By Rachelle Diprose
There’s not that big of a difference between basketball teams and drama clubs after all, Ottawa’s education officials have determined.
Ottawa-Carleton’s District School Board told parents Oct. 15 that volunteers will be allowed to supervise all extracurricular activities, including sports teams, in the place of teachers. The move was a reversal of a decision made earlier this month that kept volunteers from supervising sports.
But it doesn’t mean smooth sailing for school sports.Teams will be limited to practicing and not actual competition until more permanent policies are in place.
Teams and clubs have been at a stand-still while teachers work-to-rule as negotiations between the teachers’ union and the province continue.
Parents aired their concerns to director of education Jim Grieve and he heard them loud and clear, said Lamar Mason, co-chairwoman of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils.
“He indicated he heard quite clearly that the community was no longer prepared to have their students and their extracurricular activities held ransom in this type of situation,” she said.
Many parents and students wondered why volunteers could not replace teachers as coaches of sports teams but could supervise most other school clubs and groups.
The board’s original decision was made based on safety and security concerns, said Peter Frayne, spokesman for the school board. Scheduling and travelling as well as the training and screening of volunteers can get very complicated, he said.
“All of these things raised the bar a bit in terms of being able to have these volunteers come in and meet the needs of these sports teams,” Frayne said.
Some parents felt the original decision gave families and communities some responsibility for student’s non-academic activities, said Eleanor Heap, a parent member of the Lisgar Collegiate school council.
“I think that over the years there has been a perception that the school is responsible for just about everything in a student’s life and I think that’s not necessarily so,” said Heap.
The move by the school board acknowledges schools have to offer a well-rounded education to students, including sports, said Mason.
The board said school principals are responsible to screen all volunteers, regardless of the activity, and police departments are ready to co- operate fully.
The school board hopes to establish an interscholastic sports organization that would keep teams up and running, regardless of employee disputes. Until then competition and travel is out of the question, she said.
“There should be no restrictions on being able to get out and begin practicing if an appropriate volunteer can be found,” Mason said. “The issue was whether it would be possible for them to travel and compete and at this point, that is still not possible.
“While many teachers want to get back to their volunteer activities, the board’s policies had to be flexible enough to ensure that other options were available to the schools,” Mason said.
In addition to indications by Grieve that a settlement between the teachers’ union and the school board may be close, the board has agreed to establish a long-term volunteer policy.