Here’s hoping trustees rise to the challenge
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Teachable moment: (noun) — an event or experience which presents a good opportunity for learning something about a particular aspect of life.
— Oxford Languages
The Brandon School Division will hold its next regular board meeting next week at the Vincent Massey High School gym, a change from the usual venue necessitated by a pending discussion on the prospect of banning LGBTQ+ books from school libraries.
That decision was made a few days after a large delegation appeared before the school board at its headquarters on Sixth Street, advocating for the creation of a committee that would review books that discuss gender identity and sexual health subjects and potentially remove them from library shelves in the division.
Considering the rather large public outcry that has arisen since news broke of the delegation’s request, and the upcoming trustee discussion, I believe the school board leadership has made a responsible decision to make the meeting open to a wider audience in a larger venue.
Of course, not everyone agrees with me on this.
The Sun has received several letters to the editor on the topic over the last week. While many of them have been thoughtful explanations of why the delegation is wrong to equate books about LGBTQ+ content to “grooming and pedophilia,” community members have also vilified the school division for ever allowing such a delegation to come before the board in the first place.
Many of the people who took the time to write to us — and no doubt, many more beyond — view what was said by former trustee Lorraine Hackenschmidt during her presentation as hate speech. Allowing such intolerance to be directed at a historically denigrated minority in our society certainly does nothing to improve the lives of transgender individuals.
Why should school division trustees entertain such views during a board meeting? Why not cut them off mid-sentence and tell them to leave the school division boardroom? I’ve heard these questions from individuals more than once this past week, and the thought has crossed my mind as well.
And yet, as far as I can tell, the board has been conducting its business by the book. According to the board’s governance bylaws, specifically the section regarding delegations and petitions, “any resident elector of the division shall have the right to be placed on the agenda of a regular board meeting.”
Those who wish to speak as a delegation have to give their name, the name of the group, and provide their address to the secretary-treasurer in writing.
As per the bylaw, such a delegation is heard for information purposes only. And should a decision of the board be required, the matter is postponed to the next regular meeting for action, or referred to a committee or the administration for consideration.
Also, in the BSD board policy manual, it states the board “will not offer their decision to the delegation at the time of the presentation,” leaving the board no choice but to have a second meeting on the issue.
I suppose the majority of trustees — those who did not applaud the delegation last week Monday — could have cut short the presentation and asked everyone in the room to leave. They could have given notice that their views are not welcome at the board table before the meeting ever started. But such a decision would have provided Hackenschmidt and her supporters with an excuse to claim that their views were being discriminated against — and an even larger fiasco could have ensued.
Honestly, it still might, depending on how Tuesday’s meeting is handled by the school board and those who attend. I have little doubt that neither those in favour nor those opposed to the creation of such a committee have any hope that they will be able to convince the other side of the rightness of their positions.
If this past Monday’s Brandon City Council meeting is any indication, where a woman in the audience interrupted the deliberations to demand that councillors cancel next week’s anticipated school board meeting — which they have no power to do — Tuesday’s school board meeting may well deserve the unenviable description of “public circus.”
I want trustees to manage that meeting with some finesse, while using the public forum to take a solid stand in defence of education and against the banning of books and materials that can do some good for our students. These are the people who are supposed to represent our educators and act in the best interests of our students and their families.
They have a chance to make Tuesday’s public discussion a teachable moment for all of us. I can only hope that they’re up for the challenge.
» Matt Goerzen, editor