An attempted guide to what's going on at School District 57
That's it. That's the whole newsletter today. Buckle up
Alright, I think it’s time for this. On Friday word came the school district would be getting a new superintendent — its seventh in seven years. And, according to an unamed source who spoke to My Prince George Now, it wasn’t the previous superintendent’s decision to leave. Making that statement more plausible was the subsequent resignation of first one school board trustee on Friday, followed by another announced Saturday. That second one was Betty Bekkering, the most senior member of the board, and one who has stuck around through quite a lot, having first been elected to the position in 2011.
All of this comes after the last school board saw two resignations, while the previous superintendent is suing, and the local union is in a public dispute with the current board over who is and isn’t allowed to speak at meetings. And to top it off, the current board chair is apparently simply not speaking to media about any of this. There are lots of threads here and lots of players, so in today’s newsletter I’m going to try and break it all down.
I want to stress: I have no special insights, no information that isn’t publicly available — when I reported on the city, school board wasn’t usually my beat. Instead, this is an attempt at taking all that public information and reporting done by others and condensing it into one place.
So that’s it. That’s this whole newsletter today. We’ll have to catch up on everything else tomorrow. There’s a lot to unpack with this so I think the best place to start is probably waaaay back in 2015.
2015: The superintendent turnover begins
2015 was when the current period of instability can probably be traced back to. It was the last year that Brian Pepper was superintendent, after holding the position for nearly a decade. He resigned for what he said were health and career reasons, after starting as a teacher in 1979 and becoming superintendent in 2006. He was not a universally liked figure, having been in the position of superintendent circa 2010 when the city shut down six schools due to a combination of budgetary concerns and declining enrolment. But he was the last person to hold the job for more than three years.
Since then, there have been six other people in the position:
(2015-2016) Sharon Cairns (interim). Cairns temporarily stepped out of retirment to replace Pepper, having previously been assistant supertintendent. She served until August when a permanent replacement was found…
(2016-2019) Marilyn Marquis-Forster. Forster was the longest-serving supertintendent of the post-Pepper era. She came from the much smaller district of Swan Valley, Manitoba (1,500 students compared to SD57’s roughly 13,000). Her resignation was sudden (the board chair at the time described it as a “shock”) but she left with praise for the work being done, which is more amicable than some of the future departures would be. She is currently listed as a superintendent in Yukon.
(2019) Rod Allen (interim): Another interim role, Rod Allen agreed to fill in for Marquis-Forster shortly after announcing his retirment from the superintendent role in Cowichan. He stuck around for five months until he was replaced by…
(2019-2020/2022) Anita Richardson. She was supposed to be permanent, coming to SD57 from an assistant superintendent job in Taber, Alberta. However she was on the job for a year — December to December — until she went on a leave that stretched on and on. She was fully terminated from her position in January 2022 and in June she sued the district, singling out two trustees, and we’ll get to that in the next section.
(2021/2022-2023) Cindy Heitman. Heitman stepped into the superintenent role on an interim basis in January 2021, after Richardson went on leave, came into the position officially in January 2022 when Richardson was terminated and stayed there until a few days ago when she left/was fired (no official word either way) three days ago. She was the first superintendent since Pepper to come up as a teacher in School District 57 rather than being recruited from elsewhere.
(2023-?) Pam Spooner (interim). Spooner came up as a teacher in Prince George, then became principal of Nusdeh Yoh Elementary (an Indigenous choice school), then director of Aboriginal education in 2019. She was briefly recruited away to a similar position in the Okanagan before coming back to Prince George to take on the new role of Indigenous Assistant Supertintendent and has now been called up to provide some stability with Heitman gone.
2020: The Shas Ti controversy
You probably know this one. In February 2020, the school board voted unanimously to rename Kelly Road Secondary Shas Ti, meaning “Grizzly Road” in the Dakelh language at the request of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, on whose land the city sits. To help you out, here’s who the board was at the time, having been elected in 2018:
Tim Bennett (chair); Ron Polillo (vice-chair); Trent Derrick; Sharel Warrington; Betty Bekkering; Bob Thompson (representative for Robson Valley); Shuirose Valimohamed (representative for Mackenzie).
