It is doubtful any child may be expected to succeed in life if denied the opportunity of an education … a right which must be made available to all on equal terms – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954.
Premier Christy Clark slipped into town recently to celebrate a graduation – Maple Ridge became a city.
Folks anxious to discuss something more important – the impact of closed schools on the lives – failed to get her to answer questions.
They’d already failed to meet with their MLAs.
Doug Bing was in the council chamber lobby.
Emberly: Even the premier says class composition is the main issue – too many unsupported designated students and kids on waiting lists for two years. Are they getting equal education?
Bing: No. We can always make things better. My son had a learning disability. We couldn’t get testing through the system in 1989. It would have taken us two years.
Emberly: The funnel’s too small?
Bing: Obviously, it’s not (big) enough, but you’ve only got so much money.
Emberly: Is it priorities?
Bing: Health gobbles up most of the budget, but education is the second priority.
Emberly: My dad only had Grade 8. He said schooling was the hope for a disadvantaged kid to get ahead. Did you hear this?
Bing: Yes. My dad had Grade 8. He faced discrimination (as a Chinese Canadian). It wasn’t until after the Second World War they were granted citizenship. It let us to go to university.
Emberly: We’ve had court decisions that teachers have the right to bargain class composition, and funding for support should return to 2002 levels, but your government has appealed. It’s more years of waiting for kids who need help. Should government accept the decisions of our courts?
Bing: We’ll, that’s the system. If a lower court makes a ruling, we have the right to appeal, in some cases, as far as the Supreme Court of Canada.
Emberly: The NDP did that in 1994, when the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled it underfunded support for special needs student Geoffrey Moore after North Vancouver District shut down its resource centre. When the NDP appealed, B.C. kids were denied equal opportunity all their school years. You’re doing that now. Is that right?
Bing: There’s a saying that justice delayed is justice denied, but there are legitimate reasons for appealing decisions.
“This is the first interview I’ve had,” MLA Marc Dalton said.
“Equal opportunity?” I asked.
“It depends on the location. In remote areas, no.”
“Do students on wait lists have equal opportunity?”
“There’s a need to be flexible and we are doing that – a personalized learning process that allows teachers to be flexible, training programs for teachers, special education assistants. We have excellent results [regarding] test scores in math and reading. Sometimes, we lose sight of that in light of the challenges we face.”
The Warren quote is from Stakes Fairness, Educational Adequacy, and Equal Opportunity in Education, by Lesley Jacobs, York University, Toronto, 2008. Jacobs notes the judge stated black students were entitled to support to achieve equality. States later contended “equal” didn’t apply to all challenged students, only racially segregated ones, and the input (money put in) doesn’t always justify the output (achievement).
A cheaper “adequate” educational model was advanced. Parents complained it limits their kid’s success.
Court challenges are common now in the U.S.
Both MLAs said they’ve never heard the words “adequate funding” used in Victoria.
Neither has UBC professor Pat Mirenda.
“It implies there’s a benchmark criterion, and when we meet it we call it adequate. The topics in education have always focused on union demands for wages, and saving taxpayer money, and whenever the BCTF could get another word in – class size and composition.”
Clark says we “can talk about things that matter now.”
Let’s debate adequate or equal, and whether hope rates with test scores as achievement. Let’s do it at town hall meetings attended by MLAs and school trustees until we have a covenant – promise for education that neither politics nor ignorance can destroy.
– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.