Maybe it’s time to abolish school boards in Ontario

Boards continue to make bad decisions that question why they should even exist today.

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School boards are too often their own worst enemies, which we saw again this week with the book ban at the Peel District School Board.

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Time and time again, Ontario school boards make decisions or take actions that make even the most vocal public education advocate question why school boards should continue to exist.

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The idea of ​​merging school boards—Catholic and public, for example—or abolishing them entirely has been floated for years as a cost-saving measure and a way to ensure that crooked school boards don’t implement bad policies.

The idea of ​​saving money never really seemed legitimate given the province’s experience with municipal mergers – which apparently didn’t save any money in the end. As for abolishing boards to stop the spread of bad ideas, giving all that power to a few bureaucrats in Queen’s Park seemed like a worse idea.

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But now that boards are churning out bad policies faster than the Ford government can respond, central control seems like an improvement.

Peel’s decision to ban books based on an ideology that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had to order stopped was not the only bad move by a school board in recent memory, nor the only one this week.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board embarrassed itself with a rowdy meeting over the behavior of one of its members. Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a vocal advocate of masking in schools — which she says should never have stopped — was placed under conduct review for comments she made to another trustee.

Kaplan-Myrth, who is white, texted fellow trustee Donna Dickson, who is Black, that the vote to end the classroom mask requirement was on the side of white supremacy.

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“Don’t vote with white supremacists,” Kaplan-Myrth wrote, while accusing other trustees of not caring whether poor or black students got sick.

A meeting on the issue Monday was loud, to say the least, with Kaplan-Myrth yelling at other trustees. At some point the meeting had to be interrupted to restore order.

In the end, seven trustees voted that Kaplan-Myrth had violated the code of conduct, four abstained, none voted against, and the motion failed because it did not receive the required two-thirds majority. Lecce issued a statement after the meeting expressing concern about the board’s behavior and urging it to focus on student achievement.

It seems that Lecce has to correct a slate too often.

Before school started, he said he expects boards to be open and transparent with families if students decide to change their name, gender or pronouns at school. This policy came about after several boards adopted policies directing teachers not to inform parents when a child makes such changes unless the student gives permission. This policy applied to children ages four and older.

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The Ford government had to intervene last year after parents in Ottawa and Haldimand-Norfolk were told they couldn’t attend Career Day with their child because they were police officers.

Last school year, students at Oakville Trafalgar High School in Halton also had to deal with bomb threats, protests and international media coverage of poor board decisions. When Kerry Lemieux, a man who now teaches in Hamilton, donned a blonde wig and ridiculously large fake breasts and showed up to class claiming his name was now Kayla, the board did not respond.

It was clear from the start that there was something wrong with the story, and now everyone can see that Lemieux upset the board, but they followed his claims and accommodated him despite the impact on the broader school community.

Then there is the tragic story of Richard Bilkszto, who took his own life after a diversity, equity and inclusion training course failed. Bilkszto sued the school board for failing to support him after he said he was singled out as a white supremacist for daring to question instructional leadership.

There are many problems in our education system when it comes to student performance, but boards seem to focus on other issues and make questionable decisions.

Given this track record, it’s time to ask whether they should continue to exist.

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