Now, technically, this wasn’t a renaming, since it was actually going to be a new school but either way, it sparked backlash. Some of it was anger over the way this was handled — community members felt it should have gone to a public hearing since so many of them felt a connection to the previous name. Some comments suggested unironically that if First Nations wanted representation they should build schools on their own land and/or should stop asking for handouts, and other comments went further and were deemed too hateful to be read into the public record at a later board meeting.
In April, the board capitulated, arriving at the idea of giving the school two names and is now known as both Shas Ti and Kelly Road — but the decision was not unanimous. Sharel Warrington wanted the name to be only Kelly Road but when she realized that wouldn’t fly, switched to the side of the dual name, along with Ron Polillo, Tim Bennett and Bob Thompson. Betty Bekkering put the single name of Shas Ti on the table and was supported by Shuirose Valimohamed and Trent Derrick, a Gitxsan Nation member who spoke to the racism faced by Indigenous people around the vote.
In somewhat related news, in November 2020 the board voted for the creation of two dedicated board seats for the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and the McLeod Lake Indian Band.
2021: The province gets involved and resignations begin
In February 2021, the leaders of the McLeod Lake Indian Band and Lheidli T’enneh First Nation — on whose land the school district sits — held a press conference calling for a financial audit of the school district’s finances. They said money from the province meant specifically to support Indigenous students was not being accounted for, and wanted more transparency. The province appointed two special advisors — Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor — to review the district’s governance practices.
That summer, they submitted their final report and found several concerns including “including educational outcomes for Indigenous students, relationships with First Nations communities, allocation of resources and strategic planning,” according to the Citizen.
From the CBC writeup of the report (where you can also read the full thing):
The report from special advisers Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor was made public late Friday afternoon and makes a long list of recommendations about school board leadership, relationships with local First Nations and how to repair a "culture of fear, bullying, harassment and racism."
It raises serious concerns about whether many Indigenous students are receiving the education the school district is funded to provide for them.
"Unfortunately, we heard many examples of behaviours and practices that are clearly discriminatory and systemically racist," Wilson and McGregor write.
"Though some will argue it is not intentional, the outcomes have disproportionate effects on Indigenous students and can only be explained as such."
The authors also write that many of their recommendations do not just apply to Prince George but to the B.C. school system in general.
There were also concerns about a lack of equipment for First Nations students.
At that point, the province had former interim superintendent Rod Allen join Wilson and McGregor to act as an advisory team for the school board. A final report is due in June of this year.
In September, Trent Derrick who, by this point, is board chair and Shuirose Valimohamed both resign from the board, citing the report:
Derrick, a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, noted: "as grad rates for Indigenous students have been low and any attempt to improve them over the last 15 years have not been successful, there needs to be accountability for the lack of improvement."
"I have never felt safe in any meeting or at the public Board table," Valimohamed wrote.
"I couldn't ask difficult or challenging questions to other trustees or SD57 Senior Staff. My opinions and views did not matter. The system is not built for minority voices in elected positions or leadership. It is built on holding the white supremacy ideology. The Special Advisors Report shows that."
Both of them would later be sued, which we'll get to.
January 2022: The new nominees
With Derrick and Valimohamed out, by-elections are held to replace them each.
In Mackenzie, there are two candidates: Rachael Weber and David Szucko. Remember Weber, because she will go on to become board chair during this current controversey. She received 76 votes to Szucko’s 38.
In Prince George there are five candidates and the winner is Milton Mahoney who publicly disputed the idea that racism is an issue in the school district:
“The Minister of Education sent two adversaries up to look at the superintendent problem and I’m sure that they found out what the problem was and were told to divert it to systemic racism, because that report is 10 years old,” said Mahoney. “It just seems like they are using School District 57 as a scapegoat but also as a trial. If they can get away with it here, it’s going to go right through B.C.
He said much the same when running for re-election in October 2022:
“We had two former trustees resign over that because of systemic racism. Now, this I think was totally unfair, and that that virtually threw every citizen of Prince George under the bus. I do not believe that we are systemic racism here, but I do think that perhaps the people that resigned really didn’t want to look into it very closely.”
