It was a week of defence from Education Minister Nancy Allan as she and the Selinger government spent the balance of the week attempting to defend Bill 18 and it’s implications in the Manitoba school system.
To begin, I would like to say I support the principals behind Bill 18, I support anti-bullying strategies as reflected in a previous column and anytime a government can look to include ramifications upon the worst offenders is a progressive step.
I also agree with the education and inclusion of affirmative action groups whereby the opportunity exists to educate youth through LGBT supports in schools in a non discriminatory fashion.
The fact of the matter is the principles behind the bill make sense for sectors of the population, but the wheels come off when considering the hard-line approach of implementing the strategies.
Allan, who is no stranger to the vocal public as a member of the Selinger government, has taken an almost "us versus them" approach to the implementation of the bill and its inclusion in schools who seek to opt out, namely faith-based learning centres. Her defence? The fact that all those schools, even the independent ones usually have an element of government funding. And as Allan said earlier this week in the Brandon Sun: "At the end of the day, I’m not going to let faith based schools opt out of providing a safe caring environment for their students."
Point taken. I agree 100 per cent our schools should be safe and welcoming. My fear though is the inherent problem in her statement and the legal quagmire the province potentially has positioned itself for.
Does the government believe that our schools have become havens for bullying and non inclusive beliefs? This may be the case, but it seems a bit of a stretch for the minister — and the government, for that matter. The guidelines work and the idea is sound, but it should exist at that, best practices and frameworks that suit the situations, not hard-line legislation.
Most teachers in the school system work very hard with the best interest of the students in mind. Administration within these schools as well as the teachers educating the youth of today, can work within the guidelines of Bill 18 initiatives as well, but don’t those on the front line know the best method of implementation? Many Brandon schools already operate programs and groups that function well; they are exceptional examples regardless of legislation.
As we have seen with the K-3 initiative, like Bill 18, the element of looming hard-line legislation is what triggers a response in people. In the case of the K-3 mandate, it handcuffs divisions including Brandon with ballooning costs dealing with legislation brought by the province, decisions taken out of the hands of front-line staff.
I believe the principle behind the K-3 mandate works, but like Bill 18, it becomes bogged down when legislation is the mandate on divisions.
The taxpayer elects members to boards to make decisions that suit their students’ best interests. And whether residents like it or not, the board is making those decisions, albeit with some legislation that continues to be outside their control.
You would find few in any jurisdiction that would argue against the benefits of inclusionary support like that in Bill 18, further to that you would find less who would not support anti-bullying policy development in schools, which usually already exists; but when it comes down to government mandating the enforcement of both it takes control out of the hands of the community, the teachers and the elected boards who are the front-line supports for students.
Government must trust more in those who work with our children on a daily basis and trust that they will make the decisions, through consultation with youth and parents that best fits the situation in their respective schools. We entrust these professionals with our children, and if the government were to develop a guideline for implementation as opposed to legislation, it can do nothing but good for inclusion and safety in schools. As for those who seek to opt out, with guidelines and perceived best practices, it gives the individual the right to choose, as parents have done when choosing to send their children to a particular school.
The battle is not over for this legislation, as many have alluded to. In a time when the Selinger government has plenty of challenges, you would think they would better choose the fights they want to take on. This one started off with high hopes of doing well and protecting youth, but as with other legislation, it has now become bogged down as a political football. At the end of the day, the political game benefits few and should never override the intent of acting in our best interests.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 2, 2013