Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and FLOSS

I sent a copy of the Letter to the Ontario Minister of Education about software policy. I asked if if school boards are under Access to Information legislation, as well as any exclusive agreements or policy that school boards of the province may have with software vendors that would exclude teachers from using alternatives. My trustee forwarded the letter to staff.

The following is the reply from Laura McAlister, Superintendent of Curriculum, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, dated July 3, 2006.

(Also published on p2pnet)

Dear Sir,

Your email of June 26, 2006 to Chair Graham and Trustee Brockington has been forwarded to me for response..

You have raised a number of issues in your letter, which I will attempt to address here.

School Boards fall under all applicable FOI legislation.

In the case of the OCDSB, there is no exclusivity clause with any software manufacturer that restricts our schools [to] any particular format or vendor’s software. The OCDSB currently supports two OS environments at the classroom level, those being Windows and Macintosh. Linux is installed in a few of our schools on a standalone basis, where software that will run on it is used in the curriculum. There is considerable interest in expanding the use of ‘open-source’ applications in our schools.

Challenges that face school districts such as ours when considering the incorporation of new applications or operating environments into an existing framework include: central authentication, file storage and security, costs of obtaining software, which for the most part today is free to schools courtesy of the OSAPAC program ( ), adapting new applications into existing curriculum, security, staff training, portability, adaptability.

At the OCDSB, computers are used across the curriculum, and the current direction is moving toward centralized Learning Management Systems (LMS) that will facilitate blended e-Learning by the student virtually anywhere. Thus it presents a challenge when new operating systems like Linux are planned for introduction – the student must have the same system at school, from classroom to classroom, and from home.

Potential benefits from open-source (Linux) products that would be useful today could be to provide access to application software into a remote desktop, an area that Linux does particularly well.

I believe you belong to an organization, “GOSLING”, which in part exists to promote the use of FLOSS / Linux applications, and by extension the link between governments, schools and industry through the FLOSS mandate. Perhaps you or a member of your organization can assist school districts such as ours with meeting these challenges.

Finally, in reference to the main text of your letter concerning the Toronto-area high school lab, I cannot comment directly, but once again a general comment that applies at the OCDSB as well must be considered. School districts are networked by a very complex and extensive suite of products. Availability must be almost 24 / 7, and staff’s ability to troubleshoot and repair in a timely manner is severely limited due to workload. Network design including operating systems must take this into account. If the Toronto situation arose at the OCDSB, we too would likely disconnect an ad-hoc lab installation from the network. It wouldn’t be a result of software manufacturer arrangements, but simply due to technical and support concerns.

Thank you for raising your concerns.

Laura McAlister

The letter was also copied to the following people at the board:

Leanne Hotte, Administrative Assistant to Laura McAlister

Monica Ceschia, Manager of Board Services

Dave Miller, Assistant Manager of Business & Learning Technologies

And the following trustees:

Bronwyn Funiciello
Lynn Graham
Riley Brockington