The English Language School Board hasn’t commissioned a report on school closures, but has sought a legal opinion on future consultations about any significant changes, says the board’s superintendent.
Cynthia Fleet said if the board is going to determine that a significant change is needed at a school, it wants to ensure an appropriate process is followed involving the community and parents.
Fleet said it’s important for the whole province to have an understanding of what would be a fair process.
“It would be foolhardy of me to advise the board to go down a road where they’re going to make decisions around schools and end up in litigation and court costs at the expense of taxpayers of this province.”
The legal opinion cost about $17,000, which Fleet said the Education Department paid for.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers raised the issue during a legislative education and innovation committee meeting Tuesday in Charlottetown where Fleet and the board’s leader of curriculum development, Tammy Hubley-Little, gave a presentation to the MLAs.
Myers said he had a letter in response to a Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection (FOIPP) request that showed it was a legal opinion.
The Guardian also sent FOIPP requests to the Education Department and the school board seeking a copy of any reports about school closures.
The department responded that it didn’t have any such reports.
In response to the request to the board, The Guardian was told there was not a report, but rather the legal opinion, which could not be released.
Myers asked Fleet why the school board would use lawyers in preparing for consultations.
“Lawyers don’t have any expertise in public consultation on education,” he said.
He also said it appears that through some “secret deal” with the legal bill Fleet has commissioned a report telling her how to close schools.
“The fact that you’re using lawyers in this process says something vastly different than you’re looking out for the welfare of students,” he said.
Fleet responded by telling Myers that as superintendent she is not involved in politics and said he was saying in an “accusatory way” that something secretive was going on.
She wasn’t able to finish before Myers interrupted and asked for the report.
Fleet repeated there wasn’t a report.
When Myers replied that it was secret, Fleet said it was a matter of solicitor-client privilege and will be made public when the trustees are ready to begin consultations.
“It is confidential,” she said.
Fleet also clarified previous comments reported in the media about school closures and said she had been asked before if the board trustees had a plan to look at the number of schools in P.E.I.
“I’ve never said that schools will be closed in this province.”