By Justin Seward
Prairie Rose Public Schools board of trustees voted in favour of a non-operational day on Sept. 30 in recognition of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation Day this year only at their first board meeting of the new school year on Sept. 14.
“It’s federally approved holidays for employees,” said Kal Koch, PRPS assistant superintendent.
“It hasn’t moved down to the provincial level yet. So, the provincial government, if they’re going to consider the national day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday, they would need to debate that in the legislature. It has not been accepted or formalized at the provincial level to be one of the statutory holidays in the Alberta Employment Standards code.”
Koch said school boards across the province are considering how to handle this holiday.
PRPS board of trustees debated whether or not to do nothing on the day, call it a non-operational day for this year only and do support staff get paid or not.
Trustee Lois Bedwell began discussions thinking this day should still be instructional.
“I believe we’re in the education business and what better place that our students learn about Truth and Reconciliation,” said Bedwell.
“I just think that we play a vital role and that it can be done in the school. Our staff, this isn’t something new that’s thrown upon them. A lot of them of have been preparing or are aware that September 30 is coming and I think they would do a good job. We’re learning of course about how to best present the information and I think the schools should stay open.”
Although trustee Cathy Hogg supports Bedwell’s comments, she thinks the day should be non-operational.
“I do appreciate Lois’ comments and I do believe that our teachers—they’re very qualified—and that they could do a good job,” said Hogg.
“I think with the short window of time to prepare to spend an entire day devoted to the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and FNMI (First Nation Metis Inuit) issues, and knowing that June 21 is National Indigenous Celebration‚ which is an operational day, where students are in and spending the entire day learning about those truths, I would support this being a non-operational day.”
Seven Persons trustee Graeme Dennis thinks a non-operational day would be the best option because he questioned whether or not the resources would be available for the teachers to present the questions to the students if schools were to stay open.
“I’m thinking (to) myself; I don’t personally know as much as I should about this and that’s my own fault,” he said.
“But I too need to learn about this and certainly I don’t think it would be fair for the teachers to be trying to teach something like Cathy mentioned, too put a whole days’ program in front of students and I don’t think it’s just fair for them.”
PRPS superintendent Roger Clarke called the information “pretty horrifying information” that was discovered about Truth and Reconciliation surrounding residential schools this past summer and thinks the school division does not have the resources.
Clarke added, “I think we should do this correctly if we’re going to look at a future Sept. 30—this is what we want to do and maintain an instructional day that focuses on Truth and Reconciliation on that day, then we’ll need to take the time in future PD days and SI days to make that planning really solid.”
The Alberta College of Superintendents report revealed that 31 of 62 school boards are in favour of calling Sept. 30 a non-operational day, 20 school boards will be in session that day and 11 school boards are undecided.
“I will state the that the two neighbouring school divisions are currently keeping it as a school day and the trustees are asking the schools to make sure this day is recognized while school’s in session,” said Koch.
All staff will get paid for the day.
PRPS FMNI coordinator Carol Carlson confirmed to Southern Alberta Newspapers that the school district has prepared resources for classrooms throughout the month and there are planned changes for signs outside the division office on Sept. 30.
“What I’ve done so far in preparation is to have sent out resources related to Truth and Reconciliation that can be shared with staff,” said Carlson. “The school principals, and teachers will have gone through those resources and selected activities that they can in their schools have the students participate in. Then we have a digital side outside of our division office building. We’ve requested all of the staff to participate by sending us photographs of the different types of examples, or any work products that they’re doing that are part truth and reconciliation. So we’ll have those images displayed on the 30th of September on the digital signs.”
Meanwhile, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has elected to make the day non-operational for the entire school division, to allow for students and staff to take time to reflect and gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of first nations peoples in their communities, said Ken Sampson, superintendent of the division.
“Our board has identified four key priorities in our division, one of which is, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit education for all, not just for our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students and staff, but it’s for everyone, all students, children and staff in our entire division,” said Sampson. “What’s really important here is for us to have the commitment to infusing that knowledge and information into our curriculum throughout the school year. As we grow to really truly understand First Nations, Metis and Inuit ways of knowing, doing and being, it’s particularly important that we take days like this to really capitalize on those very things to get a greater understanding, so that we can incorporate those into our day to day work.”
Orange Shirt Day and Every Child Matters will be celebrated on the 29th in the division.
With Files from Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,