He also argued the district was “dictatorial”:
School District 57 has lost its way. It has turned into a dictatorial body, afraid to push back. They quit listening to all concerned groups such as the parent advisory council. They have forgotten who they work for, who happen to be the same people that elected them. They have also lost transparency. It is not that difficult to resolve, it will take dedication and a willingness to put the students first.
He was not re-elected in the general election in October.
For her part, Weber told CBC after she was first elected that she believed work had to be done:
"We have a hard road ahead of us, but growth is uncomfortable," she said.
When running for re-election in October she spoke about her time working for the McLeod Lake Indian Band:
I know relationships with the First Nations communities have been strained for a long time. I want to bring about change and bring forward truth and transparency. I want to hold the board accountable for every decision they make both in the present and from the past. I want it to be fair and equitable for every student in SD 57. Based on the report from (Education Minister Jennifer) Whiteside, we know that SD 57 needs serious help. We have heard this over and over again from teachers, students and parents. I want to be their voice and make sure they are heard at a board level.
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July 2022: The old superintendent sues
In July 2022 the Citizen reports that a notice of claim has been filed on behalf of Anita Richardson, alleging that school district trustees created a “toxic” work environment, accused her of having bad relations with First Nations, and specifically names Trent Derrick and Shuirose Valimohamed, both of whom have resigned at this point:
According to Richardson's claim, terms of her employment agreement held that the board could terminate the agreement "without cause" but also that the board must give notice in writing that the action is being contemplated, advise of the reasons for the move and give her an opportunity to respond.
A week before termination, Richardson said she received noticed that the board was considering the step over concern her relationship with area First Nations was "difficult and that there was a lack of trust" and at a time when trustees were "heavily focused" addressing issues raised in a special advisors report on the matter.
In answer, Richardson said trustees were aware her relationship with the First Nations was good and that it was the trustees' conduct that undermined it. Moreover, she said difficult relations with the First Nations existed before she had been hired and that trustees failed to seek Richardson's advice or implement specific strategies she had developed to improve the situation.
Former school trustees Trent Derrick and Shuirose Valimohamed are singled out in the claim. They are specifically named as defendants and are accused of working to undermine Richardson's relationship with certain First Nations communities the school district served.
Over an 11 month period starting Feb. 10, 2020, Richardson said she "experienced a toxic work environment and bullying and harassment" from certain trustees, including Derrick and Valimohamed.
Richardson goes on to variously accuse Derrick and Valimohamed of breaching the trustees rights and responsibilities policy by failing to share pertinent information prior to a school board meeting, by having side conversations about key issues and then failing to share those discussions, attending meetings with "rights holders" and union presidents without district staff present and "communicating inappropriately with rights holder groups about operational processes."
Richardson also variously accuses the two of breaching the district's respectful workplace policy by, in the case of Derrick, sending an email to Richardson, and in the case of Valimohamed, by virtue of her conduct on five occasions.
She also brings up Shas Ti, saying the board should have consulted her prior to approving the name:
And Richardson alleges all the trustees breached the rights and responsibilities policy by voting on Feb. 25, 2020 to rename Kelly Road Secondary School without first seeking input from staff, including Richardson, and of breaching the respectful workplace policy through their conduct during a Nov. 17, 2020 meeting of the Education Programs and Planning Committee.
"The unlawful and inappropriate misconduct of the School Trustees, in breach of the polices, and in particular the misconduct of the Defendants Derrick and Valimohamed resulted in physical and emotional harm to the Plaintiff as well as embarrassment, frustration, loss of reputation and an inability to properly carry out her duties as Superintendent and address the issues she had been specifically hired to deal with," Richardson says in the claim.
You can read the full claim here.
October 2022: A new board is voted in
Now we’re getting to meet the current players. With Tim Bennett and Ron Polillo jumping over to city council and Warrington not running again, the only incumbents in Prince George are Betty Bekkering and Milton Mahoney. In Mackenzie and the Robson Valley, no one runs against Rachael Weber — first elected in Mackenzie in a by-election in January — or Bob Thompson, first elected in 2018.
