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Schools rift rocks parents' group

Apr 19 2012

Turmoil in B.C.'s education system is spilling over into local parents' groups, with efforts underway to replace the executive of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.

A slate of candidates has served notice of plans to vie for the top jobs at the confederation's annual meeting next week.

The uprising follows a joint letter this year that the confederation and the Greater Victoria school board sent to the B.C. government, urging an end to legal limits on the number of special-needs students in classrooms. The letter argued that the limits discriminate against students with special needs.

The government agreed and got rid of the limits in Bill 22, which also forced an end to teachers' job action.

At the time, the school board and the confederation drew heavy criticism from some parents and the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association.

Rachel Franklin, the mother of a child with a designated learning disability and president of the parent advisory council at Margaret Jenkins Elementary, spoke out at a school board meeting, arguing all students would suffer without class limits. Franklin also characterized the confederation as "dysfunctional" and claimed it failed to represent the interests of parents.

She is now running for vice-chairperson. Rob Paynter, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board last year, is trying to unseat longtime chairman John Bird.

Bird, who has held the post for six of the past seven years, views the challenge as an attempt to draw the non-partisan organization into the ongoing conflict between the government and the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

He noted in a speech to the school board this week that the group seeking to overturn the executive has "connections to one of the combatants."

Carolina Tudela, who is running for secretary, works as an executive assistant with the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association.

"Parents in the district do not wish to have their children or their organizations used as pawns in the political battle between the government and the union," Bird told the school board.

Bird said in an interview that the executive takes nobody's side but the students'. "There's got to be some kind of boundary here that people will respect."

Tudela, who sits on the Vic High parent advisory council, said Wednesday that she's running not as a union employee, but as a parent with two children in the public school system.

She said she's concerned about cuts to education and believes the confederation is too tightly controlled by a small group of people.

She said the letter calling for an end to limits on special-needs students was the final straw. "I was already involved, but it really concerned me and it really saddens me."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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