School board communication officers are more focused on obfuscating than clarifying

Michael-ZwaagstraIn early May, a social media post from the Waterloo Regional District School Board (WRDSB) about including Indigenous content in its English curriculum ended with the following line: “This post was created with the assistance of #AI, but is made better by humans!”

Critics were quick to point out the irony of using AI to write a social media post highlighting Indigenous perspectives in schools.

Given that the WRDSB has a large communications team, it should have been easy for one of its so-called communications officers to write a social media post without using artificial intelligence.

However, there’s a more important issue to consider. Namely, why does every large school board employ a virtual army of communications officers in the first place?

school boards communications officers

Photo by Alex Shuper

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Journalists who want to discover what is happening in a school are invariably redirected to a communications officer. Instead of getting clear answers to specific questions, journalists receive generic talking points that share next to no information about the topic at hand.

The WRDSB website says that all media requests “must be made through the communication team.” When journalists contacted the WRDSB about its AI-generated social media posts, no one was available for an interview. Instead, the WRDSB emailed a generic statement acknowledging the “confusion and harm” that resulted from this controversy.

The fact that no one from the WRDSB communication team bothered to pick up the phone and explain how this mistake happened tells us everything we need to know about their tendency to obfuscate rather than clarify.

Some school boards assign their communications officers other tasks, such as creating calendars for every imaginable holy day, no matter how few people observe it in Canada. As a case in point, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) Days of Significance calendar lists everything from the Wiccan holiday of Imbolc to the Zoroastrian holiday of Farvardegan.

No doubt it takes a lot of time to create a calendar like this. Keeping this calendar up to date every year is a surefire way to keep plenty of communications officers on the payroll.

An even better way to drum up business is to do something controversial that necessitates having communications officers available to craft a media response. This is exactly what happened when the PDSB recently decided to add Nakba Day to their official calendar.

Nakba Day is a highly contentious day on which Palestinians protest the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Adding Nakba Day to the PDSB calendar after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks against Israel took place sent a clear message to Jewish students that they are not welcome in the PDSB.

Unsurprisingly, the PDSB’s director of education and board chair declined media interviews on this topic, although a PDSB spokesperson (a.k.a. communications officer) sent out a generic email stating that they “value the diversity” of their communities and explained that they have a committee that reviews applications for proposed days of observance.

Instead of worrying about whether AI is being used to generate social media posts, taxpayers should wonder why school boards are using communications officers as information gatekeepers.

It’s time for school board chairs, superintendents, and principals to spend more time talking to the public themselves.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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