Oh, the on-going questions about school councils in Ontario (if not in other districts regarding their parent groups/committees). People for Education recently released their 2013 report on Ontario’s school councils. Questions and concerns about the role and purpose of school councils are not new. However, the long-standing School Council Regulation 612/00 remains unchanged for the most part in Ontario’s situation.
In 2010, the Ontario Education Ministry also released new regulations for similar parent/community committees at the board level (PIC). Regulations for PICs were added to the school council regulations under Regulation 330. There were a few small changes to the School Council Reg. 612/00 (sections 9, 25, & 26 were revoked). Sections 25 & 26 were outdated as they referred to the transition time upon release. Section 9(2) was also outdated as it referred to sharing information with the Ontario Parent Council which no longer exists. Section 9(1) was a “may” on the Ministry’s part and was as follows:
The questions continue. I also see much confusion continue. The provincial regulations, the parent involvement policy, and the Ministry’s school council guide are extensive, but also comprehensive. It would not be surprising if both employees and volunteers misinterpret or forget some of the details over time.
One concern I hear a lot is that the school council membership is not “representative” of the parent/school community. In Ontario, these mandated school level groups are not “parent” councils, but “school councils”. The membership was structured to also have representatives from staff at the school. Although a parent majority membership is required, they are to have a representative of teaching staff, non-teaching staff, a student (optional for elementary), and community members. The principal (or designate) must also be a member, but is a non-voting member. The membership does not decide matters – they may advise the principal on any matter. They vote as a collective membership on recommendations to the principal or school board. Each recommendation is then responded to in terms of how it was considered, or why not. (Reg. 612, S. 20, 21)
As I have written in a previous post, these councils were not set up to only hear the voice of those on the membership. Although I recognize it is impossible for a member or a membership to represent everyone, the regulations do stipulate that,
“A school council shall consult with parents of pupils enrolled in the school about matters under consideration by the council.” (Reg. 612, S 23)
If that is not the case, who should be concerned?
If it is observed as part of the process, how possible is it for the reps to do so – Staff or volunteers? I think this is the area that has been struggled with for years. How does one member – whether a volunteer parent, staff, or student representative help bring the “general views of the school community and the best interests of all students in the school” to the table”? (School Councils: A Guide for Members, 3.1)
Compared to the time when I first became involved in school councils over 10 years ago, the technology now available to assist with this outreach is certainly there. School councils may need the training, leadership and support to use it in effective, manageable, and appropriate ways. There are easier ways to do polls and surveys, etc. The results may never really be “representative”, but the feedback may still be valuable to the membership as they plan recommendations, initiatives and school improvement.
Results from the People for Education Report indicated that school councils valued the importance of communicating with parents, and many are actively doing so. But should this depend on volunteer-based groups? Should the role and requirements in this increase or decrease through regulation changes? Would a paid position in each school and/or district be more suitable to support the multiple methods and reasons to communicate with parents? Would this save time spent on meetings and applying for grants? Would this address inequities? Where should parent input be welcomed and/or limited to?
Feel free to share in the comments any suggestions or examples that helped your school or school council bring more parent & community voices to the table or connect and represent beyond the table.
Further related reading and discussions:
Re-thinking School Councils by Jacqui Strachan @JacquiStrachan
School Improvement Plans – Not too pretty and that’s a good thing! by Brenda Sherry @brendasherry
Making Twitter A Mainstream Tool For School Improvement by Terry Heick @teachthought
Educating Parents by Greg Whitby @gregwhitby
Getting The Whole System In The Room II by David Culberhouse @DCulberhouse