BC School District bans public comment at board meetings over anti-LGBTQ remarks
An interior BC school district has decided to indefinitely suspend a comment period at its biweekly school board meetings because of “discriminatory comments” from members of the public who attend them.
On Thursday, the Central Okanagan School District (SD23), based in Kelowna, BC, announced that the 15-minute second comment period – during which public participants are allowed to speak on any topic of their choosing – at the board meeting to be held on March 8th. March.
The district said it is canceling comments during the second comment period made in person or remotely on Zoom, the online platform where the meetings will be livestreamed. It said the suspension would continue pending an overhaul of guidelines for school board meetings.
The Central Okanagan Board of Education holds a board meeting every other Wednesday. The first comment period, which also lasts 15 minutes, allows public comments, but because the school district requires them to be made on items listed on the agenda of meetings, it limits the possibility of verbal abuse on unrelated topics.
The school district’s press release does not mention the nature of the “discriminatory comments” it said were recently made, but trustee Chantelle Desrosiers of West Kelowna confirms they contained anti-LGBTQ sentiment and language.
Desrosiers says these comments were primarily aimed at board members, but they caused students and staff to feel unsafe.
“There was a range of religious commentary and quotations from the Bible that marginalized a diverse, other-religious population in our community,” she told host Chris Walker on CBC Daybreak South.
“Our staff are there to support our students – they are not there to be pedophiles and carers in your comments about them.”
“We do not tolerate bullying or harassment”
support According to Kevin Kaardal, the school district is committed to providing a safe work environment for employees, students and trustees.
“Public schools continue to support SOGI learning and encourage inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ people because all students and staff need to be safe to learn and work.
“We have zero tolerance for bullying or harassment in our schools, and we will not give the public space to harass any staff member, student or trustee with intolerance towards marginalized communities,” Kaardal said in a written statement.
SOGI123 is a set of policies and programs adopted by the BC education system that aim to create inclusive classrooms for 2SLGBTQ students and staff. It became the target of a controversial billboard set up in the West Bank First Nation near Kelowna last month.
The billboard that was removed raises questions about the validity of SOGI123 and suggests that parents are kept in the dark about the conversations their children are having at school about gender identity.
School board chair Lee-Ann Tiede said parent concerns about SOGI123 are something the school board has not addressed in recent months, but the school board has heard staff and students say they are reluctant due to some public comments felt unsafe at board meetings.
“We welcome public contributions, but we must provide a safe and respectful workplace,” Tiede said in a written statement. “The second comment period became a platform for some members of the public to make discriminatory comments and disrupt the work of the board.”
In the meantime, the school district is asking the public to report their concerns to the board of directors by phone, fax, or email as listed on the school district’s website.