In Prince George the successful candidates are:
Erica McLean (5,587 votes)
Craig Brennan (4,696 votes)
Betty Bekkering (4,395 votes)
Gillian Burnett (4,017 votes)
Cory Antrim (3,587 votes)
The links above each go to a Citizen profile of the candidates in the lead-up to the election. However, I think it’s worth delving into their positions a little deeper based on what they had to say in surveys and debates, especially when it comes to the special advisor’s report and SOGI 123, a set of resources for educating students about LGBTQ+ individuals and families that has been the target of backlash and which will come up soon.
A former Indigenous education worker and coordinator within the district and Gitxsan First Nation members, McLean said she resigned from her position so she could speak out against the special advisors report, saying “I believe this report didn’t serve the best interests of students. I believe many of our community’s most vulnerable learners disproportionately experience trauma and poverty compared to students who don’t experience as many social barriers, a reality that was ignored by the Report.”
On SOGI, she said, “I fully support SOGI programming and teachings within schools. I think as society moves forward, we learn with time and experience how to best support our fellow humans and SOGI programming is about making sure our LGBTQIA+ students are safe and feel that they belong.”
She also rejected the endorsement of a group campaigning to remove sex ed and anti-racism education from the district.
A teacher and principal in the district for 40 years, Brennan said the special report pointed to a need for real change in the district, particularly when it came to outcomes for Indigenous students. He also said he is supportive of SOGI and anti-Indigenous education (and also rejected an endorsement from the same group McLean did).
The senior person to get elected, Bekkering was a trustee from 2011-2014 and then re-elected in 2018.
She did not respond to the Prince George Post survey which asked questions about SOGI and the special advisor’s report. However, at one of the all-candidates’ debates she did talk about the progress being made on Indigenous education outcomes.
After more than a decade working with parent advisory councils, Burnett largely focused on governance in her remarks. On the provincial report, she said everyone needs to acknowledge the bias in the education system that contributes to worse outcomes for Indigenous students and on SOGI said “SOGI is not a new ‘sex education’ program. SOGI is designed to foster respect and understanding of others, where every student can find acceptance and be included in all aspects of the school community… I’ll admit that I may have initially ‘feared’ bringing SOGI into classrooms, but I’ve learned that the fear was unwarranted and support it. Every member of our school communities should feel valued, safe and represented.”
A former teacher in the disctrict, Atrim said he left the job due to “toxic workplace environments and a lack of mental health support from upper management.”
On the special advisor’s report he simply said Indigenous and non-Indigenous students need more extracurricular activies and supports, and on SOGI he said he didn’t want to explain his personal stance while adding, “my personal view is that policies surrounding education should have the flexibility to accommodate our provinces’, wide and diverse groups of people, and families. At a local level, encouraging a restorative practice approach can help with injustice, intolerance, and polarization among our students, staff, and administration. This unifying wisdom will hopefully inspire maturity, growth, and trust within our district. What will not solve today’s problems is endless attack, defense, and shallow conversation. We need new relational thinking and if elected, I will help build the road back to a culture of trust and create a new story of hope for the future of our youth and the employees who support them.”
Also ran: Josh Silva
There’s also one more candidate who did not get elected but who will come up again, so I’m going to introduce him here: Josh Silva, who finished in 7th place with 2,966 and said he was worried about divisions within the district and said the system was failing his two daughters. On the special advisor’s report, he said “I believe the special advisory report to have been very divisive. There is no doubt when looking at the numbers we need to find a way to help all children. All of this division is being created within the system. We will never all be given a fair chance if we cannot learn to truly look at each other as equal. Separating anyone based on their skin color, ethnic background, gender, physical characteristics or any other quality that the system is using to divide us will never allow us to move forward together as one. We will find ways, which I believe many of the ways will need to be through the indigenous culture of this great land to give our children a chance to have a fresh start.”
More relevantly, on SOGI, he said he wanted it under review:
“I support all children being able to be who they want to be without being ostracized for it. I am seeing data to do with suicides, depression and drug use that does not support what SOGI is doing to our children. I Have a friend in PG who’s child in grade 9 came home saying that his teacher said that it doesn’t matter what your parents put on your birth certificate you can be whatever you want to be. I don’t support children being told that it doesn’t matter what their parents say! At this point though, at the very least SOGI123 should be under review!”
