A Campbell River School Board meeting was cut short Tuesday night.
The public meeting lasted less than five minutes as a few members of the public interrupted board chairperson Richard Franklin’s opening remarks.
“This meeting is held in public to allow members of our community to observe the proceedings,” he said. “I respectfully ask those in attendance in the gallery to please show respect by allowing the Board of Education to do their work without interruption.”
More than 30 people had crowded into the school board offices for the meeting. As Franklin attempted to make his opening remarks, one of the protest organizers, Christian McCay attempted to speak over the chairperson.
“I just want to clarify a question and then we’ll all leave,” McCay said.
The school board was aware of the protest planned by the Canadian Christian Lobby to overlap with the meeting.
The group is against the Ministry of Education’s sexual orientation gender identity initiatives, more commonly know as SOGI 123, which was adopted by school boards across the province. The resources are billed by the province as tools to help schools promote kindness and inclusivity as part of student learning.
While many attended the meeting with Canadian Christian Lobby signs, there was also a pro-SOGI contingent with their own signs. Before the start of the meeting, those attending were asked to leave their signs outside as no placards, billboards or signs are allowed inside the school district’s board room.
In a press release, the school district said that it is aware of the group’s concerns and continued opposition to SOGI 123.
“The Board of Education has heard five presentations from the Canadian Christian Lobby founder, Christian McCay, and past and present superintendents have also met with him six times,” the release said.
In its social media promotion of the protest, the Canadian Christian Lobby was citing a Campbell River Mirror article to say that students are leaving the district due to the implementation of SOGI 123. The article, “SD72 facing a shortfall of more than $1-million,” describes how the district being off in its preliminary enrolment estimate has affected its budget for the current school year.
“When our final student enrolment numbers are less than what is projected, the school district receives less funding than it had anticipated from the Ministry and it is this anticipated funding that we base our budget off of,” said Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick.
The district was off by 126 FTE (full-time equivalent) students. It had predicted there would be 5,575 students in the district this school year, but the count in September indicated there was 5,479 students. While the predicted enrolment count was off, there was an increase in the actual student enrolment in the district.
“While not the 126 possible new students to the community that the district was hoping to see, there was still an increase of seven students from the 2018-19 school year,” the release said. “Despite the claim made by the Canadian Christian Lobby that parents are removing their children from SD72 schools because of SOGI 123 since its introduction, outside of concerns from the Canadian Christian Lobby and its founder Christian McCay, there have been no concerns brought to the Board of Education.”
The March 10 public school board meeting had a light agenda. Beyond the typical call to order, chairperson and superintendent remarks, previous meeting minutes approval and approval of the night’s agenda, there were just two items on the list.
There was an educational submission from Timberline and Carihi Secondary School Vice-principals Joanna Broadbent and Louise Panziera who had planned to give a presentation on Assessment Week and a report from Trustee John Kerr on the British Columbia School Trustees Association Leadership Conference.
Franklin was able to start his opening remarks, but was interrupted more than three times.
In an open letter addressed to “the Community” dated March 11, Franklin said the Board had to take the “unusual measure of closing the public gallery and asking all attendees to leave.”
After the interruptions, Trustee Kerr voiced a motion to move to a committee of the whole meeting, effectively shutting down the public meeting.
“Mr. Franklin, this interruption is in my mind stopping the board from doing its business,” said Kerr before the motion was put forward and approved.
All members of the public, including media and presenters were asked to leave the school board office.
In an open letter to the school board trustees and staff, the mayor of Campbell River and the Mirror, McCay apologized for one man’s interruption before the meeting officially started.
McCay said the man’s intention was to talk about his personal situation at the end of the meeting.
However, as Franklin indicated in his opening remarks, only questions on agenda items can be submitted – in writing only and just one question per person.
“His intention was to talk about his situation at the end of the meeting,” McCay wrote in the letter. “He became upset when he couldn’t voice the harm and stress it has caused his family.”
In Franklin’s letter, which was signed on behalf of SD72 Board of Education, he writes that the district is “always open to hearing the legitimate concerns of parents of children who attend School District 72 schools, but parents must bring forward their own concerns.”
Outside of concerns raised by McCay and the Canadian Christian Lobby, Franklin said the board has not received any concerns from parents with children who attend an SD72 school since the SOGI 123 resources were approved by the board in May 2018.
The Campbell River School District said it remains committed to “ensuring that schools are inclusive and reflective of all members of society and that all students feel safe, welcome and positively reflected in their schools.”