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.”

Comments (26) Add New Comment
Reece Jorgensen
Let me get this straight, multiple sections in the school act to provide for parent participation, Sections created on the basis that parent involvement improves education. Assumption that a 177 is not significant?

I'm Sorry Trustees, but who are you representing.
What Social and emotional harm may arise from this?
What impact on a child's ability to learn may be caused by this?

Give your head a shake, a 177 may significantly affect the health and education of a child.
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Terry B
I am no legal expert by any means, but it definitely seems to violate the basic premises of our justice system - a person's right to an appeal in a fair and equal manner, and the oversight of an impartial party to decide after seeing all of the facts.

I do agree with the intent of 177 to protect children, but it does need to be revisited to ensure in the cases where it has been applied incorrectly that there is a way to resolve it.

A question - in Clifford Roy's example, the indication that the case will be re-examined after June 30th seems off - if the intention is to look at it again, why wait so long?
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Alan Layton
It would be helpful to know what Clifford Roy did to deserve such a stiff penalty. Given that he's been banned from ALL school properties it sounds like it is more than just a simple dispute with the principal. If I had kids in school I would rather that a ban like this go through the court system for the protection of the children and staff.
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Reece J
I would file an apeal under section 11 stating that the inability to participate at the school is causing emotional harm on our family and children

And that the inability to participate has removed a degree of transparency in my child's education that may affect the quality of education my child will recieve.

And that the inability to participate at my child's school is affecting my ability to participate fully in providing for the education of my child. This restriction may adversely affect the quality of education my child recieve's
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CD
I wonder though, isn't the problem that if they invoke the 177 you lose your right to appeal under section 11?

There are big issues with this! Certainly maintaining student safety is a priority, but if there are no behavior thresh holds in place for applying a 177, how do we know it is not simply because an administrator does not want to work with a parent who may be difficult or challenging? And it doesn't get to the root cause of why a parent may be difficult - could it be because that parent has concerns about how their child is being educated, but has not yet acquired the skill as to how to make their concerns known in a less emotional way? So, instead of perhaps teaching parents how to advocate, or even (gasp!) pausing to consider that the parent *might* have a point and working with them to try to improve, a section 177 can simply be slapped down, problem solved? That parent is now branded (likely permanently, because, word gets around you know!) in the entire district, with no explanation and obviously, no recourse.

If this is a case of a parent making significant verbal or physical threats on school grounds towards staff or students, then yes consult with authorities and invoke your section 177. The sad reality is I know a few different families where section 177 has happened and it has been invoked more as a result of a personality conflict than anything else. It is disgusting to see the damage that has happened to these families as a result.
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TP
I agree with CD. The case I am familiar with is an instance of a personality conflict where the situation was mis-read and then blown out of proportion. We are talking about people with faults on both sides, parents and administrators. Giving all the power to the administrator and no recourse for the parent lends itself to a dictatorship culture if the administrator has a tendency to over-control and power-trip. Not only do we need to ask what the parent may have done to be given a 177, but what did the administrator do that could have exasperated the situation.
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daviddickinson
I thought Jane Thornthwaite was kicked out of caucus and not allowed to be around children due to a drinking and driving conviction. Must be a different Jane Thornthwaite.
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Martin Dunphy
david:

After admitting the offence publicly, she kind of did a turnaround, pleaded not guilty, and got off with a plea bargain, a fine, and no criminal record.
Pretty neat, eh?
Her master's vice.
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Undlekin
The fellow can always apply for judicial review in the BCSC. Ha ha ha. Like he has $25k to throw around! Ha ha ha!
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Bruce
This is also happening at hospitals with their "zero tolerance" policy. Any hint of a raised voice, an unwelcome question as little as a touch on the arm, is sufficient to be banned, with no recourse.

http://www.seniorsatrisk.org/2012/06/b-c-health-care-facilities-ban-fami...
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Clifford Roy
Linda Bonvillain from the Vancouver School Board contacted me yesterday and requested/scheduled a meeting with Maureen Ciarniello, Steve Cardwell, herself and me (Clifford Roy) for Feb 4 at VSB headquarters. Linda seemed really nice but suggested I come alone to the meeting when I asked. Wish me luck!
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Karen
I personally have been greatly affected by school administrative bullying and also have found no recourse.

I have tried going through just about every external "independent" regulatory body which are supposed to offer some sort of check over school district power –the Teacher Regulation Branch, the Ombudsperson, the office of the Commissioner for Information and Privacy. All of these processes are excruciatingly slow and I wonder how independent they in fact are. It was almost exactly one year ago today that I first put in a request for an investigation of the school district with the office of the Ombudsperson, and the investigation is still ongoing.

In reality, school districts are not accountable to anyone, and they know it. After three years of unsuccessfully trying to have my serious concerns regarding school staff misconduct (including child abuse) addressed through the school district complaints process, I too am considering going to the media at this point. It seems to be the only recourse available to parents (other than spending tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees) to have any hope of holding school district staff accountable for anything they’ve done.
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CD
Clifford Roy. I am glad they have scheduled a meeting with you, but please, please, please, take someone to the meeting with you! Someone from your DPAC or even if you can get someone from BCCPAC.
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CD
Clifford Roy,

Although section 11 appeal process somehow doesn't apply when a section 177 is invoked, I think it is worth noting the rights of the parent in the section 11 appeal process to bring someone to the meeting with them, and so would question why it is not preferrable in this situation.

