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Vancouver trustees fired but LGBT mentor safe for now

New appointed VSB trustee says cutting the position would be a step backwards

The Vancouver School Board’s new government-appointed trustee says she will retain the LGBT mentor position.

“Having been a teacher, having been a vice principal and principal, I had numerous indications that LGBTQ kids needed more help than we were providing,” Dianne Turner told a press conference on Oct 20, 2016.

“I, as a trustee, would never consider removing that support for children. I think we’re just getting there and to remove it would be going backwards.”

Turner described the LGBT mentor position as an important resource, and promised to fight to keep it funded.

Turner became the sole official trustee of the Vancouver School Board on Oct 17, when the BC government fired all nine elected trustees for not passing a balanced budget by June 30. The trustees rejected the proposed budget, which included $24 million in cuts, in a close 5-4 vote on April 28, 2016.

Before defeating the motion, however, the board unanimously decided to preserve funding for the LGBT mentor position, regardless of other cuts.

Former trustee Janet Fraser, who introduced the amendment in April to preserve the mentor, says she is thrilled the position is safe but worries what else might be cut.

“The trustee can say many things — she says she will not close schools or take away the position — but I don’t understand how,” Fraser says. “If we had to consider these options at the board it’ll be interesting to see how she finds a solution to the problems we were facing.”

Former NPA trustee Stacy Robertson says he is glad the position will be retained, but is concerned about the long-term financial stability of the board.

“There’s the larger issue of how you deal with the funding issue,” he says. “There’s a provincial issue and I think there are financial issues that the board can deal with, and I hope the official trustee can deal with those issues.”

Former board chair Mike Lombardi says the only way for the policy to be truly effective is to have to a democratically elected board in place that is directly accountable to students, teachers and Vancouver residents.

“Anybody who changes that policy will be held accountable by the citizens of Vancouver, and I will do what I can as a private citizen to make sure that the policy not only stays in place but is also implemented, in terms of action plan, in every school in the district,” Lombardi says. “The official trustee is accountable to the Christy Clark government and I don’t think the Christy Clark government has a good record on supporting students and public education.”

Many people cheered when the elected Vancouver School Board defeated the budget, with its $24 million in cuts, on April 28, 2016.
Nathaniel Christopher/Daily Xtra

BC education minister Mike Bernier tells Daily Xtra that it’s up to Turner if she wants to preserve the position — not the provincial government.

“The support for that position is wholly in the hands of the Official Trustee,” Bernier says in an emailed statement. “It is my hope the position and its valuable work continues.”

Jane Bouey, a queer education advocate who served two terms on the Vancouver school board until 2011, is hopeful that Turner and Bernier are genuinely supportive of LGBT students.

“When [Bernier] did the news conference around the strengthening of protections for LGBT students and putting in specific language around LGBT issues, I think he was actually quite genuine when he spoke about his daughter,” Bouey says. “I’m hopeful about this. Nonetheless, if they have to look at places to cut — it’s a horrible place to be. To save the anti-homophobia consultant while eliminating the anti-racism consultant is equally horrendous.”

Turner previously served first as assistant superintendent, then superintendent, of the Delta school district. In August 2016 she was hired as chief educator for the Ministry of Education.

“In Delta School District we had a group of young people come to a board meeting from a high school and ask whether or not our district would implement a policy. And our board chair turned to me and said, ‘Superintendent Turner, what are you going to do about this? We’re going to ask you to deal with this.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to take all of these children who are here, and more, and we are going to meet with some staff as well, and we’re going to develop a procedure.”

Turner says policies and procedures are simply pieces of paper unless action is taken. She says she immediately set about creating goals, directions and objectives with district students.

“So that’s ongoing work right now and I would say probably Delta is one of the leading districts for making sure that the student voice is heard and making that action happen,” she says.

“Procedure — not policy. I wanted action. We already had a policy in place that would cover a lot of things but we wanted very distinct procedures to make action happen right away. And it’s happening in Delta.”