Instead of abolishing school boards the government needs to address the root causes of children having difficulty in school including lead exposure
On Tuesday April 6, I spoke in the Manitoba Legislature in a Members Statement on the need for the provincial government to act to address the root causes of student's poor school performance. I specifically mentioned lead exposure as it is a preventable cause of learning disabilities, behavioural issues and poor school performance. Instead of acting to screen children and prevent problems with lead exposure, the government is abolishing school boards. The government needs to act to address learning disabilities and behavioural problems in children. It is an example of a measure which could significantly help the effort to improve the educational outcomes of Manitoba children.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, the government has raised concerns that our students' performance on international tests could be better. The government has settled on elected school boards as the scapegoat and is acting to abolish them. This is not the answer.
All the evidence shows 10 to 20 per cent of Manitoba children struggle in school because of a learning disability or a behavioural issue or because their family has a low income or is disadvantaged or marginalized.
Many school boards have been active to help such children. The board of the Seine River School Division puts extra resources into schools where many students struggle. It has made a difference. They have moved the school division from once being below average to one that is now above average.
School boards are the solution, not the problem. Manitoba should keep elected school boards.
The provincial government can and should take other methods to improve student performance. For example, the government should recognize the role that lead exposure plays in decreasing children's potential. Last September, Manitoba Liberals released a report on this. In January 2020, the government released a report from Intrinsik. It predicted a high proportion of children in some areas of Winnipeg will have high blood lead levels in the range where the lead exposure will decrease their potential, but no action has been taken.
Many children in other jurisdictions are screened early in life to detect high blood lead levels, and then such children are helped. In Manitoba, the former NDP government hid information on lead exposure. The current government is continuing to hide information by not formally screening children who are at high risk for lead exposure.
I call on the government to act to screen children now to reduce the impact of lead and to improve the school performance of Manitoba children.