Interview with Mr. Montgomery about dismantled Linux lab

Many people have been asking for for more details on the high-school teacher who had his Linux Lab dismantled. Mr. Montgomery has offered to do a question-and-answer with us.

He is one of the computer teachers at Monarch Park Collegiate, a school that is part of the Toronto District School Board. He has set up a Canadian Education BLOG to further discuss relevant issues. I have sent a set of questions to the principal and the trustee for this school, to try to learn more of the reasoning behind the decision.

Thank you to Mr. Montgomery for doing this interview.

Q: What happened? What was the lab being used for, and how long was it in operation? Who set up the lab?

The head of School Wide Services, Mr. Terry Wister, removed all of the linux computers from room 218 at Monarch Park Collegiate, while I was at lunch, on Wednesday, June 21, 2006. The lab had been in operation for 5 years. You can find a time/date stamped discussion of when I started at: http://casestudy.seul.org/cgi-bin/caseview0.pl.

I used the lab for a very wide range of purposes, every day and for every class that I was assigned, from computer science and computer engineering courses, to business and ESL (English as a Second Language) class. I found it be so reliable, flexible, easy to manage, etc. that I have recommended on several occasions that it be expanded to cross curricular use, etc. Easily the best systems I have ever used in more than 35 years of using computers of all sorts. As an example, just the use of easyurpmi alone made the job of installing and selecting software a joy with just a click of a few buttons! I set up the lab from scratch, installing, updating, configuring and selecting software during the past 5 years.

(Editors note: The Monarch Park entry in the above case study database, is dated September 2001).

Q: Who made the decision to dismantle the lab, and do you know if it is based on personal opinion or some board or province-wide policy or decision?

This decision was made by the principal, Mr. Rob MacKinnon. I would not presume to speak for Mr. MacKinnon, and would suggest you contact him directly for written statements, etc. However, I did make my thoughts known to him that I thought this decision was harmful to student education, future opportunities, and possibly based on misleading, faulty information. Further, this has completely disrupted several software projects that I was working on for the benefit of children.

Q: What was the reason given for dismantling your lab?

As mentioned above, I would contact the principal, Mr. Rob MacKinnon for written statements, the basis for his decision, etc. I have suggested that this decision be reviewed, in light of the harm that this will cause to freedom of choice, freedom to study, future educational and employment opportunities, etc.

Q: Do you know if there are any board-wide or provincial policies that would preclude the use of Linux or other FLOSS in the classroom?

The current TDSB Information Technology policies is blank!?

They can be found at www.tdsb.on.ca and selecting Boardroom from the menu, then policies. Selecting information technology will return "No documents".

Q: Did your lab require any external resources be provided by the school or board, such as additional IT staff? Did you administrate the Lab yourself?

I did all administration for the lab, for all courses. I have also requested a Linux computer for my use for school purposes next year, regardless of my timetable, etc., since I find it far more flexible, reliable, configurable, etc. than the current CTMI (Microsoft based) systems used in the school. Even when the network was down, we logged into the Linux computers, and classes were unaffected, while the CTMI labs were not even able to login during network downtimes. Further, I have suggested that since I do not agree with Microsoft EULAs, I do not use Microsoft products, and therefore require a Linux computer for school work, etc. Also, I use Linux on my home computer as well, for any school work, etc. and do not use Microsoft products at home. I've also suggested a Linux lab and/or dual boot lab so that my students will have the freedom of choice, easy access, freedom to study and learn about alternatives, regardless of my timetable. In other words, my decisions are student-based.

It would be fascinating to compare my Linux lab experiences with other labs in the system. For example, my software costs for the past five years is...zero! I would estimate that the TDSB (and the Province of Ontario) is spending and sending millions of tax dollars to Microsoft each year in licensing fees, upgrade fees, maintenance fees, and a tremendous amount of money is also spent on dealing with a large number of support issues, etc. My attempts to date to find any of this information have been unsuccessful. I would have thought that this information would be public and easily available.