Changes made to Education Act
Education Minister Jeff Johnson held a press conference to announce changes to the current Education Act, Oct. 24.
The announcement came after many months of debate and public information sessions that addressed a series of issues including matters pertaining to bullying, school fees and the Alberta Human Rights Act.
The most contentious matter was the recent provisions introduced through Bill 2, which many parents and parenting groups believed would restrict the teaching of religious and traditional beliefs by home-based, Catholic and private schools.
Based on the interpretation of the Human Rights Act by the Alberta Human Rights Commission, many Albertans vocally protested these changes and demanded they be amended.
“This is a victory for parents and really a victory for democracy in Alberta,” said Wildrose Education Critic and Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Bruce McAllister. “If not for the courage and determination of Alberta parents, and for the hard work of my colleagues in the Wildrose Official Opposition, we would have ended up with education laws that don’t acknowledge the paramount role parents play in educating children and expose educators to the whims of the human rights tribunal.”
Though the backlash from some parents is believed to be the reason for the new changes, Johnson noted that the uproar over Bill 2 was really much ado about nothing. He admitted the changes were in the works for a while and were simply a means of updating an outdated Education Act.
“There was frankly a lot of confusion about Bill 2,” said Johnson. “It was never our intent to imply that the Department of Education would be given the right to interpret and enforce the Human Rights Act. People made it clear they didn’t want that and we cleaned up that confusion.”
Bill 3 sets our reforms to the act that include a more well-defined concept of bullying and a pre-set code of conduct that each school board will compose to address issues of tolerance and respect within their own individual schools.
“This is one of the strongest acts in terms of anti-bullying legislation,” said Johnson.
“Nova Scotia is still leading the way, but every province is working toward a better understanding of this issue. We all want to make bullying a non-issue in our schools.”
Bill 3 would also give more power and flexibility to locally elected school boards to make decisions about school fees and busing. Johnson said this would enable Alberta-based schools to address issues that matter to them specifically, rather than be forced to adhere to regulations set out by government officials.
Johnson went on to explain that Bill 3 will also continue to ensure parents have the choice about what type of education is best for their child, whether that be private, public, home-based, separate, French Immersion or charter schools.
“The world is changing and we have locally elected school boards for a reason,” Johnson explained.
“We need to allow these elected individuals to make these important decisions for their schools and communities. They know best what their schools need and it’s our job to pay attention to and respect that fact.”
McAllister and the Official Opposition requested that amendments be made to Bill 3, specifically the end to mandatory school fees and the right of teachers to assign zeros to students for work not submitted.
The PC MLA’s voted down the changes on Oct. 31.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t come together as MLAs and put an end to these nonsensical policies,” said McAllister.
“The teachers, parents and students who I talk to and who have contacted my office couldn’t be more clear: They wanted both of these policies scrapped. It’s too bad that the PCs chose partisan politics over getting things done for Albertans.”
For Johnson the decision to vote down the proposed amendments was not one of partisan politics, but rather a decision to allow local school boards to address these matters independently.
Minister of Education Press Secretary Kim Capstick noted that Johnson and the other PC MLAs are not opposed to further discussing these matters.
They are however, against taking power away from locally elected boards and putting it into the hands of politicians.
“We have school boards for a reason,” said Capstick.
“All we ask is that people don’t jump to conclusions. These amendments can’t be one size fits all. Theses issues need to stay between school boards, parents, teachers and students. They are not matters for politicians to decide.”
For more information on the changes to the bill, visit education.alberta.ca