Supporting Learning Disabilities and Special Needs Students

Because of Edmonton's growth in students and reduction in funding, it is clear to me that the status quo is not sustainable, and the level of education to which families in Edmonton have grown accustomed will be challenged. So what deteriorates, and what do we stop doing?

At the last meeting when we voted on our distribution of funds, one of the areas we wrestled with was inclusion and staffing levels for supporting special needs students. I requested information for our own district budget and I would like to see this reviewed across Alberta as well.

I'll be hosting a Trustee Talk with Greta from Strategic Alliance for Learning Disabilities on Monday, April 26th and I invite you to attend. You can register here and I'll send a virtual link prior to the meeting:

Please keep reading to provide feedback on our funding for special needs students as well as my call for a provincial review of inclusion.

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Supporting the capacity for trustee-initiated, third-party independent audits

Unfortunately, a majority of the Board of Trustees didn't support my previous motion for the creation of the Office of an Independent Auditor at the March 23rd, 2021 Board Meeting.

On Tuesday, April 13th as part of our annual budget process (see the distribution of funds report), I will be asking my colleagues to amend the budget to specifically set aside an additional $100,000 for the purpose of trustee initiated, independent third party audit.

This is separate from creating an independent auditor- instead, this is setting aside resources for audits. While some Trustees indicated they supported independent audit in principle, they were reluctant about creating a permanent, audit officer and thought instead that spot checks could be accomplished within current committees. This would provide those resources for these spot checks. 

Good policy and governance transcend any individual elected official or administrator but instead look to independent, transparent, and verifiable processes. Currently, there is a lack of an independent reporting mechanism to the Board of Trustees, aside from the annual audit, which is minimal in scope. While I acknowledge that the Board of Trustees receives numerous reports and information from a variety of sources, very little of it is from an independent third party.

In my experience as a Trustee, we are at a great point in our governance. However, we must be mindful of enhancements and look for sources of continuous improvement. I can think of numerous previous and future examples where this could be an asset, including school closures, program placements, elimination, review of procurement processes, etc. Even if the consultant is a third party, the fact that it was selected by either the administration or the Board of Trustees has led to accusations of bias or interference in the experience.

Edmonton Public Schools embraces accountability as one of our cornerstone values. We have some of the most robust and transparent governance systems in Alberta, or Canada. We were the first to livestream our Board meetings (2010), and the first to appoint external members to our audit committee.

Enhanced public assurance and transparency are essential, especially in the tough economic times ahead for public education. The Edmonton Public School Board budget is over $1.2 billion dollars, operates hundreds of buildings, programs, and has large contracts for technology, transportation, and major projects.

All schools should have quality bike racks and cages for safe and healthy active transportation

*UPDATED MAY 7th 2021:

My request for information was returned with the following costs (see response #2) for bike racks and cages. Bike Racks could cost $750,000 across the district, but cages could cost $3.5 million across the district.



This was another issue that I know many Trustees wanted to see addressed but was stalled because of the Pandemic. Safe, quality bike racks, and bike cages are essential to supporting active transportation needs for students, staff and families. 

On Tuesday, April 13th as part of our annual budget process (see the distribution of funds report), I will be asking my colleagues to amend the budget to specifically provide funds for quality bike racks and cages at schools, just as we allocate almost $500,000 for EPSB District Parking lots. The cost of a bike cage to a school is estimated to be approximately $16,000. 

I believe this is one of those areas where the Board should not leave action up to individual schools through site-based decisions. There should be a clear, consistent, and enforceable policy throughout the district, funded through on par with parking lots. I hope that this support from Edmonton Public Schools will catalyze further action from the provincial government to mandate (and fund) the provision of active transportation infrastrucutre for all schools.

