Special Report: Education

Why I Seized the Mic at a School Closure Meeting

The Accommodation Review Committee process is set up to pit community factions against each other and force the predetermined conclusions that fit the Board's agenda.

By John-Paul Danko
Published November 10, 2013

At the Central Mountain Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) public meeting on November 5, I seized control of the meeting. I simply walked up to the podium, took the mic and changed the agenda. I was not acting on behalf of my school or as a parent - but as a member of the greater community.

In the spirit of John Galt, I believe that I proved that we can choose not to participate in the broken process that the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has forced upon us. By simply rejecting the process, we have the power to stop it altogether.

Direct Intervention as a Protest Tactic

Of course, direct intervention is an unfortunate, desperate act, but the Board has left us with little alternative. We have been stonewalled at every turn.

We ask for information but don't get it. We ask specific questions but get generic replies. We press for answers but get patronizing active listening. We write letters but are blown off. We attend meetings but are given meaningless busy work. We expose rule breaking but they change the rules. We ask for proof but get excuses.

I think everyone involved including the ARC committee members and the Board staff themselves know full well that the data they are presenting to the public has been set up to lead to certain predisposed conclusions. The only question is whether accepting that data at face value suits each stakeholder's own agenda, or not.

If you do not accept the information that the Board is dolling out, unfortunately, you are left with no option but to fight tooth and nail for the truth.

The Truth About the ARC Process

What is abundantly clear is that the ARC process is an elaborate scam. It is essentially busy work, carefully crafted to pacify the mob by creating the illusion of public participation.

But the true purpose of the ARC process is far more nefarious than that. The ARC process exists in order to enable the Board to accomplish their agenda. In other words, the Board needs the public to buy in.

The ARC process is a brilliant piece of social engineering, and the Board's representatives are well-trained in the arts of social manipulation.

In fact, as a student of power negotiating and psychological sales tactics it is actually quite amazing to hear the Board's representatives go through every trick in the book while you go toe to toe against them.

To anyone considering doing the same, be prepared - they are brain ninjas! However, remember that in ancient Rome the senators were terrified that sooner or later the mob would realize that they hold the true power. The Board is no different.

Unforeseen Contingencies

Planning this disturbance, we had of course gone over a wide number of contingency plans. One contingency that we did not see coming was being heckled by two or three old ladies!

It took nearly fifteen minutes, but in the end, the ladies were able to remove the moral authority to speak I that had gained by seizing the mic.

However, by then the point had already been made and the rest of the meeting essentially disintegrated into meaningless anarchy, from which the Board's representatives were unable to recover.

But, for future reference, you want the crazy old ladies on your side!

Two Disturbing Trends

Two developing trends in the Central Mountain ARC process are deeply disturbing.

First, there are clearly several warring factions that have evolved. If you go to an ARC working group meeting, it is like watching the Hunger Games.

You have different factions with different agendas all pitted against each other, while the Board's representatives preside over the arena and manipulate the rules as they see fit.

Schools that think they are safe relish the process and gang up against their more vulnerable competitors. Schools that are on the bubble switch between factions, clinging to anyone that will support their cause.

Schools that are seen as likely to close group together for protection, but in the end are as likely to stab each other in the back as any of the others.

It is very disturbing to see honest, hardworking people manipulated to fight for what amounts to table scraps in such a meaningless process.

Second, it is clear that the ARC committee members are being set up as the Board's scapegoats.

We saw an example of that at the public meeting. At the very first sign of a challenge to the Board's authority, the Board's very first reaction was to throw the ARC committee members under the bus - by blaming them for the meeting format.

In the end, whatever decision the Trustees make for the Central Mountain, the ARC committee members provide the Board with a convenient whipping boy.

We can only hope that the ARC committee members who are still enamored by the process realize what is going on, because it may come as quite a surprise when they are thrown to the wolves.

Role of the Trustees

It is easy to criticize the Trustees in all of this. But, I truly believe that most of the Trustees are honest, hardworking people, tasked with an impossible situation and a thankless job.

We have to remember that the destructive trends in public education that we are seeing in Hamilton are endemic province wide. I honestly think that in many cases the Trustees are bullied by their own staff, who are in turn bullied by the Ministry of Education.

