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New Westminster parent appealing district's $1,385 FOI bill

Fellow parents offer to chip in and help cover the cost

Local parent Lisa Chao is appealing a $1,385 bill that the school district would charge to cover the cost of photocopying and research for her information request for Grade 8-12 math marks for students at New Westminster Secondary School.

But even if her appeal doesn't go through, Chao might not have to dig into her own pocket to cover the bill.

Chao said several parents have contacted her and offered to contribute to the cost or to fundraise.

Paul Johansen, past-president of the district parent advisory council, said he's also heard from parents who are willing to cough up cash to help cover the bill.

"Three people have committed to donate, others have suggested a fundraiser to raise money, if needed," said Johansen. "This affects a lot of parents."

Chao recently filed a freedom-of-information request asking for all math marks for Grades 8-12 students at New Westminster secondary school for the past five years, indexed by year, course, semester and teacher.

The district told Chao that the information she requested would be 1,700 pages long.

"In 1,700 pages ... you're burying something," Chao said. "What are you trying to hide? Yes, we'll give you a needle and here's the haystack we are giving it to you in."

Chao and Kal Randhawa are two of several parents who have been speaking out about what they believe to be an unusually high failure rate in classes taught by a certain teacher. They say a significant number of students in the teacher's classes were failing and they want the district to address the situation.

They also have concerns about the district's handling of parent complaints. Chao and Randhawa went through the complain process but never felt their concerns were heard.

Eventually they went to the media. The district did respond to the situation by reviewing the marks for the math class - Foundations of Math 11 - from last semester and bumping up students' grades in an effort to resolve the issue.

But the move didn't please Chao and Randhawa.

"Our goal is not for our children to get an A," said Chao. "Our goal was for our children to learn math. We still don't know if that was achieved.

"There's so many different facets to this now," she said. "I think that this teacher needs to be assessed. I think that we've discovered that teachers in New Westminster are not annually reviewed at N-dub. It appears no one has had an assessment or review ... in over five years."

Board of education chair James Janzen said the district has to "be really careful about personnel issues, and privacy issues for students as well."

Janzen admitted that the district received a number of letters from parents.

"It's our staff that deals with them," he said. "First, they go to the principal and if they are not happy, assistant superintendent. So staff tries to work out a resolution to the problem. They did that over the last two or three weeks of the semester."

The district is currently reviewing the complaint process, which Janzen said could use some updating to deal with a rider range of complaints.

In terms of the FOI request, Janzen suggested The Record interview assistant superintendent Al Balanuik. He could not be reached at press time.

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