In 2016, I hosted an event with community leaders about eliminating the barriers to active transportation for schools. My friend Troy provided an excellent recap of the role that all orders of government, neighbourhoods, and community leaders can play

With the COVID19 pandemic and promotion of physical distancing, more families will be choosing to drive their children to school rather than take the bus. For our neighbourhoods, this will mean more congestion, traffic, stress, and chaos around our schools between pick-up and drop-off times. For our children, this means more inactivity. Children will be sitting for longer in classrooms with limited opportunity for physical activity. Walking or wheeling — even part of the way to or from school — can have a positive impact on student achievement and overall wellbeing.
How we can promote public health by choosing to walk or wheel to school. How can we promote healthy schools and healthy communities? How can we grow already exciting and innovative approaches? How can we help community leagues and schools collaborate in a time of financial austerity? We know that bike theft is a major deterent.
Since 2012, all EPSB Schools have been required to have an active transportation plan. Please speak to your principal if you have further questions.

From EPSB Active Transportation Recommendations:
Many students choose to walk, ride or roll to school. 

Active transportation helps to:

• improve safety by reducing traffic congestion in school zones
• alleviate pressure on neighbouring residents and businesses
• promote health and fitness
• reduce the environmental impact of driving
For more information about active transportation and safe, walkable neighbourhoods:

• talk to your school principal
• learn about safe, walkable neighbourhoods at Safe, Healthy, Active People Everywhere (SHAPE)
• school travel planning and Winter Walk Day at Active & Safe Routes to School
Ever Active Schools: 
Ever Active Schools:
Students experience increased health outcomes and come to school better prepared to learn; traffic congestion in school zones is reduced and therefore safety is improved; and greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced. At Ever Active Schools, we have plenty of experience working with school communities and building relationships with schools across other portfolios of work. That, combined with our mandate of building and supporting healthy school communities, puts us in a unique position to carry out work within the Active School Travel realm. We work with many partners to resolve barriers to active travel. Our approach to Active School Travel fuses Comprehensive School Health with School Travel Planning, a model that originated with Green Communities Canada and Ontario Active School Travel.
Bike Racks are available for purchase from Bike Edmonton

Supporting students and staff in their advocacy for free menstrual products in Edmonton Schools

This was another issue that I know many Trustees wanted to see addressed but was stalled because of the Pandemic.

In 2019 I was approached by a number of students and staff members through the U of A School of Public Health, Students Invested in Health Association among others who requested that school boards provide menstrual products in washrooms on par with the provision of soap and toilet paper. Like many other items, the pandemic derailed our progress.

On Tuesday, April 13th as part of our annual budget process (see the distribution of funds report), I will be asking my colleagues to amend the budget for the deliberate inclusion of menstrual products in alignment with how soap, toilet paper, and other basic needs are provided. Anecdotally, I've heard widespread support from Trustees for this initiative.

  • The Toronto District School Board began providing products in 2019 as well as London and Waterloo, Ontario
  • In spring 2019, British Columbia also began providing products to students in schools
  • Red Deer school boards are also providing free products
  • The University of Alberta has also been providing product at Infolink and is in the process of providing dispensers on campus.
  • Considering the City of Edmonton just initiated a change last week (April 2021) that products would be available in city washrooms
There are also incredible waste-free alternatives on the horizon thanks to student entrepreneurs at the University of Alberta such as Hempact, who are developing biodegradable pads as part of a growing trend to curb waste. Other companies such as Joni help provide locally-made, sustainable prodcuts as well providing to people in need.

While we would need to work with the administration to examine how exactly the rollout should occur, this initiative is long overdue. I've spoken with the Student Advocates for Public Health who provided this image and press release from their event (April 6th, 2020). I also spoke with No woman without, period, who have done an enormous amount of advocacy and providing product through donations. I've also heard from staff members who have, for years, provided products out of their own pocket for students who have been discreetly advocating for this change to school budgets. I've heard from students and alumni of Edmonton Public Schools how important this initiative is and would contribute to creating a welcoming school environment for all. 

