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Teachers call for Denike’s removal

Langley teacher doubts VSB trustee can bargain in good faith

"I don't think I've indicated any bias," says trustee Ken Denike in response to new calls for his resignation, this time from teachers. Credit: Janet Rerecich photo

Langley and Vancouver teacher groups have added their voices to the calls for Vancouver School Board (VSB) trustee Ken Denike’s resignation. They want him removed from the BC school trustees’ provincial bargaining team.

Langley Teachers’ Association first vice-president Gail Chaddock-Costello says comments by Denike and fellow trustee Sophia Woo in a pair of videos discussing an anti-homophobia program and the VSB’s anti-homophobia policy indicate bias against the gay community.

And that, she says, leads the association to believe Denike would not bargain in good faith with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), which strongly supports the queer community.

“Perhaps he’d bargain differently with people who weren’t pro-choice,” Chaddock-Costello suggests.

Denike and Woo made headlines in December after they appeared in a video posted by an American anti-gay-marriage group. In it, they discuss their concerns about Out in Schools, a local anti-homophobia program.

When the video came to light, Denike told Xtra that he did not know it was shot for an anti-gay-marriage group. He sought legal advice and now says the video, which was partially shot on VSB property and used in the anti-gay-marriage group’s fundraising campaign, has been removed.

A second video posted to YouTube on Aug 20 came to public attention 24 hours after the first. It showed Denike and Woo urging potential voters at a Christian Social Concern Fellowship (CSCF) picnic to support them if they want to block the passage of anti-homophobia policy in Vancouver schools.

The Burnaby school board, which passed such a policy last year, is “a lot worse” than Vancouver, Woo told the picnic three months before last November’s municipal elections. Asked at the CSCF picnic if Vancouver had passed its own anti-homophobia policy, Woo replied on camera, “Not yet.”

Denike told the picnic that Vancouver has only a general anti-discrimination policy — “not to try to protect one particular group.”

The videos led a majority of VSB trustees to denounce Denike and Woo for misrepresenting and undermining public confidence in the board’s anti-homophobia policy, Jan 16.

Langley teachers aren’t the only ones now seeking Denike’s removal from the trustees’ bargaining team.

VSB chair Patti Bacchus says Vancouver teachers sent a letter on Jan 16 asking for Denike’s removal from the bargaining committee and from the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) board of directors.

“Trustees are elected on a promise to ‘ensure success for all students,'” says the letter from Vancouver Teachers’ Federation co-chairs Chris Harris and Debbie Pawluk. “Clearly, the actions of Trustees Denike and Woo contravene the [board’s] policy and are contrary to the district’s avowed commitment to creating a safe and inclusive environment for the entire school community.”

Denike says he’s seen the Vancouver teachers’ letter.

“I think it’s interesting and I disagree with it, obviously,” he tells Xtra.

Asked about the Langley teachers’ concern about his willingness to bargain in good faith with the BCTF, Denike says, “I think they’re somewhat different issues. I don’t think I’ve indicated any bias.”

BCTF president Susan Lambert agrees that Denike should be removed, but not for the reason raised by the Langley teachers.

“It has nothing to do with that for me,” Lambert says. “It has to do with the moral and ethical stance he’s taken. It puts kids at risk. In my view, he should not be a trustee.”

Chaddock-Costello says she has drafted a letter to the Langley school board asking it to seek Denike’s removal from the bargaining team. She hopes it will be discussed at the board’s Jan 24 meeting.

The chair of the Langley school board, Wendy Johnson, could not be reached for comment before this story was posted.

Teachers aren’t the only ones calling for Denike’s removal. Grade 10 student Sarah Bercic called for his resignation from the VSB at the Jan 16 meeting where he and Woo were censured.

The next day, Bercic and Grade 12 student Eli Benjamin created a Facebook event page calling for Denike and Woo’s resignations, and offering students and allies a template letter to email the trustees and a petition to sign. As of noon on Jan 20, 455 people say they’re “going to” the event and 98 have signed the petition.

Benjamin welcomes the action by the Langley teachers.

“I’m all for supporting anything like that,” Benjamin says. “I’m moving forward with anything I can do to get him off the board of trustees.”

Benjamin says the student group will be holding a “peaceful protest” outside the VSB’s next meeting Feb 7.

Bacchus says the students’ voices need to be heard. “Their voices are so important,” she says.