Can a court decision send the right and the wrong message?

Much of law is based on precedent. Much of our human behavior is also based on that.
On Monday a judge ruled in favor of the defendants in a case where a group of residents in Scenic Acres filed court papers to block or delay the building of a Francophone school in their community.

So what are the messages this decission sends to the public? Firstly and rightly so, you had better come with a better argument against development of a school in your community than “it will take away our prized green recreational space” and “it will add traffic to our neighborhood.” These arguments may play well in your community with those of like mind and they may even play well in the court of public opinion, but they clearly have little impact on a judge and the law. Secondarily it sends the much simpler message that you can’t go above the head of the school board with much success.

Then what is the message this sends to the Boards of Education? Sadly, it is “we can do what we like, when we like and how we like”. Even though the Boards of Education are legally bound to engage the public in processes of building schools and program or school closures, the process that they follow is clearly flawed. Every year groups of parents and citizens are fighting their own school boards over decisions made with very little public consultation. Every group, including the two groups that have gone to the courts, have all commented that the CBE in particular as an organization, does not follow their own policy when it comes to properly informing the public about opportunities for engagement, and encourages very little dialogue. These managed sessions leave the public feeling as though their voice and concerns are not heard.

So while one might think that the school board had better listen to parents and citizens or be forced into a costly court battles, the reality is much different. Since Mayland Heights School succeeded in avoiding a closure motion in 2011, nothing has changed in the CBE public engagement strategy. Since 2012 when Roland Michener School was saved from closure by the residents in Marlborough Park, nothing has changed in the CBE public engagement strategy.

Until the Calgary Board of Education Administration and Trustees take seriously the role of representing the public, engaging them on important decisions and come to the situation with a framework instead of a ready made decision, more tax payers dollars will be wasted on fighting with the public. Citizens shouldn’t be suing their own public school board and the school board should not make the public feel as though they have to.

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