In today’s blog we want to talk about the actions taken by the Greater Victoria School Board (SD61) to censure and suspend two of their trustees on Friday.
A foundational source that speaks to the issues is this excellent article by Patti Bacchus, former Vancouver School Board Chair:
BCEdAccess’ board collaborated with the advisory council to discuss this and other similar incidents at school districts across the province. At the root of the concerns raised during this conversation are transparency, procedural fairness, and accountability. Questions were raised:
Where in the School Act does it give boards the authority to suspend trustees from their duties in this way?
Where can the public find the policy and procedures that are followed when these situations arise?
If trustees are to be censured and suspended from their duties, then we believe the public has a right to know the details, including the cost of this investigation using public funds intended for student services and supports, so that we can decide for ourselves whether the action, which prevents trustees from performing their elected duties, was warranted.
Without transparency, it is difficult to determine if the response by the SD61 board is proportional to the offence committed. We know that other boards have made multiple public statements before taking action to censure trustees.
Trustees have no accessible options to defend themselves against the potential for irreparable harm to their public image that can result from actions such as this. Their only recourse to address it is through the BC Court of Appeal, and at their own expense. The cost of legal fees for an appeal is about $30,000.
While our justice system has been widening it’s approaches and expanding reconciliation as a part of it’s process, we are continuing to see this punitive and colonial approach, even though adversarial procedures often conclude with outcomes that do not satisfy the community goals we collectively share. School board procedure at all levels should model the relationship and connection needed for reconciliation and healing through something like mediation, for example.
Robust procedures must be in place to support school boards in managing conflict and holding its members accountable. Actions must be taken to ensure safety and privacy for individuals involved without compromising transparent communication and engagement with the public.
An important part of any working team is balancing the elements of trust, collaboration and conflict. School districts must maintain a high standard to ensure that citizens know that their elected trustees are free to ask questions and speak into controversial issues, so that human rights for ALL students and staff are upheld.
As an organization we advocate for equitable access to education for students in British Columbia. Our advocacy work connects us to school boards and their procedures and decisions. These connect to a system that must be accountable, transparent and democratic. The recent events have led to many reflections and stimulated much conversation as to our role as an organization and as individual voters. There will be more to come in the future on this topic.