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Surrey spends thousands to mail blank report cards

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The Surrey School District is spending thousands of dollars on postage to mail out mostly blank report cards.

While student report cards are usually given to students who then carry them home, this year, due to ongoing job action by teachers, the documents are being sent via Canada Post.

No firm figure on the postage costs could be provided, but with a regular letter costing 59 cents, and upwards of 70,000 students enrolled in the district, conservative estimates put the tab at more than $40,000.

As part of provincewide job action that began in September, B.C. teachers are refusing to do administrative-type work, which includes distribution of communication from principals.

Preparing report cards (except Grade 12 marks required for graduation, post-secondary applications and scholarship purposes) and distributing them is included in that job action.

Report cards this fall include little information except for attendance, course and teacher names, unless a course happens to be taught by a principal, who will provide a grade and/or comment.

According to Surrey School District spokesperson Doug Strachan, the mass mailing is necessary due in part to logistics. At an average elementary school, for example, a principal would have to hand out between 300 and 500 individual report cards. For high schools, the numbers would triple.

Strachan also said there will be an accompanying letter from the district superintendent enclosed with each report card and the district doesn’t want students caught in the middle of the labour dispute.

“We need to make sure it gets home with all the information that accompanies it and explains the situation,” said Strachan.

In the letter to parents, Supt. Mike McKay explains that the B.C. School Act requires students receive a minimum of three reports per year.

“It is for this reason that schools throughout the province are sending home report cards even though the documents are unlikely to include a student’s academic progress,” McKay writes, adding that teachers will continue to communicate student development through things such as individual feedback, assignment marks and tests.

Denise Moffatt, president of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, sees the government’s insistence that blank report cards be issued as political manoeuvre aimed at drawing negative attention to the job action.

“They’re following the letter of the law, but they’re not following the spirit of the law,” Moffatt said.

As for Surrey’s decision to mail report cards, she said there are other distribution methods available and the cost is “certainly” a concern.

“In the big scheme of things it’s a very small part of the school district’s budget, but when we’ve been seeing successive cutbacks... every dollar counts,” said Moffatt.

In the neighbouring Delta School District, report cards will not be mailed.

Most secondary school students and parents, except for those at North Delta Secondary (NDS), will have access to report cards online through a secure website called Parent Connect.

At NDS and elementary schools across Delta, report cards will be distributed to students at school next week.

“All the principals are organizing them being handed out,” said Delta’s manager of communications, Deneka Michaud.

Most report cards in both districts go home – whether by hand or by mail – next week.

In October, the B.C. Public School Employers Association applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to force teachers to prepare and distribute report cards. On Wednesday, labour board adjudicator Michael Fleming dismissed the application, as well as a demand that teachers hand over 15 per cent of their salary and benefits to reimburse the employer for duties teachers are refusing to do.

sreynolds@surreyleader.com

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