Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What’s WiFi Got To Do With It?

At last Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, the democratically-neglected KPR crew, perhaps inspired by Québec Premier Jean Charest, decided to call on local police to enforce their autocratic prohibition of any unannounced delegations and all members of the public from their publicly-funded board room, as reported by the Examiner.

As if “talk to the hand” wasn’t bad enough, now it’s apparently “talk to the gun.”

Charest’s ham-fisted tactics will likely result in his ouster from office later this year. Not so with KPR trustees. Sheltered by Ontario’s own autocratic Liberal government from the need to respond in any way to the public they supposedly serve, they’ll blithely muddle on, mismanaging our schools and our money with impunity for another thirty months, causing as much damage to our community as they can.  

PCVS supporters should be aware that they’re not the only citizens alarmed at KPR’s mismanagement while suffering disrespect by administrators and democratically-neglected trustees.

It’s been a solid year of mistreatment for PCVS supporters, but it’s been even longer for supporters of the Kawartha Safe Technology Initiative, whose motto is “play it safe – plug it in.” 

In implementing WiFi, KPR administrators and trustees took the same approach they did with PCVS: blindsiding the people who pay their salaries, ramming through a pre-determined decision, ignoring public calls for prudence and dialogue, and finally banning concerned citizens from board meetings. 

It’s no coincidence that the KPR trustees behind the WiFi boondoggle are the same ones pushing hardest for PCVS to be closed – Clarington-area representatives Cathy Abraham and Steven Cooke, and Cobourg-area trustee Gordon Gilchrist – while those who voted to keep PCVS open are also the only ones to even acknowledge public concerns over WiFi.

Nor is it coincidence that KPR got aggressive on closing Peterborough secondary schools immediately after implementing a $13 million instructional technology plan that dramatically outstripped available provincial funding for such items. Abraham, in a cheerleading interview with the head of a private educational technology company, admitted in April of 2010 that KPR would have to “make some magic happen during the budget process” in order make the technology plan work.

The truth is that WiFi is the other side of the coin of the proposed PCVS closure.

If KPR didn’t need to free up cash to pay its technology bill, there wouldn’t be an aggressive drive to close schools. If KPR’s focus were on the role of families and communities in education, digital technology wouldn’t be so alluring. And if KPR administrators and trustees had any real concern or understanding of the mental and physical health needs of its students, neither closing PCVS nor implementing pervasive WiFi would have been on the table in the first place.

The legitimate concerns with KPR’s WiFi-based instructional technology plan are threefold: expense, safety, and practical effectiveness. None of the three areas seem to have been adequately analyzed before KPR took the giant leap, as we’ll see over the next few posts.

Just as disturbing as the short-sighted decision to implement an expensive, pervasive WiFi system rather than more economical, point-source options, however, is the repressive manner in which KPR administrators and trustees have attempted to silence dissent – a manner almost identical to the way they’ve treated the public on the PCVS issue.

This month, KSTI members wrote a formal letter to MPP Jeff Leal detailing KPR’s mishandling of the WiFi issue, and requesting that Education Minister Laurel Broten appoint a Supervisor to oversee KPR’s operations.You can read it on their website.

The letter begins by summarizing the issues on which KPR has drawn public ire with their “egregious conduct,” including PCVS, asbestos, the balanced day, and wireless technology.

The letter concludes with a list of qualities that KPR sorely lacks – a list which applies equally to the board’s actions around both PCVS and WiFi – including “due respect for the concerns of the public,” “proper study and forethought,” “financial accountability,” and “concern for the health of its students.”

KSTI members note that KPR administrators forged ahead with implementing pervasive WiFi with little advance notice to parents, and have refused requests to mark where the hidden high-power routers are located within schools. Principals have told school councils that discussion of WiFi is not permitted on the agenda, and told parents not to distribute WiFi information anywhere near school property. Concerned teachers have also been silenced.

When KPR did attempt to appease citizens with a public meeting last year, the agenda was strictly controlled, no members of the public were allowed to present information, and questions asked by parents went unanswered, as reported by the Examiner. One parent’s disgusted response to the farce of a meeting was also printed in the Examiner, accessible here.

In the next post, we’ll look at the issues of expense and practical effectiveness of WiFi in our schools in the context of both the corporate agenda at Queen’s Park’s and the naïveté of KPR trustees and administrators, who apparently believe that they can buy educational excellence in the future by using machines, while disregarding the lessons of the past about how educational success actually works.

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