The board of education for School District 71 is holding off on plans for student representation within the board itself, at least for now.
Trustee Janice Caton introduced the idea at the end of the regular board meeting held on Feb. 25, proposing two separate motions. One would look into the idea of creating a position of student trustee to the board. The other would have the district explore the idea of establishing a district student advisory committee.
As to the first motion, Caton said, “For those of you that know me, I’ve always been an advocate for student involvement, for student participation.”
Many boards across the province, she said, have student trustee positions and the provincial trustees’ association supports the positions. Caton clarified that a student trustee would not attend in camera meetings but act as a voice at the board table during open meetings. She said a student trustee could help represent students’ views on district issues such as environmental stewardship or mental health.
Of her motion, Caton clarified it does not commit the board to creating the position but would simply set up a process to consider it. “I believe our students have a voice, and we should listen to them,” she added.
Some on the board had concerns about the issue. Trustee Sarah Jane Howe said, as new trustee, she was having to absorb a lot of information about how the board operates, and she questioned whether she and her fellow new trustees could mentor a young person to work with the board. She said liked the idea but thought it might make more sense to revisit it a year from now. “I don’t know if right now is the time to initiate something like this,” she said.
Howe, along with Tonia Frawley, Kay Hawksby and Michelle Waite, were newly elected to the board during the last municipal government election in November 2018.
Board chair Ian Hargreaves said he would vote against the motion, though he said he has been an advocate for student voices for a long time, though around specific topics. His concern was adding a student to the board after having gone through a controversial process around a boundary catchment review affecting several schools – one that he characterized by misinformation, intimidation, threats and personal attacks.
“I would not wish a student be exposed to the statements that were being made,” he said. “There were statements that were made that I would not want a student to hear…. Every trustee at this table has been attacked during this process.”
Waite had left the meeting shortly before the issue arose, leaving six of the seven board members at the table. With Howe, Hargreaves and Tonia Frawley voting in opposition, the motion failed to gain the majority of votes needed. When it came time for the second idea – the student advisory committee – Caton asked that the matter be postponed until the next board meeting in March.