Are Section 177 School Act bans too punitive for parents?
Clifford Roy can’t see his two boys at school when he wishes.
It wasn’t like that before. The 45-year-old divorcee used to drop by and volunteer at their South Vancouver elementary school. Now he’s barred from setting foot there.
Following a dispute with the principal, Roy was slapped with the equivalent of a restraining order. It wasn’t issued by a court. It was handed out by a school-district official.
Under Section 177 of the School Act, which pertains to “maintenance of order”, anyone designated by a board of education can ban someone from school premises. Because the law doesn’t provide an appeal process, people subject to these orders are placed in limbo, according to Roy.
“Once you’re given a Section 177, you have no recourse,” Roy told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
He related that he has approached Vancouver school trustees as well as the Ministry of Education and was told there’s nothing they can do.
In an order dated November 28, 2013, associate superintendent Maureen Ciarniello stated that Roy is not allowed to enter any Vancouver school property without her prior written permission. She also stated that she will reconsider the order after June 30, 2014, when the summer break begins.
“I really have no idea,” Roy said about what may happen next.
In 2012, then–education minister Don McRae indicated that there was no plan to amend Section 177 of the School Act. At the time, McRae was responding in writing to a resolution by the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils that suggested changes to the legislation.
The BCCPAC proposed confirmation by police or another authority that Section 177 orders are appropriately given out. It also recommended expiration dates. The association also called for an appeal process.
Next month, it will have another chance to convince the province to do something. That’s when Ministry of Education officials will meet with BCCPAC representatives to discuss their concerns about Section 177, ministry spokesperson Ben Green told the Straight by phone.
According to BCCPAC secretary Wendy Harris, the province has been listening through Jane Thornthwaite, MLA for North Vancouver–Seymour. Thornthwaite is also the parliamentary secretary for student support and parent engagement to the current education minister, Peter Fassbender.
In a phone interview, Harris told the Straight that Thornthwaite has been “looking into this for the past year and collecting stories”.
Harris, a past president of New Westminster’s district parent advisory council, also noted that the province isn’t keeping tabs on Section 177 orders issued by education districts.
Although there doesn’t seem to be a huge number of cases, she related that many participants from across the province in a BCCPAC conference last year had stories to tell.
“Everybody knew of somebody that has received a Section 177,” Harris said. According to her, affected parents often move their kids to another school district and keep quiet about their Section 177 orders.
“You don’t necessarily want the next district to know that you’ve been issued a Section 177,” Harris said. “You might be tagged as a problematic parent. You don’t want this following you.”
Monica Moberg, chair of Vancouver’s district parent advisory council, noted that the legislation gives school officials “way too much power”.
“These are human beings that are flawed human beings, and that’s the reason I have a problem with it,” Moberg told the Straight in a phone interview. “Because if it went through a court system where you have to apply for a restraining order, you have to present evidence.”
Vancouver school trustee, Ken Denike, agrees that there is a need for the province to review the law.
“Section 177 is very seldom used in some districts and quite extensively used in others, which tells you that there is an issue of interpretation,” Denike told the Straight in a phone interview.
The former education-board chair suggested a reworking of the School Act’s Section 11 so people affected by Section 177 orders can appeal their cases.
Section 11 provides that a parent or a student can appeal before the board a decision that “significantly affects the education, health or safety of a student”.
At present, people issued Section 177 orders do not have recourse through Section 11, according to Denike.
“There are times when—the local school, you know, may fire off at the heat of the moment—177 is not appropriate,” Denike said.
Meanwhile, Roy remains at a loss about when he can return to the Vancouver grade school attended by his sons. Although he can see them outside school under a custody agreement with his former wife, he cannot go there during class recess or volunteer as he used to do.
For the moment, Roy can only wish that things will be better in the next school year, saying: “I hope to go back as soon as possible.”