I recently submitted the following letter to the Thames Valley District School Board in response to their call for public input on proposed changes to their Attendance Area policy. That’s the one that guides the decisions as to whether children can attend a school other than the one normally designated for them.
While the deadline for public input was today–June 30–if you have an opinion on the topic, it doesn’t hurt to voice it.
I want London to be the best place in Ontario to raise a family, and the Thames Valley District School Board is an important component of that. Let’s get engaged.
The following is my letter of input. Please don’t point out typos: I already sent it, and it would really drive me crazy to know they’re there. Alas, I’m a fallible human parent like most.
Thanks for reading!
To the Directors, Staff, and Trustees of the Thames Valley District School Board:
I was dismayed to learn of the proposed changes to the Thames Valley District School Board’s policies and procedures regarding Attendance Areas for Students. While I understand that students arbitrarily changing schools would make effective planning next to impossible, I feel the spirit of the proposed policy is not conducive to making reasoned decisions in the best interests of the student.
While the policy will be limiting for any students facing residential moves, I fear it will worst affect students already in difficult circumstances, for example, students who need to move due to economic problems, especially those who do so frequently; students who have immigrated to Canada or arrived from outside of London with families unsure of where in London they will eventually settle; and students facing difficult family situations such as domestic violence or illness.
Perhaps such situations might be considered “extreme and extenuating” but I have personal knowledge of families in each of these situations who have requested transfers under the less lenient policy currently in place, and all have been denied.
If this were typical, I would not be writing this letter, but what I have learned is that a policy so inflexible as the one proposed may make TVDSB the least student-and-family-friendly school board in Ontario.
I have included here a collection of passages from each of sixteen Ontario board policies and procedures that best encapsulates the board’s policy on attendance area exemptions. For context, the full policies and/or procedures have also been attached.
You will note that thirteen of these boards have policies that indicate requests will be accommodated unless there is a practical reason (lack of capacity, most often) not to accommodate the request. A further three of these boards have policies that seem to indicate that sufficient capacity in a receiving school is not reason enough, and the case for the student’s transfer must be compelling.
While I have largely excluded Catholic and separate school boards from my research, I did think it important to compare the proposed TVDSB policy with that of the London District Catholic School Board since TVDSB competes directly with that board for students. You’ll note that the LDCSB policy is also much more pro-student than the proposed TVDSB policy.
In no other board among these, does the policy indicate that attendance area exemptions will only be granted in extreme and extenuating circumstances. No other board in Ontario has taken such a hard line stance against meeting the requests of students and their parents—requests that one must assume are made, almost always, in the best interests of the child.
London is often lauded as a great place to raise a family, but policies such as the proposed remind us that unfortunately, that isn’t always the case regardless of economic status, religion, or other life circumstances.
Though I’ve gone to great lengths to demonstrate how the proposed policy will stack up against that of other Ontario boards, my appeal to you is not—at its heart—simply for TVDSB to match regional best practices. It is for TVDSB to be a school board that in both policy and procedure believes accommodating the needs of children should be the default, and that only in extreme and extenuating circumstances should we not create the best possible learning and life experience for students.
In my research I have learned that the following policies and procedures help many Ontario school boards to maintain a fair, pro-student stance on attendance area exemptions:
• Maintaining a list of “open” and “closed” schools: those with and without sufficient capacity to consider accepting transfer students
• Providing transportation only for those students registered at the school within their designated attendance area, so as not to incur additional costs
• Only allowing students to transfer to schools that have sufficient capacity and where the student’s presence there will not result in additional costs, with a acceptances conditional upon final registration numbers for students in the district just before the start of the school year
• Allowing students to remain in the school to which they have transferred until they have completed the highest grade available at the school
• Allowing the younger siblings of students attending their designated school to also attend that school when another school is designated for earlier grades
• Beginning from a place of approval and cooperation and only denying requests when there is a reasonable necessity to do so
I hope you’ll share in my vision of TVDSB contributing to a London that is the best place in Ontario to raise a family, and reconsider the policy currently under review.
I look forward to your response.
View the letter with passages from board policies here
View the full attendance area policies of sixteen Ontario boards here
View the proposed TVDSB policy changes here