B.C. school district bans public comments at board meetings due to anti-LGBTQ remarks
1 of 2 public comment periods suspended until Central Okanagan district reviews board meeting policies
A school district in the B.C. Interior has decided to indefinitely suspend a comment period at its bi-weekly school board meetings due to what it says are "discriminatory comments" made by members of the public attending them.
On Thursday, the Central Okanagan School District (SD23), based in Kelowna, B.C., announced that the 15-minute second comment period — where public attendees are allowed to speak on any topics of their choice — was cancelled at the board meeting held on March 8.
The district said it is cancelling comments during the second comment period made in person or remotely on Zoom, the online platform where the meetings are broadcast live. It says the suspension will continue until it completes a revision of the policies governing 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 since the school district requires them to be made on items listed on meeting agendas, it restricts the possibility of verbal abuse on unrelated topics.
The school district's news release doesn't mention the nature of the "discriminatory comments" that it said were made recently, but trustee Chantelle Desrosiers from West Kelowna confirms they contained anti-LGBTQ sentiments and language.
Desrosiers says those comments were mostly directed at board members, but they made students and staff feel unsafe.
"There were a number of religious comments made and quotes from the Bible which marginalized a diverse population that has other religions within our community," she told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.
"Our staff are there to support our students — they aren't there to, in your comments about them, be pedophiles and groomers."
'We do not tolerate bullying or harassment'
Supt. Kevin Kaardal says the school district is committed to creating a safe working environment for staff, students and trustees.
"Public schools continue to support SOGI learning and foster inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ people because all students and staff must be safe so they can learn and work.
"We do not tolerate bullying or harassment of any kind in our schools, and we will not give space for members of the public to harass staff, students, or trustees with intolerance towards marginalized communities," Kaardal said in a written statement.
SOGI123 is a set of policies and programs adopted by the B.C. education system aimed at creating inclusive classrooms for 2SLGBTQ students and staff. It became the target of a controversial billboard put up in Westbank First Nation near Kelowna last month.
The billboard, which has been taken down, raises questions about SOGI123's validity and suggests that parents are being kept in the dark about the conversations their children are having in school around gender identity.
School board chair Lee-Ann Tiede said concerns from parents about SOGI123 are not something the school board has dealt with in recent months, but the board had heard staff and students saying that some public comments made at board meetings made them feel unsafe.
"We welcome public input, but we have to 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 business of the Board."
Meanwhile, the school district asks the public to communicate their concerns to the board via phone, fax or email, as listed on the school district's website.