June 7, 2017 Rick Massini Board Chair Medicine Hat School District 76 601 1 Ave. S.W. Medicine Hat, AB T1A 4Y7
An open letter to the Board of Trustees of Medicine Hat School District #76
Dear Rick Massini,
For the past 15 months the Concerned Parents of SD76 have indicated to the Board our concerns over the wording and procedures for SD76’s policy 621 and 622. In February 2016, when more than 20 people showed up for the February Board meeting, Trustees made note of the unusually large crowd. In the months that followed, that crowd size only increased, and that gave significant indication to the Board that those parents had growing concerns, that were not resolved.
In March 2016, through the presentations of four different delegations, parents made clear the broad nature of their concerns. Parents continued to share yet more concerns with the board after the March 2016 Special meeting to pass 621 & 622. Throughout that meeting no one engaged in bullying or harassment. Parents simply had questions and concerns that they did not feel had been answered in the policies. Parents were then promised a Town Hall, where by they could express those concerns, and ask their questions.
Both parents and electorate were deeply disappointed when it was revealed to them in May of 2016 that they would not have a Town Hall, but instead a meeting restricted to small group discussions with other parents. Discussions where no questions could be asked of the Trustees, and no answers would be provided. Parents were in fact given the questions that they were to answer.
Parents and electorate, then feeling snubbed and condescended to, understood that they had no other recourse but to utilize Section 269 of the School act, to submit a petition calling for a public meeting. Section 269 of the Alberta School Act had never been utilized before in SD76, and had rarely been drawn on in other districts of Alberta. A section specifically designed to allow parents and electorate to force a Board to be held to account by the public, when they feel they have no other recourse.
Parents didn’t just want to drop cards into a suggestion box. They wanted to have answers to clear inconsistencies with the policies and the recommended guidelines coming from Alberta Education. When the Secretary rejected the petition in September 2016 and refused to give clarifications, stating that he was not going to “spend any more time on this,” it was clear that the matter had to go to the courts; in order to get a fair hearing.
The only way for the signatories to get the clarification that they were refused, was to appeal as was their right under the School Act. By following the process under the law, parents and electorate were able to obtain 4 key clarifications, that otherwise would have been unobtainable: the Secretary was forced to provide the clarifications he had previously refused to give; the matter of the signatures that only had postal codes was firmly resolved, with the Justice stating that the parents had a “reasonable interpretation” to expect them to be accepted, despite ultimately being told they needed to be completed/corrected; precedence was established to state that if a petition seeks to be evaluated for the “25% of the parents in a school” clause, then school information needs to be given by the signatories; most importantly the districts lawyer informed the Justice that our petition could be amended to correct deficiencies and that there was no time limit, with the Justice even referencing those statements in paragraph 18 of his ruling. Justice Tilleman also made it clear during the appeal that the petition was the property of the submitter, and that it should be returned to them upon request.
In the weeks following Justice Tilleman’s decision, parents in SD76 have diligently set about to correct the deficiencies outlined by the Justice. In doing so, 300 new signatures have been obtained thus far, and a substantial number of the ‘postal code’ signatures have been corrected. There is an expectation that an amended petition would meet the requirements under the School Act; to call a public meeting as outlined on the petition. Parents and electorate of SD76 are at a junction, and we are offering to let the Board choose the path taken.
Since the Board decided to pursue a Bill of Costs from Mr. Williamson, the Parents decided that they would not seek to have the board attend a Concerned Parents of SD76 group meeting. The Parents do not believe that a concern by the chair of the Board over “setting a precedent” was sufficient justification to pursue costs. The now 2300+ tax paying electorate who have signed the petition do not think it was a waste of their tax dollars to call a public meeting, nor do they feel it was a waste of their time to force the clarifications via appeal that had been refused by the Secretary. The entire process could have been avoided had the Board simply been willing to have official interactive dialogue with concerned parents.
At this point, considering the position that SD76 has taken, there are only two possible paths forward: Amend the petition and have the process proceed under the School Act, with all the formal procedures that accompany that; or, work with the Board to see an agreeable formal interactive meeting between concerned parents and the Board.
The Parents understand that the Board have some concerns with security and conduct at such a meeting. Parents do not wish to see such a meeting hijacked by activists, lobby groups, or media frenzy any more than the Board does. The Parents are willing to work out a format with the board that would see both parties concerns mitigated, as long as such a meeting would see both the policy concerns of the parents and the responses of the Board to those concerns recorded into the public record.
We respectfully request that the Board provide an answer as to how they would like to proceed by June 12th, 2017.
The Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76