A group of parents in Whapmagoostui is calling for a forensic audit of the community’s school.
The call came in an anonymous five-page open letter that complains of a “very real crisis” in the Badabin Eeyou School.
The letter was signed by “some concerned parents.”
It lists numerous problems with everything from students’ safety, to misuse of school equipment, lack of a student council, excessive class sizes, missing teachers and dirty school grounds.
The parents also say their concerns “have been ignored, with a resulting sense of despair for the future of our children.”
John Shem, the community’s elected school commissioner, said the letter is to be discussed by the school committee.
“Some (of the concerns) are very, very legitimate,” he said. “Some have to be resolved and of course I’m very concerned. We are doing something about it.”
But the letter put the school’s principal and community education administrator on the defensive. They say school officials are already aware of the concerns in the letter and trying to deal with them.
The letter, dated Sept. 25, came out of two community meetings in recent months where complaints about the school were aired. No school staff attended the widely publicized meetings, the letter notes.
The letter highlights some of the same problems listed in last year’s Mianscum report on the Cree education system.
Some of the complaints:
• The school committee hasn’t met for a long time. The committee is made up of parents and is supposed to advise the school on policy and administration.
• Parents aren’t informed about school policies.
• The letter alleges that there may have been misuse of school equipment and credit cards. “No one knows about the state of the budget and finances at the school,” it reads.
• Discipline is poor in hallways. At the same time, “many parents complain that the school staff continually takes the teacher’s word over that of the students.”
• The school has been missing five teachers since the beginning of the year. “Many of the students do not want to go to class,” reads the letter. “Some teachers are always late for class, which presents a bad example. Additionally, some teachers yell and swear at the students.”
• There are no general teacher-parent meetings, apart from report-card interviews.
• Pre-kindergarten classes contain over 20 students. “Such classes are very noisy. Again, many students do not want to attend and be exposed to the resulting confusion,” reads the letter.
• There are “very few after-school activities.”
• Maintenance and upkeep are poor, the parents say. “The front entrance-way of the school presents a depressing atmosphere to anyone who uses it – and everyone who uses it is exposes to boarded-up windows, graffitti, garbage and cigarrette smoking.”
• The school needs a student counsellor and special-needs
• The parents complain about a canteen in the school that is being run without a business permit from the band.
• There has been no secondary school graduation ceremony for two years.
• School playground and sports facilities “are very old and their maintenance is questionable.”
CEA Isaac Masty, reached at home where he’s been on medical leave since August, said he hasn’t seen the letter.
However, he admitted that the school has a few problems and invited the disgruntled parents to meet with school staff to help improve the situation.
Masty said the main problem is that it’s been hard for the school to recruit qualified teachers, a problem that is plaguing the entire Cree School Board.
“We have had to hire people who were not fully qualified in the secondary sector in the past two years,” said Masty.
“There is a high turnover of teachers.”
Asked about the call for an audit, Masty said all spending is approved by the school board head office in Mistissini.
“There are no local funds we directly administer,” he said. “Every cent spent is included in the yearly audit of the school board.”
Masty said the audits haven’t encountered “any major problems” with the Whapmagoostui school.
Asked an allegation in the letter that the fire chief had criticized the school’s safety policies, Masty admitted there are some problems in this area, too.
“Sometimes older students come in to
school drunk and the little ones are terrified. We think that’s inappropriate,” he said.
Masty also said the fire chief was concerned about kids using lighters to burn their initials into school walls. “All those things will be addressed,” Masty promised.
The CEA, who handles school administrative matters, also said he is “aware” of the problems with garbage and dirt.
On another issue – the alleged misuse of school equipment and credit cards – Masty said, “I don’t know anything about that. As far as I know, there are no credit cards in the school.” He also said there isn’t much school equipment to be misused in the first place.
The school’s principal, Emily Masty, said the letter left her “very upset.” She said she didn’t attend the community meetings where parents aired their concerns because she never got an invitation.
The principal said some of the complaints in the letter were “misrepresented” and others were “very exaggerated.”
“That’s all been fixed. We’re not the only school having that problem,” she said.
“I think it’s just a personal vendetta on somebody’s part. They are just nitpicking. We have problems for sure, but nothing major.”
Regarding the complaints of vandalism, she said, “It’s no different (here) than any other school.”
Masty said the Cree School Board and Quebec Education Ministry have visited the Whapmagoostui school, and proclaimed it to be well-maintained.
She said she knows nothing about misuse of credit cards or equipment.
As for the lack of teacher-parent communication, the principal said there are four meetings every year, “but some parents don’t come.”