From the VSB Section 11 Appeal Procedure: (http://www.vsb.bc.ca/district-bylaw/law-no-2-i-section-11-appeal-procedure)

7. Appellants under this policy have the right to be accompanied by a person or persons of their choosing at any of the meetings provided for below. Where an appeal is launched by the parent/guardian of a student who is the subject of the appeal, that student also has the right, with the consent of their parent/guardian, to attend meetings held pursuant to this policy.

Good luck!
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Ed Connor
The same thing happened to me in Ontario,based on "the wishes of the custodial parent".
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CM
I would not recommend going to any meeting alone. Bring someone with credibility with you, if not a lawyer. I am very surprised that Maureen Ciarniello recommended you come to a meeting alone. This in itself shows they have something to hide and is a major red flag. I would suggest making this a VERY public issue if not resolved to your satisfaction.
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Cheryl Arnold
CLIFFORD...If I were you I would record this meeting that is arranged with the school district. You only need to let 2 people in the room know you are recording it. I would make the announcement and put your recording device in the middle of the table. Don't trust them!
I too have been issued a 177. I am a grandmother who has full custody of my special needs grandson. He was in grade 1 when district 34 imposed this section on me. His safety became a major concern for our family. We contacted the school board a call to the Ministry of Education a visit to our local paper plus I contacted my MLA before we received a call from the district this was a 2 week process we then had to wait another week before the meeting occurred. In the meantime I was attending my grandsons unstructured breaks to ensure his safety. The principal told me that I can't just keep showing up when I felt like it and that I would need to make arrangements with her and that I would need to be supervised during my visits. I was told I could only enter the school from the front door and as far as the office. Each day she would impose a new limit and decrease her availability to my frustration. My MLA's office did some research for me and informed me that this was a violation of my rights as a person with business at this school. We had our meeting to address safety and what his supervision will look like, we agreed to prompt and fade which was meant to provide close proximity of care. I stopped attending the unstructured breaks. After 1 1/2 weeks I made a surprise visit at recess time to see if the prompt and fade was being used. It was not, I addressed this matter with the principal she was shocked and told me it was supposed to be used at all breaks and that she would talk to the aide. The following day she replaced the aide and a new aide was provided. Since our trust was broken and not for the first time this school year I continued to attend his breaks. Always observing from a distance so as not to interfere with the role of the aide. Within less than a week I was called into the school for a meeting, we were led to believe we were there to discuss my grandsons IEP and his supervision. It was at this meeting that the school district resource principal gave me a section 177 in the form of a letter. I was informed that the A Superintendent was my only recourse.
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Murray Frank
I am confused about this Section 177 Maintenance of Order issued against Clifford Roy. This law gives a "principal, vice principal, director of instruction or a person authorized by the board" the authority to direct a person to "leave the land or premises of a School". The Act also only applies to specific events that "disturb or interrupt the proceedings of a school or an official school function".

This is the only authority offered under the Act.

Somehow, the Assistant Superintendent in this case has extended their authority to include all school properties and on the basis of a dispute with a Principal (where there is no mention of disturbing or interrupting school proceedings).

We are also subject to a Section 177 Order that was so poorly crafted by another Assistant Superintendent that the RCMP withdrew support from it. The problem in my opinion is that School Administrators are not required to have ANY qualifications relating to issuing legally binding summary convictions upon anyone having any relationship with a school. The irony is that, to appeal a Section 177 Order, you must appeal it to the same person who issued it. After that, the grounds for appeal get very narrow (must affect the learning of the child) and this appeal is heard by the people who hired the Administrator.

We have now learned that there is, in fact, widespread abuse of the Section 177 Orders in BC and this is contrary to what the previous Minister declared when refusing to review the Act at the recommendation of BCCPAC. Sadly, the Ombudsperson has refused to investigate.

There is a sad abuse of authority and little evidence that Schools and administrators are interested in working with parents who are acting in advocacy of their children that have been failed by the system. Keep up you fight, Clifford Roy. In our fight, the School District has now been found by the Privacy Commissioner to have breached our privacy twice, an RCMP officer has been found in Neglect of Duty in investigating the assault of our daughter by a teacher, and the Teacher Regulation Branch is in its 4th year in considering the disposition of a teacher who lashed out at our daughter (who has been deemed a Victim of Crime by the Ministry of Justice). It is sad when teachers, administrators and the RCMP break the law repeatedly and the response is to slap the advocating parents with a Section 177
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Craig
I would recommend starting a change.org petition around this topic and asking your PAC to support you. http://www.change.org/en-CA/petition
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KF
Karen it sounds like you have faced the same challenges we have. You are doing all the right things but maybe its time to go to the press. In our case Police have found no instances of harassment on our part but yet the school gives us a Sec 177 order? They are abusing the system and a new system needs to be in place. If they sought a restraining order or peace bond in court they would not get one so they have this Sec 177 order to play gods with instead admitting wrongdoing and trying to correct the situation.
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Rating: +6

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