Education plans heralded

The proposed Education Act is receiving a passing grade from local school board trustees.

The proposed Education Act is receiving a passing grade from local school board trustees.

“Overall it is really positive and it leaves opportunity,” said Lawrence Lee, chairman of the Red Deer Public Schools. “It will open up the discussion a little bit more … I am encouraged. We’ll see what the final document comes out to be.”

On Tuesday, school board trustees and administration across the province met with Education Minister Dave Hancock in Airdrie to clarify points and answer questions about the Education Act, Bill 18.

The bill passed first and second reading in the Alberta legislature last week. However, the legislation is not expected to go before the legislature again until perhaps the fall session.

The last major changes to the School Act were implemented in 1988.

If passed, the new act will replace the existing School Act. The document is a result of three years of consultations and input from school jurisdictions, trustees and other stakeholders.

The proposed act gives the school boards “natural person” powers and supports local decision making.

Lee said this is a win for the Red Deer public schools because it recognizes the importance of local autonomy.

“I really believe the decisions that are made closest to the local community are the best ones,” said Lee.

“Because we can react more smoothly and more accurately than a lot of the decisions that are made far away. And we can deal with specific issues that are related directly to the community.”

School boards will be able to respond and prioritize capital requests such as the need for a new school much faster and more efficiently when decisions are made locally.

“Certainly we can prioritize all we want . . . as long as we can meet those needs within the funds that the province provides each local jurisdiction,” said Lee.

“That will be the key in any act or any act that comes out in the end.”

Vice-chairwoman Bev Manning said providing “natural person” powers will give the boards more flexibility in their roles as trustees and it recognizes the boards are the same as the other levels of government.

She sees a lot of positives in the document but she is waiting to see the final blueprint.

“Natural person” power would allow boards to direct how education is provided, close schools, set the school calendar and dismiss trustees who breach new codes of conduct.

Boards will be free to do whatever they deem necessary to ensure students receive an education.

Aiming to improve the high-school completion rates, the framework gives students more time to finish high school by raising the age of access to 21 years old and increasing the compulsory attendance age to 17 from 16 years old.

Manning said Red Deer Public has been advocating for many years to raise the school leaving age.

“We just think it will help encourage kids to stay in school,” she said.

Another change gives teachers and principals the right to intervene in bullying or other incidents on and off school property.

“Whatever we can do to keep kids safe at school (the) more power to us,” she said. “We have to really come at bullying and those kind of acts at all angles.”