Are Section 177 School Act bans too punitive for parents?

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      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.”



      Reece Jorgensen

      Jan 23, 2014 at 12:08am

      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.

      Terry B

      Jan 23, 2014 at 8:31am

      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?

      Alan Layton

      Jan 23, 2014 at 9:57am

      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.

      Reece J

      Jan 23, 2014 at 12:07pm

      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


      Jan 23, 2014 at 1:27pm

      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.


      Jan 23, 2014 at 3:07pm

      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.


      Jan 23, 2014 at 6:04pm

      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.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jan 23, 2014 at 6:23pm


      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.


      Jan 24, 2014 at 10:09am

      The fellow can always apply for judicial review in the BCSC. Ha ha ha. Like he has $25k to throw around! Ha ha ha!