Vancouver school board censures two NPA trustees over controversial videos
The Vancouver School Board passed a motion Monday (January 16) to re-affirm its support for the district’s anti-homophobia policy, as it voted to censure two NPA trustees for their comments that surfaced in controversial videos last month.
COPE trustee Allan Wong said the censure motion was unprecedented in his 12 years on the school board.
“This two-part motion is about ensuring our students—all our students, parents, staff—are aware of our anti-homophobia policy, and it is clear that this board tonight takes this issue of anti-homophobia seriously and passionately,” he said. “It’s crucial to make it unequivocal that this board is committed to continue making our schools safe.”
Wong’s motion was opposed by the NPA’s three representatives on the board, but won the support of all Vision Vancouver trustees, including board chair Patti Bacchus.
“The board stands firmly behind its anti-homophobic policy that has been in place since 2004,” said Bacchus following the meeting. “The message is that our schools are safe, they are welcoming, they are inclusive—for all families, all staff and all students—and we will stand by that, and that we will condemn any actions to the contrary.”
Bacchus said the censure motion arose from what she called the “mis-representation” of the board’s anti-homophobia policy through comments made by NPA trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo.
The first video that surfaced last month featured Denike and Woo speaking about their concerns with an anti-bullying booklet for teachers published in 2006.
The second video was filmed at a Christian Social Concern Fellowship gathering, and featured Denike and Woo speaking about possible changes to the school curriculum involving LGBT issues, and implying that Vancouver only has a general anti-discrimination policy, and not a specific anti-homophobia policy.
Denike called Monday’s motion “a total ambush”. He said the NPA trustees don’t have a problem with the district’s anti-homophobia policy, but that their concern was with what he called a lack of oversight from the board over the use of “sensitive material”.
Denike said the material that sparked the controversy was posted in a link through the Out in Schools anti-bullying booklet to a gay men’s health website that included what he called an “explicit” video. The booklet has since been reprinted with the link removed.
“I do not have a difficulty with the policy as it’s set out,” said Denike. “I think we have a difficulty in terms of oversight. This board has not taken responsibility to oversight, and that’s the issue I raised with it.”
“We have been very supportive of the anti-bullying and anti-homophobic guidelines, but as trustees, we are responsible of oversight of age-appropriate materials, and we are responsible with keeping parents informed,” said Woo.
NPA trustee Fraser Ballantyne spoke against the censure motion and accused Bacchus as chairperson of "political gamesmanship".
"There may have been some misinterpretations, but to take it to censure is above and beyond, and I think a cruel personal attack to try and get some political points," he said.
The board’s vote on the motion Monday evening was followed by a heated question period, as members of the public spoke out both in favour and against the board’s move, and some speakers were heckled by audience members.
Several speakers directed questions and comments to the NPA trustees on their position on anti-homophobia policies in schools, including Grade 10 student Sarah Bercic, who read a statement requesting that Woo and Denike “resign immediately”.
“Being bullied is just being in an atmosphere where you’re terrified to be who you are, every minute of every day,” she said.
“I don’t want a trustee on my school board who isn’t willing to fully protect rights of every student.”
Ryan Clayton was also among the speakers at the meeting. A post on Twitter from Clayton had earlier been cited by Denike and Woo as a source of information that possible changes were coming to the school curriculum on LGBT issues. Clayton denied those claims, and said he was abroad when the trustees said they received the information.
But Clayton said the "core issue" of the trustees' support for the anti-homophobia policy has been cleared up.
He added that he was "shocked" by the amount of heckling that took place during the meeting.
"There were people who made statements like talking about orientation is talking about sex, and it's inappropriate for kids," he said. "If anyone ever doubted that we're still a marginalized, targeted group, here's proof."
Vision Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi noted in comments in support of Wong’s motion that the anti-homophobia policy adopted by Vancouver puts the board “in a leadership position”.
“As a result of the policy of the school board, we have many schools districts throughout this country that have similar types of policies,” he said. “This is a very forward-looking policy which brings respect to our schools and treats everybody with the kind of dignity they deserve.”
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