I believe this is one of those areas where the board should not leave action up to individual site-based decisions. There should be a clear, consistent, and enforceable policy throughout the district, funded through on par with other necessities. I hope that this support from Edmonton Public Schools will catalyze further action from the provincial government to mandate (and fund) the provision of menstrual products in all schools on par with the provision of hand soap, toilet paper, and other necessities.


We need a vote of non-confidence on the new UCP K-6 curriculum

I'm relieved to share that EPSB will NOT participate in the pilot process of the new K-6 UCP curriculum.


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Required Reading For School Trustees

What is a Trustee? 

What is it that you are protecting or entrusted to defend? 

There is the organization, Edmonton Public Schools, but there is also the whole institution of public education that we all benefit and derive value from. Over 80% of the community at a given time do not have school-aged children enrolled in the district, but they still benefit either as alumni or from having a broadly educated populace. 

When you defend public education you are defending the fundamental idea of a democracy -- the idea that a democratic society is built and can only function with a healthy and educated populace. We all benefit from being stronger together. We all benefit when we collectively prepare the next generation of civil society for a life of dignity and fulfillment.

Not me, but we.


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Opportunities in the Edmonton City Plan for Strong Schools and Strong Communities

As I reflect on my eleven years as your EPSB Trustee, I cannot state strongly enough how school systems are impacted by municipal context. As I read the proposed Ten Year Facilities Plan update 2020-2029, many interesting questions come to mind.

$5B School Building Boom

In 2015, I was EPSB Board Chair and Alberta was in a $5 billion school building boom. We opened 19 new schools, many in suburban neighborhoods outside the Henday.  Five years later with our current economic challenges, I don’t know if we will see an investment like that ever again.

Looking ahead, it makes more social, environmental, and fiscal sense to help families live closer to existing schools and playgrounds...

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Backgrounder: Internet for all


In the short term, we need internet rate subsidies and measures to make internet more affordable. In the medium term, we need to join with partners in advocating for municipal broadband. 

Be it resolved that:

1) the Edmonton Public School Board advocate for the establishment of municipal broadband, modelled on the example of Connect Toronto and other publicly-owned telecommunications initiatives across North America. 

2) That the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the federal and provincial governments for immediate initiatives to increase accessibility, quality and reduce the cost of internet for students, staff, and families.

Next steps: 

  • That the EPSB write a letter of support to the federal government for the $50/month “Canadian Broadband Benefit” (CBB) as outlined by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Further, we would support the Internet for all campaign by ACORN Canada which demands $10/month high-speed internet for low-income families. 
  • We would ask that these actions be championed by our provincial school board organizations (such as the ASBA and PSBAA) to ensure equitable internet/technology-based learning access for all Albertans.


For example, supporting the CBB as advocated by ACORN Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre would see a payment to reduce internet bills by $50/month for low-income Canadians and those Canadians qualifying for the CERB benefit. It would largely parallel the $50USD benefit recently approved in Congress for Americans facing barriers.

Join the Internet For All campaign here and Join the Get Canada Connected Coalition here.

We can do much better. Locally, I am unimpressed by the TELUS Internet for Good program, as it requires proof of family income below $31,120 per year, which is (punishingly) low. This service also only provides a maximum of 25 megabytes of download service, which is below the CRTC's minimum recommended threshold of a 50 megabit connection for a typical household. This program merely offers half of a proper internet connection to the absolute poorest families. This is inadequate, as it is too slow and excludes too many people. TELUS' yearly net income regularly exceeds $1 billion.

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Media: Surplus School Sites and Public Funding for Private Schools

Speaking Municipally Podcast:

We're joined by EPSB Ward F Trustee Michael Janz to discuss surplus school sites and a little-known public school board power to levy new taxes.

Listen here:

Should education funding be placed on the municipal ballot?

During my visit with the grade six civics classes, I explain that almost 100% of the public education budget is provided by the the Provincial Government.

I was surprised to learn that there is another mechanism school boards may attempt to gain revenue: a special school tax levy. (Read More)


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