Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Langley School District Board Muzzles Public Again? - by Susan Semonick

Has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canadian Citizens been circumvented?

Langley School Trustee Chair and spokesman, Steve Burton, started off the first Board meeting of the school year by declaring changes to Board regulations regarding public meetings. Referring to the Board-issued public statement on Sept 12th, he stated that regulations are not required to come before the public before approval. Interesting that most of the so-called regulation is contained within the policy.

Some of the changes are as follows:
· Public Board meetings will be held at the School Board Office with overflow space provided on an as-needed basis.
· No placards or noisemakers will be permitted in the building.
· Unless the Board unanimously agrees to an extension, public meetings will end at 11 p.m.
· Up to five delegations of 10 minutes each may be scheduled at the beginning of public Board meetings. Additional delegations will be heard after the business portion of the meeting until the meeting concludes at 11 p.m.

Placards are a manner of communication and a manner in which to be noticed and heard. I wonder, since the bullhorn incident only happened once, and there have never been any noisemakers at any of the meetings, why did the Board feel it necessary to waste time putting together a statement like this, other than it is coming into an election year and they feel a need to flex?

The fact that they can close a meeting without allowing question period I see as infringing on our rights. Anyone dealing with the Board knows you don't get answers even at the best of times. Many ask questions at question period to bring the public's attention to areas that have been overlooked or processes that have been ignored.

They don’t record what questions are asked at meetings. By choosing not to do this in my opinion, they demonstrate to the public that they do not see them as important, even though question period is part of the official meeting and considered part of Board business. If the Board would ensure that there is a full question period and actually record the questions and answers along with the ones to be addressed at the next meeting, then I see that as more acceptable and more respectful. If history holds true though, they will only extend the meeting to allow the Trustees (politicians) to be heard which has been the case in the past.

Question period does not require Trustees to make decisions but it does give opportunity to the taxpayer to get information and clarity on what has just transpired at the meetings. The chair limits each person to one question even if it is to deal with same item. This I view as disrespectful to the person standing before them.

Due to the lateness in time and likely because the Board considers question period as not important business, they did not extend Tuesday night’s Board meeting. There were 5 people in line to pose questions and it was 6 minutes to 11. The chair allowed only 5 questions then adjourned the meeting. Most of the people in line had questions that were relevant to the meeting.

This Board has effectively, with their actions, shown the public that they really don’t care.
The Chair, Mr. Burton, stated the many ways that people can communicate to the Board. In regards to Burton’s comments about anyone having there own press conference. Most of the people (taxpayers) do not have the extra resources to practically do this and so they wish to use the tax-paid function and facility as the forum to be heard. That should be democracy in action. The press is there and the Board is there, even though it seems that they have earmuffs on most of the time. There is also a large component of parents and students that are affected that congregate there.

Even though you as a taxpayer attempt to have Natural Justice via question period, however one-sided it is, the School Trustees conveniently curtails it with these new meeting enforcement policies. There are three principles of Natural Justice. They are:
1. The rights to be heard and present evidence. A person should not be adversely affected by a decision-maker without being able to put forth a case that is relevant to his or her own concerns.
2. The right to know the facts upon which the decision-maker based the decision.
3. A decision-maker should not be biased. A person should therefore have a right to have a matter determined by an unbiased adjudicator.

So any Trustee with children in the system would be biased would they not? Interesting that the Board expects the students to apply restorative justice principles, but they themselves do not practice what they preach.

For the Board to have wasted taxpayers dollars to make these regulations was not warranted and for them to treat the public in this manner I see as not part of the democratic process. I view this as a breach of trust by each of the current Trustees. I believe the Board doesn’t really care if the people have an opportunity to be heard or not. More importantly, they choose not to provide the public with timely and open responses to their questions. Putting in place these temporary (maybe) ill-thought-out rules, with no apparent thought of the implications shows their ineffectiveness. It shows arrogance - almost as much as the manner in which they gave themselves raises. It also gives reason as to why I feel that the Ministry is proceeding towards preparing for replacement of local Boards of Education with regional ones or none.
They just don’t get it. Next election, it's time for a change.
Susan Semonick...

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