Thousands of Manitoba parents sign open letter against changes to education system

Thousands of parents in Manitoba have signed an open letter to the government in opposition of Bill 64 –The Education Modernization Act.

This bill would see changes to Manitoba’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 education system that include replacing Manitoba’s 37 school divisions with 15 regions overseen by a provincial oversight body. The bill would also remove elected school boards and the role of school trustees.

In the letter, addressed to Premier Brian Pallister and Education Minister Cliff Cullen, the parents say that if this bill were passed into law it would “dismantle” the public education system.

“The Premier and Minister of Education claim that this legislation will result in a better education system for Manitoba families,” it says.

“Instead, it is clear that our government is using the current crisis as an opportunity, taking advantage of our collective pandemic related grief, anxiety, and fatigue, to impose radical changes to our K-12 school system.”

The letter goes on to say that eliminating all the English public school boards and elected school trustees will increase the government’s control over schools and decrease public accountability.

It adds that parents are concerned by the proposal to centralize the control of educational decisions, policies and frameworks.

“A single partisan-appointed “education authority” can never make decisions for the ENTIRE province and be truly representative of diverse needs across a province as large as Manitoba,” the letter states.

“Nor is it a democratic means of administering a public institution, especially one as critical as our K-12 school system.”

The open letter also points out that Manitoba schools already deliver high-quality learning and education. It notes that 80 per cent of Manitoba students perform at or above the level achieved by students in other provinces in the core subjects of literacy, math and science.

“Our education system does not need this kind of fixing,” it says.

“In spite of claims made by your government, it is not, in fact, broken or backwards.”

The parents add that for the rest of the students, their reduced performance in school is caused by poverty and socio-economic factors.

“Address poverty, and you improve the performance of these at-risk students,” the letter says.

The letter also takes issue with the fact that the bill would replace informal parent councils with school community councils, saying that this will result in increased work and decreased representation for parents and caregivers.

“Under the proposed new system, already busy parents will be required to volunteer much more time to take on the responsibilities of the school boards that you want to eliminate,” it says.

“Parents will struggle to have their diverse voices heard when one central politically appointed board is formed.”

The letter ends by calling on elected MLA’s to oppose the bill and advocate for a education system that includes school trustees.

In a statement, Cullen says the province’s education strategy will ensure students get the education they deserve by giving teachers, educators and parents more of a voice when it comes to the decision-making process.

“We are building a system that knows how valuable parental voice is at the local school level and one that focuses less on bureaucracy and more on ensuring resources are getting to classrooms and frontlines,” the minister says.

“Working together will have one of Canada’s most improved education systems. Manitobans can go to EngageMB.ca to have their voice heard.”

Cullen notes that Manitoba has the highest spending per students, yet the province’s student outcomes are near the bottom of national and international rankings. He also points out that Manitoba has the highest number of school divisions and trustees per capita.

More than 3,200 parents from every one of Manitoba’s school divisions signed letter, which was delivered to the province on Sunday.

- With files from CTV’s Michael D’Alimonte.