06/01/2012 12:36 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Suspended Edmonton teacher expects to be sacked for handing out zeros

EDMONTON - A teacher suspended for giving students zeros says he plans to continue his fight and hopefully spark a wider debate on where caring ends and coddling begins.

"This is not the best thing for students, so I decided to take a stand on it," Lynden Dorval, a teacher at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton, said Friday.

"These are high school students. These are not little kids. It's time to become an adult and take responsibility for your own actions."

Dorval, 61, has been suspended by the Edmonton Public School Board for refusing for more than a year to stop handing out zeros for assignments that haven't been completed.

The physics teacher said he knew that his action would lead to an equal and opposite reaction from the board.

"I think now that I've gone public it's guaranteed I'll be terminated," he said. "I'm embarrassing my employer, not being a good employee.

"But I was prepared for that. I have 35 years (in). I can collect my pension."

He said he plans to appeal the indefinite suspension by arguing the principal who ordered the no-zero policy was acting beyond his authority.

Dorval, born in Thunder Bay, Ont., and raised in Edmonton, has taught chemistry and later physics.

He said things changed a year and a half ago when the principal ordered "out of the blue" that zeros would no longer be handed out.

Instead, students who didn't turn in their reports or write exams would have to make up the work.

Edgar Schmidt, superintendent of the Edmonton Public School Board, said principals have been given latitude based on research.

The theory, he said, is that a zero doesn't reflect a student's knowledge of a course. Missing an assignment may actually indicate behaviour problems or other issues.

Schmidt said the more effective method is to get a student to do the work through additional classes, after school or at home.

"It's much better for us to let students know they're not let off the hook by not completing assignments," he said.

"Sometimes just indicating a zero can be interpreted we're just giving up on you and you're not worth the effort — and that's the piece we do not want to see happen."

Dorval said getting kids to make up missed work is a lot different on the front lines.

"There's too much manpower involved," he said.

"Tracking them down is just a huge hassle and even then there's still no incentive for them to come. You make an appointment for them to come and write (a make-up exam) and they don't show up anyways.

"To me (the zero) works incredibly well. I show them what their (overall) mark is with the zero and it's up to them to come to me."

Dorval's suspension has led to parents filling radio airwaves and editorial columns and lighting up phones at the school, the school board and at the Education Department.

Many are praising Dorval as the new "Hero of Zero" standing alone against New Age gobbledygook that empowers kids to get something for nothing, while ill preparing them for life in post-secondary schools or the working world.

Schmidt said he's heard the concerns.

"We're hearing from parents. They're seeing this in a very over-simplified kind of way," he said.

"What we're trying to explain is that students can fail courses if they don't do the work.

"Kids are not given the opportunity to game the system."

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is monitoring the situation but has no plans to get involved, said his spokeswoman, Kim Capstick.

"We don't have a policy on grading. Albertans elect school boards for this," said Capstick.

"(But) we want (students) to be able to pass the diploma exams at the end of the day, to show they've learned things."

Dorval suggested it's really about bottom lines. Schmidt, he said, is gunning for a 100 per cent completion rate in high school within a decade.

"To me the principal has decided this is a way of raising the marks, pushing an extra few kids through by inflating their marks by not counting zeros."

Not true, said Schmidt.

"That's absolutely not the case. I think that what you'll find is quite the opposite — that the increases in the high school completion rate are due to the fact that students are learning more."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the school's name spelled incorrectly.