Four days after our unsatisfactory telephone meeting with the vice-principal, we received an email from him. He had spoken to the history teachers as well as the head of the history department, and he wanted to enlighten us as to the "facts" of the multi-step project to which we had objected. Clearly he felt that our daughters had given us misinformation rather than facts. The facts, he informed us, were straightforward: the project was assigned on December 12—well before the Christmas break (although the last day of school was December 19); the kids were given three sessions in the library to work on it (two before the break and one after); and the librarian had told the students during the first library session that the notes were due the week after Christmas break (something both daughters, who are in different history classes, refute). The underlying message of the email seemed to be that our daughters were liars or slackers or both, and that any reasonable child would have been able to complete the project (over the holidays?) without undue stress.
Had he chosen to speak to any of the students in, for instance, my daughter E's class, he would have learned that the first library session was taken up with a lesson on "how to take notes," that during the second one, the computers were down (so the research session was cancelled), and during the third one, the computers were so slow that it was impossible to conduct research efficiently. Leaving aside for a moment the question of the many ways in which technology (for which the infrastructure is still mostly inadequate or unreliable) often renders school assignments more unwieldy and time-consuming than low-tech equivalents, such as, say, a persuasive essay about a topic discussed in class—leaving aside that important question for the moment, it is clear that this particular multi-step history project was not a project for which enough class or library time was allotted, nor was it designed as an in-school project, as E's teacher's admonishment that kids had better work on it over the holidays (contra the homework policy) makes clear. On paper, it may appear reasonable and doable (though even that is disputable), but the reality for the students actually carrying out the assignment is quite different; "evidence" collected solely from the teachers who designed and assigned the project cannot be expected to reflect that (student) reality.
The vice-principal's email made it clear that he was interested primarily in defending the school's practices, rather than resolving the persistent problem of teachers' collectively assigning homework that far exceeds the limits set forth in the Toronto District School Board's homework policy.
My husband and I decided, in light of the VP's follow-up email, that tackling the problem by means of reasonable—or unreasonable, expletive-laden—discussion with the school's administration was going to prove futile. After considering possible next steps, we decided to to approach our local trustee first and the school's own Mental Health and Well-Being committee second. Stay tuned.