School punishes 12-year-old whistleblower

School punishes 12-year-old whistleblower

Revealed “French dumbed-down to detrimental level”

By Robert Frank

School officials have taught a Macdonald High School grade seven student that those who rock the boat will face recrimination.

Principal Jad Deegan suspended the 12-year-old boy 48 hours after his father, Martin Roloff, revealed on CBC Daybreak, Oct 8, that classes in one of the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s vaunted French immersion programs are, in fact, being taught in English.

“The course was, unknown to us at the time, conducted entirely in English last year, then fraudulently documented as a French course on the government recognized report card,” Roloff alleged in a prior electronic mail exchange with Deegan.

Roloff contacted Deegan on the first day of classes, Sept. 2, after he learned that his older son’s French-immersion class had been conducted entirely in English during the 2013-2014 school year.

“I can assure you that the teachers who are teaching the Éthique et culture religieuse [course] at Mac this year are aware that the course must be taught in French,” Deegan reassured in an e-mail reply, Sept. 4.

Two weeks later, Roloff’s youngest son came home and told him that his class was also being taught in English this year.

Because the boy’s feedback was at odds with Deegan’s reassurances, Roloff gave the boy a digital audio recorder to record the class and find out whose version was correct.

The Suburban listened to the audio, which revealed that the teacher indeed taught the class in English, with occasional lapses into broken French. At one point, a student corrects the teacher after he refers to “…une belle lac.”

“I believe you are aware that your child recorded a teacher in class without his permission,” Deegan wrote in a letter to Roloff after he suspended the child whistleblower.

Though the recording was not illegal, the school principal asserted that the boy had violated school board policies that are designed to protect against cyberbullying, sexting and child exploitation.

“As a parent, you are one of the key players [whom] we count on to help keep Macdonald High School a safe and harmonious place,” Deegan concluded.

Deegan subsequently told The Suburban that he would not comment.

“I cannot speak about individual children,” he said. “About specific children, it’s impossible to talk to anyone but their parents.”

Deegan did talk to reporters in 2010, after he meted out a three-hour detention to an 11-year-old boy, after a schoolgirl kissed him on the cheek.

“That was St. Patrick school, many, many years ago,” he replied.

Families flee to French schools

Roloff who is an elected member of the school’s governing board, invited Deegan to meet “All the parents we’ve so far encountered who are equally disillusioned with Macdonald High School’s ability to make good on its advertised French immersion program.”

“We are concerned that the standards of French education have been dumbed-down to a detrimental level,” Roloff complained. “This allows more students to succeed, giving the school board the opportunity to trumpet high levels of success.”

“The continued increase of English-eligible families choosing [to enroll their children in] the French school system underscores the continued erosion of confidence in the English school system,” he emphasized.

Roloff said that he wants the school to imbue his children with strong French-language abilities that will permits them to fully function in Quebec society.

“If I could go back in time, I would have put my kids in French school from day one,” he told The Suburban. “I was duped into believing that English schools could deliver a quality French education.”

Roloff doesn’t believe that the school board’s cyberbullying policy outweighed the need to determine clearly whether school was delivering the French education that it said it was.

“The students and their parents are being ripped off by the school’s lack of transparency and honesty,” Roloff concluded. “I’m proud of my son, who understands that sometimes you have to step outside convention for the greater good.”

Stein Day: “That’s not whistleblowing”

LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day, who is running for reelection, Nov. 2, declined to comment specifically on Roloff’s son’s suspension.

She told The Suburban that the school board has a policy on reporting financial fraud and misconduct, but that disclosure “about the quality of education in schools and the language of instruction is not whistleblowing.”

“The school erred in not informing parents and recording on transcripts [the language of instruction],” Stein Day acknowledged. “I don’t call that whistleblowing. I call that complaining about a situation.”

She added that LBPSB can’t replace teachers who aren’t proficient in French.

“We only have a certain number of teaching staff which we can’t change and the collective agreement won’t let us fire any teachers,” Stein Day explained. “They are excellent teachers who are unable to teach in French. We don’t want to fire them but, when they retire, our policy is to hire francophones or bilingual anglophones proficient in both languages so we can continually increase instruction in French.”

Stein Day’s opponent in the Nov. 2 election Angela Nolet suggested that could ask the school to rescind the suspension and called for greater transparency.

“They could ask for it to be removed from the behaviour record,” Nolet told The Suburban. “I think at the beginning of the year when the school realized that it couldn’t provide a French teacher that it should have sent out a letter advising parents.”

“Parents need to feel that they can talk to the school openly and honestly,” she added. “You feel bad when parents don’t feel that they can do so.”

“It doesn’t say much for LBPSB’s digital citizenship program,” added Chris Eustace, who is also running for chair. “The school board is not being up front with parents, and suspending a 12-year-old kid for revealing it is absurd.”

“French instruction should never have been dumbed-down in the first place,” he concluded. “That is why we’re losing hundreds of students to the French sector.”

[Note: Due to a cut-and-paste error in the original version of this report, Stein Day was misquoted as saying that LBPSB can’t replace teachers who aren’t proficient in English. This version of the report has been corrected to read that she said that LBPSB can’t replace teachers who aren’t proficient in French.]

School suspended Martin Roloff’s (right) son after he disclosed to CBC Daybreak listeners that some LBPSB French immersion classes are taught in English. LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day (left), who is seeking re-election, said the boy was “not a whistleblower”.

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