Sidenote: Let’s talk about the ward system
A little digression here. This was only the second election to be held with a ward system, where Mackenzie and the Robson Valley each get a representative. So while I’d like to tell you a bit more about Rachael Weber and Bob Thompson’s position on these and other issues — I frankly don’t know. Neither of them had to explain them or expand on them, because they each ran unopposed. They didn’t go to debates, they didn’t get questionnaires. Weber has received a total of 76 votes, in the January 2022 by-election, and is now the board chair.
Mackenzie and the Robson Valley combined are in the vicinity of 4,000 people. Prince George is closer to 90,000. That means two people on a board of eight get 25 per cent of the decision-making power while representing about three per cent of the population.
Put it another way: The person to get the least votes in the race for school board in Prince George was Taylor Martin. They got 2,912. That’s almost as many people as who live in Mackenzie total. It’s more than twice the number of people who live in Valemount. There’s something to be said for geographic representation — which I think most people in Prince George would agree on, when it comes to the north vs. Vancouver/Victoria debates — but it does mean there is less scrutiny on people who are just as responsible for decision-making as those who are running in Prince George.
The “woke agenda” and the teacher’s union
And now we come to the current controversies which — bear in mind — may have nothing to do with anything we’ve talked about above, nor anything to do with the departure of the most recent superintendent or board members. We simply don’t know how any of this is connected, if at all. But we’re being exhaustive, so here we go.
On December 13, 2022, the new board had one of their first meetings and heard from the public. Among them was unsuccessful candidate Josh Silva — the one who wanted SOGI under review — who brought up several issues, which you can listen to in full sixteen minutes into this video. He started by complaining about the ongoing bus issues and saying “I’m here to support you guys” to the new board, but soon went into other areas:
“We need you all to please open your minds… because we’re here to support you and try to make our children have purpose again and be confident in who they are and get the education they deserve without the confusion.
The standards have been dropping. Bullying is up. Student-teacher abuse cases is up. Drug use in our schools is up. The number of children that are having pyschological issues is up. The amount of children that are confused about their gender is up…”
He then says that administration is “cherry-picking” numbers to make “the scenario look good” when “it is not quite as good as they are saying.”
“It is clear to me that the system is full of yes-men, and rightfully so because none of us parents have give a damn until now, so all the pressure has been one-sided. But we are here now. We need all of us to come together for our children and not the system and the woke agendas that they are pushing on us.
“We are here to support you in your quest to save our children’s future and the failing education system.”
He then goes on to talk about the number of in-camera (non-public) board meetings that were held over the past year and the bus system which, at the time, was not great, as I’ve documented in here before, with kids just not getting picked up over and over for months.
At the end of his talk, board chair Rachael Weber thanked him for this time, saying, “it takes great courage to come to the mic and say what you did tonight, you were heard. Thank you for taking time from your life to come tonight to make sure that we listened.”
And the teacher’s union did not like that.
At a January 31 meeting, Prince George District Teacher’s Association president Daryl Beauregard said he was concerned that Silva had been “thanked and praised” for implying and outright stating that teachers were abusing kids, that kids were being confused by SOGI education materials and other remarks. From My Prince George Now:
Beauregard was backed up by a gallery full of people clad in rainbow colours and pride shirts.
“While members of the public might want to return to more regressive education practices of previous centuries, as trustees you are required to go beyond that,” Beauregard told the board tonight, in response.
“I urge you to reflect on this as a commitment as a trustee… please reflect if you can set aside your personal beliefs that might be in conflict, please reflect that you are not here to entertain any misguided, perhaps conspiracy thinking that sometimes emerges in our part of the province.”
“[He] criticized the work of teachers, said that we are abusing kids related to the gender equity and identity curriculum that is the lawful curriculum of British Columbia,” Beauregard told My PG Now after the meeting.
He said staff and students in the district identify in diverse ways, and that “allowing a member of the public to criticize our work like that makes it unsafe to be a student in this district who doesn’t conform to the binary norm, or to be a staff.”
Instead of thanking Silva, Beauregard also believes Weber should have asked him to “stop, or leave.”
“They have a duty to protect employees, they have a duty to protect kids. I thought getting thanked and praised for that speech that I found offensive does not protect staff or students appropriately.”