The Trustees are set up and backed into a corner, and then left to look like fools. How else can you explain decisions like the farce at Scott Park?

I do not believe that the Trustees and the public have to be opposing forces. Given honest, reliable information, I think that the public would be willing to work together with the Trustees and lend their support to solve the Board's problems.

But the convoluted, manipulative, adversarial nature of the ARC process does not allow that to happen.

Moving Forward

There is no doubt that our direct intervention approach has shaken up the process. The Board's representatives seem to think that we are upset because change is scary. But it is not change that we are protesting. We are protesting a process that is built on deceit, manipulation and division.

In the wake of our actions at the meeting we have received a wholly unexpected and tremendously positive response from other communities, stakeholders and school factions from across the City and even across Ontario. Mostly along the lines of "We heard about the meeting. Thank you for doing something - it's about time someone stood up to them".

I have no idea how the Board will respond, but I sincerely hope that they realize that the public will no longer accept being pitted against each other, manipulated and dismissed.

I have no idea how the Central Mountain ARC committee members will respond, but I sincerely hope that they open their eyes, unite and realize that they have the right to ask real questions and demand real answers.

To finish, I will quote the conclusion of my speech that I was not able to deliver - you might recognize it from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

"Ah" said Dumbledore gently, "yes. Yes, I thought we might hit that little snag."

"Snag?" said Fudge, his voice still vibrating with joy. "I see no snag Dumbledore!"

"Well," said Dumbledore apologetically, "I'm afraid I do."

"Oh really?"

"Well - it's just that you seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am going to - what is the phrase - 'Come quietly.' I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius".

To find out more about what happened on November 5, you can read about it in the Hamilton News or The Spectator.

John-Paul Danko is a professional engineer and small business owner.


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By Mark Coakley (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:11:47

Way to go, John-Paul! The HWDSB is bullying and corrupt and deserves nothing but confrontation -- as does the provincial Liberal/NDP school-closing coalition. If any parent is unhappy with their trustee, look into whether or not their home ownership puts them in a conflict of interest. If so, make a stink and/or sue them!

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 14:42:18

This is awesome, and more people need to grab a spine and follow your lead.

Anybody who has ever said "change is scary" is a total idiot, a graduate of the Peter principle who's way in over their head. Change for the sake of change, or some top-down agenda insulated from the people it affects most, is what's really scary.

Walkable community schools are in my opinion the single most positive force for community building, pride in your city, and healthy, happy, responsible living. The benefits go way beyond school aged families and include everyone. Slower, safer traffic, more community business activity, more general civic engagement and ownership

The forces that oppose this, including private and Catholic schools as well as urban sprawl and demographic shifts, oppose community health.

Let me make that clear: while sending your child to a religious or private school may benefit you or your child, the net effect on your community of that choice is negative, because it means far fewer walkable schools and less civic engagement in all spheres of city life.

Turn your efforts away from the false and self-defeating elitism of private and religious schools, and turn your efforts and tax dollars into making a functional public school system.

Like John-Paul is trying to do.

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By Michelle Chin (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2013 at 21:34:24

I am really happy that you have such a good handle on the ARC process and the Board than we did for the Secondary West ARC back in 2011, we mobilized in the 11th hour just before the decision came down. Not that it would have turned out differently. We were even told during our appeal that the decision would not be reversed, we could only make the process better for future ARCs...

As mild-mannered law-abiding parents, we tried desperately to work within the Board's parameters, to no avail. Last year we went to our city councillor for answers and have his support for our made-in-Dundas solution. The city does have some power in holding up the building permits and traffic studies and not playing ball in these partnerships the Board is seeking (aka they want someone else to fork out the dough).

I really feel that we need big media coverage by staging a city wide town hall with reps from both elementary and secondary schools from the North, South and West. Something that will get to the Minister to prorogue the Trustees and put all of these insane decisions on hold.


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By Today (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2013 at 08:48:20

Nice job for sure JP! I have to constantly remind myself, when you're dealing with bullies, it's not a time for what is perceived as proper etiquette. It's time to deal with the bullies head on and that's what you are doing. Well done.

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