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Board eyes sidestepping teachers on sports coaches

Policy would be Ontario’s first to not require direct supervision

 By Richard Leitner, News Staff

 Hamilton’s public school board could become the first in Ontario to let outside volunteers coach extracurricular sports without teacher supervision.

Board vice-chair Todd White said a draft new volunteer policy hopes to enhance students’ extracurricular opportunities and isn’t an attempt to sidestep labour disputes where teachers withdraw from volunteer activities.

But he said trustees first want to hear what the public and other stakeholders think before proceeding with the policy, which would also apply to extracurricular activities other than sports.

Senior staff and the board’s principals’ council oppose the new approach, arguing it will potentially harm labour relations and increase the workload of principals because they will become “the de facto supervisor” in place of teachers.

White, chair of a subcommittee that drafted the changes, said the proposed policy is only intended to apply during “a functioning, regular school year,” although its wording is silent on what happens if teachers go on strike or work to rule.

He said trustees aren’t endorsing the policy and are open to making changes or going in another direction entirely depending on the feedback.

The policy is posted on the board’s website as part of a 30-day public consultation that ends May 29.

“The goal is to create a net benefit of more volunteers. This isn’t meant to cause labour strife and have teachers and current volunteers pull out,” the Ward 5 trustee said, adding he personally won’t support the policy if it applies during “labour troubles.”

“In fact, we want to enhance that so we maintain our current group of volunteers and then we add more non-staff volunteers on top of that.”

In a report to an April 10 meeting of White’s policy committee, senior staff opposed the proposed changes, raising several concerns, including the potential damage to labour relations and impact on relationships between students and teachers.

It also argued the policy will force principals to supervise non-staff volunteers, “taking them away from their role as instructional leaders.”

“No Board in the province allows for extra-curricular activities without staff advisors,” the report states.

White said principals would have the ultimate say on whether to accept an outside volunteer where no teacher advisor exists, but couldn’t reject such volunteers “as a blanket statement.”

The outside volunteers would undergo police checks, receive training and be required to adhere to all board policies, and parents would be notified of the lack of teacher supervision, he said.

“The number one concern is the safety of students, so the training that the non-staff volunteer would go through would be incredibly vigorous,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from the Hamilton local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation were unsuccessful by deadline.

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