He also wrote letters to the school board and ministry of education expanding on these thoughts, which you can also hear in this CBC interview where he says the board should not be accepting unfounded rumours about what is going on in classrooms. Or, you can watch his full statement at the 8-minute mark of this video.
The union vs. the board and who's allowed to speak
There’s another aspect here — at a January 31 meeting, Beauregard expressed concern that the December meeting had opened with a “Christian prayer,” something that Weber got somewhat testy with, responding “it is not a Christian prayer” but one written by the McLeod Lake Indian Band, telling Beauregard he should get his facts straight before speaking and then not allowing him to respond. She did not respond to his concerns about Silva’s remarks. You can watch it at around the 9 minute mark in this video.
Later, McLeod Lake Indian Band chief Harley Chingeee also weighed in, writing an open letter to Beauregard, stating he was disappointed at his attack on the prayer and defending Weber as a former employee, saying “she was simply thanking a presenter and that she would never disrespect any group, like the LGBTQ or other groups because she works with people from all backgrounds and sexual orientations.”
That wasn’t the end of it, though. On Feb. 28, Beauregard revealed he had hoped to address the school board once again, but was instead denied the opportunity to speak, citing a policy that speakers need to make the request further in advance and state the purpose of their discussion.
At the same time, the board stopped live-streaming their meetings and may or may not be posting public comment periods online — something which may stop folks from Beauregard from taking the mic but, as I’ve pointed out in this newsletter, could also prevent something like Silva’s speech from happening, as well. The Kelowna school board is dropping part of its public comment period for this exact reason.
Board schisms over new policies
This part of the story has not got as much publicity as the rest but feels relevant given the divide it revealed: At the most recent board meeting held March 1, there was a disagreement about whether to accept policies that have been in development since 2019, or to put off a decision until June to give the board more time. Of note — both Betty Bekkering and Gillian Burnett wanted to accept them, and both have now resigned.
The policies outline the role of the board, trustees, superintendent, chair, vice-chair, foundational statements, board operations, and more.
Policies regarding transportation, anti-racism and anti-discrimination, and Indigenous reconciliation were also deferred for final approval.
However, these policies were already adopted in principle and became effective in the spring of 2022.
Trustees Betty Bekkering and Gillian Burnett spoke out against the deferral and urged the board to approve them.
“Every policy has gone out twice for consultation. It was approved in principle in June and it's time now to finalize approving these policies, and it cannot be deferred again,” said Bekkering.
Burnett noted that the new trustees have had workshops on the policies and ample time to ask questions.
“I'm reluctant to keep putting something off. This is what we are doing and we've received a significant amount of input.”
Board Chair Rachael Weber said she was in support of holding off until June.
“If our new Board of Trustees needs the time to adequately feel that they are competent and making these choices and if they feel that they need more time, I am OK with that.”
The decision to defer the anti-racism and discrimination policies drew criticism from CUPE 3742 president Paula Bass.
“I want to be able to tell my members that they are in a safe, welcoming environment free from racism, discrimination, harassment, violence, and that it's inclusive and affirming for all students, staff and community members. That was deferred today,” said Bass.
Interlude: The Fraser Institute report
After all of this, out came a Fraser Institute report saying Ron Brent is the worst elementary school in all of B.C., something Beauregard (and many others) also takes issue with, which you can read about here. This incident is most notable for our purposes, however, because on Thursday morning of last week supertintendent Cindy Heitmann was on CBC defending the school district’s record. And on Friday, she was gone from the position, which makes her Thursday media appearance notable.
The firing and a new round of resignations
And now here, we are. On Friday, March 10, at 3 p.m., the school district put out this release:
The Board of Education for School District 57 (Prince George) today announced it has appointed Pam Spooner, Indigenous Assistant Superintendent, as acting Superintendent of Schools. She is replacing Cindy Heitman, who has left the District.
“We would like to thank Cindy for her 28 years with School District 57, and in particular for the past two years in the Superintendent role,” says Rachael Weber, Board Chair. “We are pleased that Pam has agreed to step in as acting Superintendent as we conduct a search for a new Superintendent. We remain focused on building collaborative relationships with rights holders, partners and stakeholders and working to ensure the District is meeting the needs of students.”
