The Vancouver School Board (VSB) voted Jan 16 to censure two trustees for comments they made “publicly misrepresenting the board’s anti-homophobia policy.”
Board chair Patti Bacchus told Xtra the censure is a symbolic condemnation of the actions of Non-Partisan Association trustees Sophia Woo and Ken Denike.
One Grade 10 student took the condemnation a step further and asked for Denike and Woo’s resignations.
“I don’t want a trustee on my school board who is unwilling to protect every student,” Sarah Bercic, 15, told the board, stressing the importance of maintaining a policy that specifically addresses homophobia. “In fact, I don’t want someone on my school board that behaves like a bully themselves.”
“I would like to go on record requesting that trustees Woo and Denike resign immediately and leave their seats open for trustees that actually deserve to be there,” she said.
The censure motion came from COPE trustee Allan Wong, who also asked the board to reaffirm its support for its anti-homophobia policy. The VSB takes the policy seriously and is committed to keeping students safe, he said.
The board must act immediately to address Denike and Woo’s actions to ensure they don’t undermine the public’s belief in the policy, Wong added.
Denike and Woo made headlines in December when they appeared in a fundraising video posted by an American anti-gay-marriage group to discuss their concerns about Out in Schools, a local anti-homophobia program.
A second video posted to YouTube on Aug 20 surfaced a day later, showing Denike and Woo urging people at a Christian Social Concern Fellowship (CSCF) picnic to vote for them if they want to block the implementation of anti-homophobia policy in Vancouver.
Burnaby, which passed anti-homophobia policy last year, is “a lot worse” than Vancouver, Woo told the gathering 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 specifically protecting one group.”
The VSB passed its anti-homophobia policy in 2004.
The first video for the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance was bad enough, Bacchus told Xtra in December; the second video is equally appalling.
“I was stunned,” she said. “I didn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing in that.”
Denike and Woo were fear-mongering, Bacchus said. “Trustee Ken Denike knows that policy has been in place for seven years,” she added.
Denike said the motion to censure him and Woo was “completely out of line. You pop it onto us,” he said, claiming the motion was outside the board’s bylaws.
Bacchus said the chair can allow motions on emerging issues. She described Wong’s motion as important, given the “unrest and concern” the videos have caused.
Vision Vancouver trustee Cherie Payne accused Denike and Woo of “stoking fear and promoting hate.” She wondered if they were trying to leverage votes out of the CSCF.
“Promoting hate is the opposite of Christianity,” she said.
Denike denied the allegations.
“I have never been accused of racism, sexism and homophobia,” he said. “These are political slurs, plain and simple.”
Denike said his intention was to ensure that parents get a choice in what their children are exposed to in schools. He noted that parents can remove their children from personal health classes as long as the curriculum aims are fulfilled elsewhere.
He called the censure and accusations “scurrilous.”
NPA trustee Fraser Ballantyne backed up Denike. He said there “may have been some misrepresentation, but to take it to censure is above and beyond.”
Vision Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi disagreed. He described Denike and Woo’s actions as “unbecoming a school trustee.”
“The VSB stands squarely behind this important public policy,” Lombardi said.
Woo said little throughout the debate and question period but eventually said she supports anti-bullying and anti-homophobia policies as long as there is oversight for age-appropriate materials and parents are kept informed.
Gay education activist Ryan Clayton requested several apologies from Denike and Woo, including one for the Christian Social Concern Fellowship. “I believe that group was misinformed,” he said.
The meeting was heated, with lots of yelling, heckling, boos and cheers from the packed room of about 100 people.
Members of Parents’ Voice, which opposed the passage of Burnaby’s anti-homophobia policy, attended the Vancouver meeting, as did conservative activist Kari Simpson, who lives in Langley.
Some of the parents took issue with the ongoing inclusion of Out in Schools material in the district, asking the board about oversight and funding for the anti-homophobia program.
Bacchus reaffirmed the board’s support for Out in Schools.
In a news release issued prior to the VSB meeting, Simpson’s Culture Guard group said that if the board didn’t immediately prohibit the Out in Schools program, she would “file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal because the program incites hatred and contempt for anyone who doesn’t parrot homosexist propaganda.”
Simpson told Xtra after the meeting that she would like to meet with the VSB to discuss the issue. She said if she does not hear from the board by next week, she will file the complaint.