CBE high school changes, public engagements frustrate families

‘The whole process feels very much pre-decided and patronizing,’ Gerritsen said

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As virtual engagements continue for the controversial end to several public high school programs, parents are calling the process and the proposals undemocratic fearing the changes are inevitable.

In an effort to balance high school populations, the Calgary Board of Education has announced changes that could see the elimination of arts programming and French IB in Grades 10 to 12, and a consolidation of French immersion and Spanish bilingual programs into fewer schools.

Parents are being asked to provide feedback on two different scenarios through online surveys and virtual discussions until March 17, before a final decision this fall on changes that will take effect for the 2022-23 school year.

But Karin Gerritsen, who has two kids in junior high hoping to start French IB with the CBE in the coming years, said questions she tried to ask during virtual sessions this week were either unanswered or misrepresented by moderators.

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“The whole process feels very much pre-decided and patronizing,” Gerritsen said.

“My questions were not asked, or they were paraphrased wrongly by the moderator. I’d like the CBE to just be honest about how they are coming up with these proposals, that really don’t make any sense at all.

“Especially with the IB programs, which are very popular and outstanding.”

According to the CBE’s proposed changes, IB (International Baccalaureate) programs would be consolidated from five schools to four in both scenario A and B. However, French IB would be completely eliminated in scenario B.

A “Scenario Overview” provided to parents also says “enrolment in IB and French IB will be capped to ensure schools stay within an appropriate utilization range.”

But confusion remains after Darlene Unruh, acting superintendent school improvement, contradicted that during a virtual session earlier this week.

“We are not limiting or at this time capping any of our enrolment for our IB programs.”

But parents are still worried, wondering if enrolment is limited, how will it be handled and will students face lotteries or admissions testing for a limited number of seats.

“It is really outrageous that they are considering an enrolment cap. This is a public school system, and these programs should be available to everyone,” Gerritsen said.

“But we cannot get our questions answered. Because of this virtual approach, I have no way of actually having a real conversation with anyone about this.”

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Karin Gerritsen is shown in this supplied photo.
Karin Gerritsen is shown in this supplied photo. Photo by Supplied

CBE officials say there has been a high volume of comments and questions submitted during virtual sessions so far, and not everything can make it into the queue.

“Repetitive comments may not be identified to be answered when a response has already been provided on the same topic,” said Megan Geyer, CBE spokeswoman.

“Parents were also encouraged to post any other comments or questions they felt may not have been covered in the session on any other of the eight idea boards available on our website.

“All the ideas will be documented, reviewed and considered in decision making.”

But some parents say the idea boards are closed online well before the virtual sessions began.

And others say the surveys are cumbersome and difficult to navigate.

“They’re calling this public engagement, but it’s really just faux engagement,” said Deanna Bradley, a CBE parent who tried taking the survey this week but found the language challenging, with no option to comment at the end.

“I really tried pushing myself through the survey thinking there’s got to be a place for comment. But I couldn’t find it.

“I’ve been a really engaged parent over many years. Yet I still find these surveys incredibly difficult to navigate.

“This so-called effort to engage is not genuine. It makes you feel like the decisions have already been made.”

Bradley added that while the first round of engagement to come up with these proposals took over a year, and involved 2,000 people, this second round is only a few weeks and will see small numbers.

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Last Tuesday’s virtual evening session, for instance, only had 38 views.

Dee-Ann Evans and a group of parents are putting together a letter of concern to trustees about the high school changes, feeling that is a better way to have their voices heard.

Evans, who has kids in the junior high Spanish bilingual program, worries about both proposed scenarios, the first of which will see Spanish consolidated from two to one high school, or completely eliminated in Scenario B.

“Alternative programs are popular, families love having that choice. Why is reducing choice a solution to alleviate population pressures on high schools?

“This is a problem the CBE should have seen coming over a decade ago, and they could have planned it much better.”

Evans fears that with the elimination of some alternative programs at the high school level, resources for those same programs in the lower grades will also be reduced.

“Where is the equity? These are very arcane solutions for our modern times. The CBE just wants to go back to having all kids in regular programming, taking away choice, and confining their solutions to the basics.”

Gerritsen agrees, pointing to a CBE graph in the proposed documentation, showing a 65 to 71 per cent decrease in enrolment projected for IB programming at Western Canada High School over the next eight years.

According to the data, there are now 1,077 available spaces for IB students at Western. But by 2029, CBE projects only 374 spaces will be available.

“It’s pretty clear what the intention is here. In a few years, when students want anything outside of just basic regular programming they will have to go to the private system.

“So this is the solution, reduce capacity by rebalancing students out of the public system, into private schools.”

eferguson@postmedia.com

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