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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

Bill 20

School (Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act

By Diane MacDonald

The focus of Bill 20 is on student achievement. The ministry now provides direct oversight over achievement, whereas formerly it just had direct oversight over financial concerns of boards. And the preamble to the School Act is amended to include an emphasis on literacy. The bill also reinstates certain legal fees following from the BC Supreme Court ruling, in Young vs. Ministry of Education from 2006.

The bill starts by amending the School Act to remove the term "school boards" and replace it with "boards of education." School trustees remain.

Achievement contracts

The bill provides for achievement contracts, which replace the former accountability contracts, and boards must prepare achievement contracts setting specific goals with respect to student performance, early learning, and literacy programs in the district.

All boards have until October 31, to submit a transitional achievement contract this year. They will then be required to submit a formal achievement contract July 15, 2008.

The district superintendent is responsible to the board for improving student achievement. On or before December 15 of this school year, the superintendent must prepare and submit to the board a report on student achievement for the previous year.

The board must prepare an annual achievement report for the minister, which must also be available to members of the public.

Achievement contracts are enforceable through administrative directives.

Boards must now prepare annual district literacy plans on or before July 15, setting out the plan for improving literacy in the district. The board must provide an opportunity to persons in the district who have an interest in literacy to provide a comment on the proposed plan.

A transitional district literacy plan must be included with the transitional achievement contract on October 31, 2007.

Superintendents of achievement

The bill creates one or more superintendents of achievement to review student performance, early learning programs, and district literacy, and they must make recommendations for the improvement of each. The new superintendents allow for government oversight over the achievement contracts. Superintendents of achievement have broad powers of inspection—they may enter schools, inspect the records, interview employees and students, and attend any board meeting. Boards must co-operate and provide records for the superintendents.

The superintendents of achievement may make recommendations for improvements to the board and, on request from the minister, report his or her findings on achievement. The bill authorizes the minister to impose administrative directives on a board that fails to meet its obligations under an achievement contract, or if the minister believes that a directive is in the public interest.

Special trustee

The bill also provides for the appointment of a special trustee if a board does not comply with an administrative directive.

Parental appeal

The bill provides for the ability for parents who are dissatisfied with the board ruling, such as the educational placement of a student or a suspension of a student, to appeal to the superintendent of achievement. This appeal constitutes a new hearing.

School fees, special academy

The bill also reinstates certain school fees. The general requirements for graduation must still be provided free of charge to all students; however, as long as a board adopts a policy to ensure that students who cannot pay the fees due to financial hardship are eligible to participate, a board may offer specialty academy programs if the school planning council, where the program is housed, approves the academy.

The school planning council must consult with the PAC before approving such an academy, and the board must also determine that there is sufficient demand for the academy. An academy is really a specialized educational program that emphasizes a particular sport, activity, or subject area. Cabinet may make regulations prescribing the precise criteria for specialty academies.

On or before July 1, a specialty academy must establish a schedule of fees to be charged. However, it must first obtain the approval of those fees from the school planning council. A board may only charge fees relating to the cost of the academy that are above and beyond the cost of providing a standard educational program.

As long as a board adopts a policy to ensure that students who cannot pay the fees are eligible to participate, a board may also charge fees for the purchase or rental of tools, equipment, and other materials necessary to participate in a trades program and, similarly, fees may be charged to purchase or rent musical equipment necessary to participate in a music class or program.

The proposed amendments do not change the BC Supreme Court ruling in Young vs Ministry of Education—that course fees and fees for most field trips, fees for required materials and supplies, and so forth, may not be charged. However, there are a number of questions regarding interpretation of these new school fees.

Lastly, this piece of legislation increases the capacity for the minister to create provincial resource programs in provincial schools. These programs will be operated directly by the ministry rather than the school district, and there is no longer the requirement that these programs or schools provide specialized types of education.

Diane MacDonald is a BCTF staff lawyer.

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