Michael Zwaagstra: Public Schools Should Be More Flexible, Not More Rigid

Michael Zwaagstra: Public Schools Should Be More Flexible, Not More Rigid
Parents drop off their children at a school in Vancouver on Sept. 9, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Michael Zwaagstra

If you are a parent whose kids are taking piano lessons, you’d better hope you don’t live in Victoria, B.C. That’s because the Sooke School District, which includes the City of Victoria and the surrounding area, is threatening to kick students out of school if they attend private lessons during regular school hours.

In an email message to parents, associate superintendent David Strange warned that students enrolled in private lessons “may not be able to continue in their neighbourhood middle school educational programming and may need to explore other options,” according to Saanich News.

Strange went on to explain that face-to-face learning is an important part of the educational process. He suggested that there was no easy way for students to catch up when they regularly miss in-person classes. According to Strange, middle schools in his district “are not able to support the learning needs of students that are regularly missing instruction to attend private programs and private academies and will not be able to provide missing work and additional instruction for catch up.”

What makes the school district’s position ironic is that students spent much of the last two years doing remote learning while being away from their school building. This means that many students are far behind where they should be. It should come as little surprise that many parents are taking matters into their own hands and scheduling additional lessons for their children. Parents are also eager to help their children catch up on missed in-person music lessons and sports training.

Since public schools expected parents to adapt to remote learning multiple times during the last two years, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for school administrators to show some flexibility in return for what students and parents were forced to endure. After all, private lessons will no doubt help students improve their skills and help them become better at school. Parents who spend their own money on their children should be celebrated, not have their children threatened with expulsion.

Let’s not forget that scheduling private lessons isn’t easy. There are only so many hours during the day and not everyone can arrange for their children’s lessons to take place during evenings and weekends. This is important to keep in mind when we consider the huge demand for private lessons right now.

The reality is that public schools need to become more flexible, not more rigid. Public education should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, there should be more choices within public schools so that parents and students can have all their educational needs met.

Fortunately, some public school boards have already learned this lesson.

For example, more than three decades ago, Edmonton Public Schools launched a revolutionary set of changes when it made choice the foundation of its education system. Some of the specialty schools include those that focus on indigenous education, sports, science, the Waldorf approach, religious education, and performing arts. Parents also have the option of enrolling their children in regular neighbourhood public schools.

In other words, Edmonton recognizes that parents do not want a cookie cutter approach to education. By providing more choice in public schools, parents and students are able to access specialized programming that elsewhere is only available in private schools.

Simply put, parents should not have to leave the public school system to get the educational programs their children need. Ideally, public school boards should provide choices and specialized programming within their schools. Failing this, they should at least accommodate those parents who choose to access private lessons during regular school hours.

If students are getting math and reading tutoring during private lessons, this is obviously going to help them improve their skills in these areas. This will make them better students, something that should be welcomed by all educators.

It’s time that public school boards stop protecting their educational turf. Parents are the primary educators of their children and they have a right to do what is in their children’s best interests. Threatening to remove students who attend private lessons is much too short-sighted.

Flexibility, not rigidity, is what parents have the right to expect from public schools. Working together with parents is always a sensible approach.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and author of "A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning."
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