Six people vying to become the new board member for School District 71 made their pitch to voters online on Monday, Nov. 30.
The candidates want to fill the seat left by the resignation of trustee and board chair Ian Hargreaves in September.
The forum was organized by the district parents advisory council (DPAC), which took questions in advance from the public. These were whittled down to eight topics for the six candidates: Randi Baldwin, Kandice Bielert, Cristi May Sacht, Monica Parkin, Terence Purden and Robert Thompson. Each started with a brief introduction before they moved on to the questions.
They were asked a range of questions, including their top priorities as candidates. All of them highlighted the need for the district to tackle the current crisis around the COVID-19 pandemic. Bielert, in response to a question about mental health supports for students, especially now, spoke from personal experience, talking about her grandchild in another Island community who attends a school where a student just tested positive.
“As his grandmother this was very scary,” she said. “I know how scared my daughter was.”
All of this underscores, she added, the importance for districts to get all information available.
“There are reason those protocols are in place,” she said.
Many candidates cited general values such as inclusivity, while some cited specific goals. On a couple of occasions, Thompson touched on the need for the district to give more opportunities to Indigenous learners.
“I think we have potential right now to be able to do that … if we can open some doors,” he said.
Parkin praised the specialized programs throughout the district, such as French immersion, robotics and fine arts.
“We have some amazing diversity of programs in this district…. I’d like to see us keep these programs and expand them,” she said.
The topic of the province’s SOGI-123 resource program, an initiative aimed at promoting inclusivity for students across the gender spectrum, also came up. In the last election, Purden had been listed as a candidate opposing SOGI-123 and he was asked about his position.
During the online forum, he expanded on it, saying he had had some concerns with it.
“At the outset, it appears overly complex and legalistic,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is written by lawyers for lawyers.”
He said he is concerned some parents might feel as if their concerns are being shunted aside, but if he becomes a board member, he would be obliged to follow the policy of the board.
Most spoke in favour of the program, most notably May Sacht, who added she has immediate LGBTQ family. She added that when people learn it is biology, it becomes easier to understand.
“For me, love is love, and education is key,” she said. “People fear the unknown.”
The candidates were also asked about their feelings about potential partnerships between the district and groups in the community, as candidates cited different cases such as that between Isfeld Secondary and LUSH Valley Food Action Society. Baldwin referred to her experience in the school system as a library-clerk, citing examples of partnerships working such as a ‘grandparent’ program in which seniors in care homes would interact with younger students, or an ESL program with students from other countries.
The DPAC has made the video from the available on its Facebook page at School District 71 Parents Advisory Council. General voting is Dec. 12. Advance polls are Dec. 2 and 10. For more info, see https://www.comoxvalleyschools.ca/