Parents for Choice in Education has carefully reviewed the new Education Act (Bill 3) put forward by the government.
It is a very long bill, which deals with many different aspects of education. It has already passed second reading. Third reading (the final stage for the approval of a bill) could come at any time. You can read the bill here.
Our analysis of Bill 3 is that, unlike the version of the Act proposed this fall (Bill 2), it does not attack school choice by making schools subject to complaints before a human rights commission. This could really have had a chilling effect on the discussion of certain issues, and prevented Catholic or alternative schools from teachings about their religious traditions. We are glad to see those sections reworked in this new Act. (See Section 16 of the new Act for revised wording).
We also applaud the inclusion of language which specifically recognizes the role of parents in education. Section 32 says that, “A parent has the prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be provided to the parent’s child and, as a partner in education, has the responsibility to act as the primary guide and decision-maker with respect to the child’s education.”
Unfortunately, while this Act does not in itself contain an attack on school choice, it does leave the door open to an attack by school boards on the rights of parents and students to choose an educational option which accords with their perspective. The spirit of this bill is good, but the absence of any ‘teeth’ in Section 32, and the lack of any mention in Section 33 of an obligation on the part of school boards to protect and promote school choice means that the door is left open for local school boards to take away the rights recognized in Section 32. The concern is not what the bill says, but the opportunities left open by what the bill does not say.
Section 33 of the new proposed Act lays out the obligations of school boards. We are proposing the addition of 3 new subsections to Section 33, which explicitly define the obligations of school boards when it comes to school choice, diversity, and parental authority. These sections are as follows:
33(5) A board shall not limit or restrict the right of an alternative school or program to teach or convey a social, cultural, or religious viewpoint, provided that that viewpoint does not conflict with Section 16 of this act and provided that parents are provided with a reasonable opportunity to find out what viewpoints are being expressed in the classroom.
33(6) A board shall not limit or restrict the right of a student to express viewpoints or opinions on any issue or topic within time allocated for student questions or discussion or outside of classroom time, provided that that viewpoint does not conflict with Section 16 of this act.
33(7) A board shall give parents the greatest possible degree of school and program choice.
In our view, the addition of these sections to Bill 3 would protect schools, program, and parents from potential attacks on choice by school boards.
We applaud the decision by the government to remove the attacks on school choice and parental authority contained in Bill 2. However, the government has an opportunity now to not only fail to attack school choice, but to stand up and defend it. The language which we have proposed be added to Section 33 would do just that. Please write your MLAs and encourage them to consider our proposed changes to the bill.