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Updated: 18th October 2018 01:26

Mother upset by 'intimidating' call from Calgary Board of Education lawyer

A Calgary mother says she felt intimidated when instead of being contacted by an administrative representative for the Calgary Board of Education over a school fees issue, she was instead contacted by their lawyer.

Karen Dietrich refused to pay a $285 noon-hour supervision fee required by the board

Karen Dietrich was upset after getting a call from a Calgary Board of Education lawyer after she complained about a $285 lunch-hour supervision fee. (Associated Press/Submitted by Karen Dietrich)

A Calgary mother says she felt intimidated when instead of being contacted by an administrative representative for the Calgary Board of Education over a school fees issue, she was instead contacted by their lawyer.

Karen Dietrich said her initial concern was in regards to paying a $285 lunchroom supervision fee for her Grade 6 child and was addressed to CBE administration — which she never heard back from.

Instead, she received a phone call and email from their lawyer.

In the email — which has been viewed by the CBC News — the CBE's counsel indicated that Dietrich had been contacted by her area director Darlene Unruh about her complaint.

Dietrich says that's untrue.

"The more I thought on it, the more intimidating it became, 'Why am I receiving a call and then subsequent email from CBE legal counsel, instead of another more appropriate representative?'" she asked at Tuesday's public board meeting.

"I refuse to be intimidated by a call or email."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the CBE's chief superintendent, David Stevenson, said they appreciate that receiving a call directly from their counsel could be intimidating for a parent.

"But it was certainly not the intention of the call," he said.

Calgary Board of Education Chief Superintendent Dave Stevenson says he can appreciate that a parent receiving a call from the school board's lawyer could be perceived as intimidating. (CBC)

Stevenson said the lawyer was responding to questions related to the legal obligation of the CBE to provide supervision for students and their duty of care responsibilities.

"As these questions were legal in nature, it was determined that his department was best suited to respond," Stevenson said.

Refused to pay fee

The issue, according to Dietrich, stems from the CBE's decision to take away yellow school bus service from five alternative schools and now sees the majority of those children using Calgary Transit instead.

Such is the case for Dietrich's Grade 6 child, who now takes public transit alone and unsupervised to get to school.

The decision prompted Dietrich to take a stance by refusing to pay a $285 noon-hour supervision fee required by the board for students in Grade 1 to Grade 6 who stay at school for lunch.

Karen Dietrich says her child has to take public transit alone and unsupervised since the removal of yellow bus services, so why would lunch be any different. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"If Grade 6s can take public transit alone, then certainly they can eat without paid supervision," she said.

The CBE says they're not mandated to provide yellow bus service — but also aren't forcing families to use public transit.

"I know that was the message that a lot of parents received — that you're being moved to transit — where in fact, what we're saying is, we're just not providing the transportation anymore," said CBE board chair Trina Hurdman.

CBE says fees not connected

Stevenson said CBE transportation and noon-hour supervision fees aren't connected, and the noon-hour supervision fee is charged to all students in grades 1 to 6 who stay at school for lunch, regardless of how they're transported to and from school.

Further, he said it states in the CBE's regulations that when a student accesses public transportation services, the parent is responsible for supervising the student's access and use of the service. 

"This is different than yellow school bus service, where the CBE has a duty to ensure that there is adequate supervision of students while on the bus and when arriving at and departing from school," he said. 

"Parents are also responsible for supervision of students travelling to and from the bus stop and while at the bus stop when accessing yellow bus service."

Dietrich said the way this situation has been dealt with and the lack of communication she's had from the board's administration frustrates her.

"I don't have legal representation. I'm simply a mom. A concerned parent," she said. "I work hard to stay involved in my kids' education and I advocate for better engagement between parents and CBE."

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