Five Central Okanagan Board of Education trustees have struck back against what they call “baseless and harmful allegations” against the school district staff, school board and superintendent/CEO.
In a news release issued by the five trustees Monday – board chair Moyra Baxter, Norah Bowman, Wayne Broughton, Julia Fraser and Chantelle Desrosiers – they state the accusations were made by Action4Canada.
While the specific allegations are not explained in the news release, the statement does reflect on how sexual orientation, gender identity and expression are protected under the BC Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights.
“These baseless and harmful allegations undermine the hard work of our staff and negatively impact our students, many of whom already face serious challenges,” said the release.
The trustees wanted to publicly, strongly condemn the accusatory statements, with their own comments coming two hours before a Zoom trustee all-candidates forum co-organized by the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council and district student council.
“We will not tolerate this abusive behaviour and reaffirm in the strongest possible terms our support for our teachers and our superintendent, Kevin Kaardal,” the release further stated.
The release also alludes to the board of education previously having voted in favour of providing teachers SOGI 123 resources to help their students in the classroom with questions that may arise about sexual orientation and gender identity, resources approved by the ministry of education.
“SOGI 123 is not a course, curriculum or lesson plan. It ensures that 1) policies are aligned with the BC Human Rights Code; 2) schools create inclusive environments; and 3) ensures that sexual orientation and gender identity resources are included when appropriate,” stated the trustees.
“The claim that ‘it is being pushed on students’ is categorically false.”
The release added that dangerous disinformation is being deliberately spread in order to influence public opinion just before the school board election.
“We teach our students about the rights and responsibilities of free speech, including protecting human rights. The harmful lies and deception by Action4Canada and those affiliated with them underscore the importance of this work,” said the release.
The Action4Canada website describes itself as a grassroots movement reaching out to millions of Canadians and “uniting our voices in opposition to the destructive policies tearing at the fabric of this nation…We are committed to protecting…faith, family and freedom.”
Media reports last week had Action4Canada pamphlets distributed outside of a school grounds to parents critical of the SOGI 123 initiative.
The issue of SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) 123 was also a question raised at Monday evening’s all-candidates forum by a district student council representative.
The responses of the 10 participating trustee candidates ranged from support for the SOGI 123 initiative to allowing parents to have greater say in teaching their own family values to their children.
“I have heard from several community members that there is more talk about sex than academics in schools…that I have heard from a number of parents and students who feel there is too much focus on sexually related topics,” said incumbent trustee Lee-Ann Tiede (Kelowna).
“Schools should be careful not to force labels or categories on our kids while they are still trying to figure out where they fit in this world,” said candidate Lisa Guderyan (Peachland/Okanagan West).
“It is an important part of education to learn about diversity and different cultures…teachers and librarians make choices on what is appropriate for students and I trust them to do that,” said trustee incumbent Wayne Broughton (Kelowna).
“The fact that SOGI is a hot button issue again in this election tells me the current board has been ineffective in dealing with this matter,” said candidate Laurie Bowen (West Kelowna).
“Every student needs to feel safe and supported in our schools…The goal is to support every learner as we build schools for everyone,” said incumbent candidate Chantelle Desrosiers (West Kelowna).
“A lot of parents ask me about (SOGI) too…they feel there was not adequate consultation about SOGI…I do not see placing labels on our children as being appropriate,” said candidate Teresa Docksteader (Kelowna).
“A parent of an 11-year-old boy told me his son is confused about the SOGI program, not about his own sexuality, but because of the diverse information coming his way,” said candidate Chris Fieber (Kelowna).
“SOGI is only a hot topic because certain groups keep bringing it up…I trust our teachers to access the resources available to them and implement those resources into the classroom…I would not change a thing,” said candidate Val Johnson (Kelowna).
“Schools are an important environment that should respect and celebrate our differences, gender identities and sexual identities…it is important to remember SOGI 123 is not a course, a curriculum or a lesson plan,” said trustee incumbent Julia Fraser (Kelowna).