TDSB delays deal with China's Confucius Institute
New chair Mari Rutka oversees testy debate on controversial deal
The Toronto District School Board has postponed its partnership with China’s Confucius Institute so that it can more closely examine the Beijing-run cultural organization.
The motion passed overwhelmingly after hours of at-times testy debate by school board trustees.
Some complained they were kept in the dark about the deal — one trustee quipped there was much “confucion” — which was developed for years under former chair Chris Bolton.
Rutka was elected as the TDSB’s new chair just hours before the meeting — the last of the school year — and was among those who supported the delay.
The delay “will give us time for the due diligence we should have done in the first place,” said Rutka, addressing the board shortly before the vote.
The Chinese government oversees the Confucius Institute, which provides teaching materials to school boards. The pending deal raised concerns among parents and activists who object to China’s human rights record and to the possible spread of Chinese propaganda.
Trustees said they had been bombarded by letters and emails from constituents on both sides of the issue. Protesters gathered outside TDSB headquarters ahead of the meeting and an online petition opposing the deal had by Wednesday evening gathered 1,161 names.
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The TDSB had planned to provide Confucius Institute courses to students in September.
Rutka is the school board trustee for Ward 12, Willowdale. Shaun Chen of Ward 21, Scarborough-Rouge River, was elected vice-chair of the board and also supported the delay.
The TDSB has recently been roiled by apparent in-fighting among trustees and audits which revealed both irregularities in spending, and trustees who had ties to charitable groups that received funding from the school board.