Do your homework on who’s running for school boards, say researchers and applicants

As for the upcoming school trustee elections, Kate Belair of Wellesley, Ont., hopes people will do their homework on the candidates.

“We have someone running for school trustee who doesn’t seem very inclusive,” she said in an interview in the village ahead of Ontario’s Monday, Oct. 24, municipal election.

“He’s going to be in a position where he could impact our children’s education, and that’s scary because we want our community to be inclusive and diverse, and that doesn’t seem to be his policy.”

Belair said that is her main concern in this municipal election and she hopes to hear from more people in the race.

“Just to counter that, so we know we got our values [represented] for the position of school counselor,” she said. “Our main concern right now is making sure he doesn’t get a seat on the school board.

Belair isn’t alone in worrying about the priorities of school trustee candidates. Ben and Jerry’s Canada, the ice cream maker, released a statement on Twitter this week telling people to be careful with their local groceries.

The company says it is concerned about “far right” candidates in races across Canada over the coming months. There are municipal elections in seven provinces and territories between October 15 and November 7.

“Make sure your school board puts the well-being of all children first, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality,” Ben and Jerry’s statement read.

While one person who tweeted at the company told them to “stick to the ice cream,” it’s not unusual for Ben and Jerry’s to make such comments.

The company notes on its website that it is known for supporting other movements, such as racial justice, LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, and land rights in Canada and the United States.

Many do not have a “clear concept” of the fiduciary role

There are four types of school boards in Ontario: English public, English Catholic, French public and French Catholic.

All voters can vote for school trustees, whether or not they have a child in school. Anthony Piscitelli said this is one of the important reasons to pay attention to who is running for director elections.

Piscitelli is a professor in Conestoga College’s Public Service Program, a former school trustee with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, and has researched the public’s expectations of school trustees.

Anthony Piscitelli is a former Catholic school counselor who is a professor at Conestoga College and researches governance, public opinion, social finance and policy. (Submitted by Anthony Piscitelli)

Piscitelli published an article online in February in the Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, with Andrea Perrella, associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Adam Payler, doctoral researcher, from the University of Birmingham in England.

The study revealed that many people do not understand the role of a school counselor.

“Indeed, it is clear that about a third of respondents do not have a clear idea of ​​what trustees do,” the study says.

Piscitelli said administrators are key to educating the public, largely parents of children about the school system. Duties range from helping parents get answers to some questions they may have, to bringing concerns from one or more parents to the board for a larger discussion about whether a policy needs to be changed.

It’s a job often overlooked by the general public, he says.

“School board administrators, school boards don’t get as much media attention in general,” he said. “A lot of the work they do is a little quieter. But those strategic directions and deciding what to focus on is hugely influential.”

Cathy Abraham is a trustee of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and is seeking re-election. She has also served as President of the Ontario Public School Boards Association since 2018.

She said administrators approve all school board policies.

“We have three main responsibilities: hire the director, make the budget and make the policy,” she said.

The policies could include approving a new dress code for students or deciding to fly the Pride flag outside schools, she said.

Portrait of a smiling woman with glasses.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, says school trustees approve all school board policies. (Ontario Public School Boards Association/

Other examples include when, in 2019, the province told school boards they had to develop a policy that would allow parents to request that their child be exempted from learning about human development and education in matters of sexual health.

At the time, not all councils had policies allowing parents to withdraw their children.

As another example, in June 2021, Waterloo Region District School Board administrators voted to remove police academy resource officers from schools.

‘Lack of understanding’

Administrators can have a big impact on the culture of schools in a community, Abraham said.

That is why she is concerned about some of the speeches she hears from the candidates in this election.

“I have never experienced an election cycle like this with misinformation, with a lack of understanding of the role of administrator, with a lack of understanding of what is really going on in our schools,” he said. she stated.

“School board administrators are there only for the well-being of each student. We are not trying to make them what they are not. We are not trying to impose any “ideology”. We’re not trying to change kids.”

She said a recent email accused her of ‘trying to convince little boys that they’re all little girls’.

“And I’m like, what are you talking about? And these things don’t happen. It just doesn’t happen,” she said.

“Draw Your Own Conclusions”

On the other hand, some people say they run for school trustee because they want to play politics and certain ideologies they believe are being pushed on students outside of the education system – issues like LGBTQ issues and racism.

Peter Wallace started the Blueprint for Canada website and is running for trustee position with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.

He said he wanted to create a platform that others might also want to operate on. He launched the trust platform in June and made changes as he received feedback.

Portrait of man wearing tie
Peter Wallace is a school board candidate for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board in Kawartha Lakes and created Blueprint for Canada, a website that provides a platform to guide candidates who want to “eliminate extremist political ideology from the classroom.” “. (Peter Wallace/@Peter_in_Canada/Twitter)

“The platform was developed for school board candidates, anyone who might want to endorse the platform in whole or in part at their discretion and also to educate parents on some of the issues,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

Blueprint for Canada asks parents and administrators to speak out against what they call “extremist ideology” in the classroom.

It’s not the only website with this message – Vote Against Woke says it wants to help voters find “unwoke” candidates to support. The website defines woke as a term “popularized by progressive activists who saw themselves as having (metaphorically) awakened to bold new ideas about racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia that are meant to contaminate every corner. Western societies”.

Wallace said while he saw a lot of support for the platform on social media, Blueprint for Canada also received criticism.

“The only criticisms we’ve received really have to do with our policies regarding [educational programs about] gender-affirming care for minors, which we oppose because we think minors don’t have the life experience or the maturity to make those kinds of decisions,” he said.

Wallace said he thought it appealed to “moderate centrist Canadians,” but encouraged people to “look at the platform, come to their own conclusions.”

How do I know if a candidate supports a platform?

Where a candidate has been sponsored by a group – such as those listed above, a teachers’ union, labor council, or grassroots community organization – the candidate and the group offering the sponsorships will also often share this information about social networks and their websites. These endorsements can also inform voters about candidates and their stance on particular issues.

Voters who are unsure of a candidate’s position on issues can also contact them directly, by phone or email.

All municipalities have a municipal elections section on their website that lists the names of candidates and, if the candidates have provided it, their contact details.

Perrella, who worked with Piscitelli on school board research, said it was important for people to take a few minutes before the Oct. 24 election to vet candidates for school board in their area.

Andrea Perrella, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, says it’s important for people to take the time ahead of the Oct. 24 election to consider school trustee candidates in their area. (Adamski Tomasz Photography/Wilfrid Laurier University)

“A lot of people can say, well, I don’t have kids in school. Should I care? Well, we’re all members of society and a very important part of the advancement in society is to ensure that we produce or graduate who are well educated,” he told CBC London. Afternoon drive host, Allison Devereaux.

“We have a say in that. So it’s part of our democratic process and part of being part of this society that we make sure we have good representatives to make things work properly.”

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