A controversial ruling by NPA Vancouver Board of Education chairperson Ken Denike sends the wrong message that Vancouver School Trustees are okay with class sizes that fail to meet provincial standards.
At the October 15 meeting of the Board, School Superintendent Chris Kelly reported that 451 Vancouver secondary school classes enrol more than 30 students, while another 1193 classes have more than three special needs students. In elementary schools there are 80 classes with more than three special needs students enrolled.
All of these classes fail to meet legislated provincial benchmarks on class size and composition. Nor do the numbers take into account the hundreds of English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students spread over these classes.
In the ensuing debate, COPE Trustees Allan Wong, Allen Blakey and Sharon Gregson voted against a
motion to approve the Kelly’s report. NPA Trustee Eleanor Gregory shared COPE’s reservations and also rejected the report while NPA Trustee Carol Gibson abstained. Only NPA Trustees Shirley Wong, Don Lee and Clarence Hansen voted in favour.
Board chair Denike originally ruled that the motion failed. But after prompting from NPA trustees in favour, Denike called a recess, and then changed his ruling, and interpreted a board by-law on abstentions as meaning Gibson’s abstention was a vote in favour of the motion.
“This ruling sends the absolute wrong signal from the Vancouver Board of Education,” said COPE Trustee Blakey. “It implies that, instead of taking a strong stand for the quality of education for students, we somehow accept a situation where classes do not meet acceptable provincial standards. And as far as COPE trustees are concerned, that is categorically not the case.”
Teachers are also upset by the numbers, and by Denike’s ruling.
"The VSB needs to do more than simply comply with the bare bones of the School Act. At the moment, it looks like we have the highest number of overloads in the province," said Anne Guthrie-Warman, President of the Vancouver Secondary School Teachers’ Association. “And we’re not really sure whether or not the Superintendent’s report was adopted or not. We question the NPA trustee’s use of the rules of order, and are wondering if the board is in compliance with its own by-laws. Given that overages in class size and class composition in Vancouver schools is over 1000 classes, the confusion around the issue will have to be investigated."
In another issue, COPE Trustee Allan Wong attempted to move a motion requesting the Board to seek
clarity from Victoria about a ministerial order relating to school property. Again, NPA chair Denike interpreted procedural by-laws to rule the motion out of order.
“Denike’s refusal to accept motion to send a letter stifles democracy,” said Blakey.