It’s been a crazy year. I took the helm in March as PCE's new Executive Director, and we have been at a full gallop since then. Our main effort has been the trustee elections, whose effect cannot be understated. PCE has written a book, created a course, and trained dozens of people in campaigning. We've also managed to see several columns published, which have had substantial effect.
Doing this at the same time as other changes has been challenging. This year has seen PCE workhorses Donna Trimble and Theresa Ng take a step back from direct involvement, due to life changes. We have been very well served by this pair over the years, and we cannot thank or honour them enough. They continue to stay on as volunteers, for which we are deeply grateful.
Speaking of changes, we welcome Maria Cameron into her new role as Executive Assistant. Maria has done tremendous work for PCE the last few years in different roles and is well-acquainted with our organization. Her work – together with volunteers working under her direction – was the mainstay of PCE’s 2021 Voter’s Guide and Candidate Questionnaire. Going forward, she will be an invaluable part of our team.
This newsletter contains details about our election effort, which was more successful than we could have hoped! You will also find links to some blog posts that you may have missed, and links to some articles that we hope will be informing or amuse you – or possibly both at once. At the end, we will talk a little about our plans for the near future.
Executive Director, Parents for Choice in Education
In 2017, PCE created a voter’s guide and candidate questionnaire for several electoral districts. This year, we upped the ante – including 46 electoral districts, and 360 candidates. We were impressed that over 100 candidates, from 44 separate wards, invested the time to respond to our questionnaire. Also of note: 31 candidates who filled out the survey gained a seat, with another 19 coming in second place.
The Secrecy Issue
An underlying issue of the campaign was the secrecy policies of many school districts.
To recap the issue:
- In 2017, the majority NDP under Premier Notley passed a dangerous law forcing a policy on all schools that “notification, if any” regarding any K-12 “voluntary student organizations” and their associated activities would be limited to the existence of such a club or activity.
- As a result, teachers were legally forbidden to discuss a K-12 student’s participation in these groups or activities, including the resources provided and any external facilitators who may be accessing the children during school hours. This was deeply controversial for a number of reasons. You can find some details here, here, and here.
- With the passage of the new Education Act by the UCP majority under Premier Kenney, this secrecy provision was removed from provincial law. However, this change only removed the requirement that boards pass such policies in the first place. Nearly all school authorities already had the NDP's secrecy policy in place – and as of our last check this October, over 75% have not rescinded this policy – including Catholic school boards.
- This means that teachers and staff must still follow this policy as the rule of the land in their particular jurisdictions.
- PCE helped to make this a campaign issue for many seats in the trustee election and will continue to advocate for changes to this dangerous policy going forward.
Thanks to the support of our donors, PCE was able to run 25 trustee election workshops free-of-charge to participants, mostly online, and some in person.
We were also able to put together a manual on how to win trustee elections. It will provide the backbone of future publications for upcoming elections.
The in-person workshops were lively, and allowed us to get to know attendees face-to-face. We also offered opportunities for virtual workshops for groups, and a few one-on-one online workshops as well. After these workshops, we had many fruitful conversations with the 59 smart, dedicated men and women who wanted to engage with the trustee election process.
Twelve of the people who reached out to us went on to run as trustee candidates and a third of them won! A few of the participants with experience as trustees said they wished they had heard the workshop information when they started out! We were pleased to be able to assist!
Blog Posts you may have missed
Our Executive Director has published a number of valuable articles that raise the level of the conversation on contentious issues. By bringing perspective from history or defining terms more exactly, John has been able to help us examine a number of issues more deeply.
Several blog posts had to do with the government’s new curriculum proposal, including “A first look at Alberta’s K-6 curriculum draft” and “Beneath the surface of Alberta's great curriculum debate”.
John also addressed the current state of the Education secrecy policy and highlighted the importance of the trustee elections.
The most tragic issue over the past few months was the discovery of the graves of the children who had passed away while at residential schools. They had been coerced to go, mostly against their parents’ wishes, by the government of the day. John tried to bring some more perspective to this time in our history in the blog article “Education, Coercion, Abuse, and Parental Choice – the Legacy of the Residential Schools".
In the Community
We were contacted by a group of school trustee candidates and parents who were quite upset about the secrecy policies that they read about on our website. They invited John Hilton-O’Brien, PCE’s Executive Director, to come and speak in Medicine Hat at a town hall. The meeting turned into a virtual town hall as the restrictions had started up again, but thanks to their gracious MC and the candidates present, the meeting was interesting and engaging. Secrecy policies were not the only focus. John was able to explain the importance of how school board policies affect families in general, with several examples.
Here are some of the things you can look forward to seeing from us in the near future:
- A column on the secrecy issue, outlining three other policies school boards could adopt, from the left side of the political spectrum to the right.
- A column on the draft curriculum, discussing our central criticism – the fact that an overly detailed curriculum at some grades threatens to hollow out choice from within.
- Comments on vaccination and masking policies in schools, as they are beginning to impact parental choice.
- Beginning research on how the current education funding model impacts schools and students – and possibly recommending changes to ensure a fair, choice driven funding model.
- Exploration of ways to make our website more accessible.
- Consideration of webinars on a number of topics. (Do you have any topics you would like to see? Email [email protected] with your feedback!)
- Streamlining our process for the next election, so that we can cover every trustee candidate in every district in four years.
The Last Word
PCE is an advocacy organization and we are going to bat for you, the parents of your children. Our power comes from two things: the number of people who have signed our petitions, and the financial capacity, through you the donors, to pay staff, advertise, prepare, travel, and disseminate materials. To this end, we need to ask you to do two things:
First, please sign the “parental consent is key” petition, and ask others to do so as well. It is an important way for us to discuss how parents are concerned, when we speak with the Minister of Education and MLAs. Numbers matter.
Secondly, please support us financially. Candidate workshops, voter’s guides, columns, and lobbying the government are only possible through the generosity of those supporting our work. We can only do what we do if we have the dollars to do it. So please, go to the website and either make a one-time donation or sign up for a small monthly contribution.
Postscript: Interesting Articles
At the height of summer many Albertans were shocked by two things. One, which we already mentioned, was the discovery of the graves of children who had died while in residential schools. The other was the violent reaction against the institutions seen to be responsible for the deaths of the children. In the middle of our anger at a system and the administrators who enabled or even caused horrific abuse, we should remember that not every member of that system was an abuser. We often forget “the committed, but forgotten, Christians who worked tirelessly, often in dangerous and difficult circumstances, for long hours with very little pay, helping Indian Residential School children." Take a read of an engaging essay about the daily life of a residential school teacher in the 1960s.
October was Dyslexia awareness month in Canada and various groups promoted awareness of it in part by lighting up various public buildings and monuments in red on October 20th. Interestingly Dyslexia can be seen as a different ability rather than a disability. Under the tutelage of wise instructors, the dyslexic child can take advantage of their different way of looking at the world around them.
Finally, Dad jokes can be educational and reflect deep philosophical insights. Just ask John – or these guys. Don’t ask their wives or kids.
As a non-profit organization, Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) depends entirely on the voluntary donations of citizens to carry out its mission of advocating for excellence in education through maximum parental choice.
To support PCE's ongoing work, please consider donating by cheque or online. Thank you to each person who helps make this important work possible!