision/strategy and how? School councils also have a number of roles and objectives, including support for parent involvement in their child’s education. So who should support who? And who communicates with whom? Sorry, more questions!

  5. I think parents will only have a say if they have "legislative power" within the school board. School boards are statutory corporations under the Education Act, and the powers of the Ministry of Education over these corporations is very little, despite the hype. The Ministry of Education is like a parent yes, but the school boards are like a grown adult who has left home. While the Ministry of Education can advise their grown adult they actually have very little power over them. The suggestions brought forth from PIC can be refused by the Director of Education and even if the Ministry of Education would like to over- turn that decision, they have no legislative power to do so. School Board Trustees are bound so much by Bill 177. Sadly you have one person (Director of Education) who is legally responsible for this entire corporation despite parents being shareholders of this corporation.
    I think parents need a watch dog agency, someone they can turn to (without spending $$$$ on litigation) and file a formal complaint. The Ombudsman offers this balance in the other provinces in Canada and the Ontario Ombudsman is already set up to deal with complaints against a government agency. As it stands now the complaint would get sent back to the Director of Education (a non-elected CEO). Should one person have so much power over safety of children and tax-payers money ?