In addition, Trustee Gillian Burnett announced she is stepping down from the Board. A by-election will be held at a later date to fill that position.
The letter did not make clear whether Heitman left or was fired, but My Prince George Now reports:
“The release makes it sound like Heitman decided to step down, but a source inside the district confirmed to My PG Now that the school board voted last night (Thursday) to remove Heitman from the position – and it was not a unanimous choice.”
And after that, Burnett’s resignation letter was shared, in which she said the board “is not interested in receiving input from stakeholds, the public or the district staff. They are not interested in nurturing relationships. This is a dsyfunctional board that has no understanding of the role of trustees or good governance, and I can no longer be associated with their actions.”
Bekkering’s resignation was made public the next day and while I’ve not seen her reasons, this statement from Weber was released:
“Every member of the Board is committed to education and importantly, brings diverse perspectives. The Board has been, and continues to be, steadfast in creating an environment where different ideas and opinions are welcome and productive debate encouraged before fact-based decisions are made – including those of governance and policy. The Board remains focused on building collaborative relationships with rights holders, partners, and stakeholders in working to ensure the District is meeting the needs of students, teachers, and staff. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Ms. Burnett and Ms. Bekkering for all their hard work and wish them the best in their future endeavours. A by-election will be held to fill the vacant positions.”
Several reporters have noted that Weber has not been speaking to media:
So there we are. That’s… I think.. everything we know. It’s all on-the-record stuff. It might be related. It might not be. We simply don’t know and given how much has been going on, it’s unclear if we ever will.
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December 2015: Brian Pepper resigns as school board supertintendent.
December 2015: He is replaced by Sharon Cairns on an interim basis.
August 2016: Marilyn Marquis-Forster is hired as superintendent.
April 2018: The province converts School District 57 to a ward system. Where in the past, everyone voted for eight members, moving forward it would be people in Prince George voting for five representatives, Mackenzie one, and Robson Valley one.
October 2018: School board elections are held. The successful candidates are Tim Bennett, Ron Polillo, Trent Derrick, Sharel Warrington, Betty Bekkering, Bob Thompson (representative for Robson Valley) and Shuirose Valimohamed (representative for Mackenzie).
May 2019: Marquis-Forster resigns.
May 2019: Rod Allen becomes interim superintendent.
October 2019: Anita Richardson is hired as superintendent.
February 2020: The school board votes unanimously to name the replacement for Kelly Road Secondary “Shas Ti.”
April 2020: Following public backlash, the board votes 4-3 on a dual Shas Ti/Kelly Road name, with Bennett, Polillo, Warrington and Thompson voting for the dual name and Bekkery, Derrick and Valimohamed supporting the single name Shas-Ti.
November 2020: The school board votes in favour of dedicated seats for Indigenous trustees — one for the Lheidli T’enneh, one for the McLeod Lake Indian Band. That decision is forwarded to the province who has final say.
December 2020: Richardson goes on leave.
January 2021: Cindy Heitmann becomes interim superintendent.
February 2021: The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band call for a forensic audit of the district’s finances, saying that the district has not been transparent about how it is using money meant for First Nations students. In response, the province appoints two advisors to look into the district’s governance.
July/August 2021: The special advisors submit their final report, finding several areas of concern including racism within the district and questions about finances. The province appoints them, along with former superintdent Allen, to form an advisory team for the school board into summer 2023.
September 2021: Derrick and Valimohamed resign from the school board.
January 2022: Richardson’s contract is terminated and Heitmann is permanently hired.
January 2022: By-elections are held to replace Derrick and Valimohamed with Milton Mahoney and Rachael Weber the successful candidates.
July 2022: Richardson sues the school district, specifically naming Derrick and Valimohamed.
October 2022: A new school board is elected. The successful candidates are Erica McLean, Craig Brennan, Betty Bekkering, Gillian Burnett and Cory Antrim for Prince George and, by acclamation, Rachael Weber and Bob Thompson for Mackenzie and the Robson Valley.
December 2022: Unsuccessful board candidate Josh Silva speaks to the board and makes several remarks, including comments about children being confused about their identity and saying parents need to “come together for our children, not the system and the woke agendas they are pushing on us.”
January 2023: Prince George District Teacher’s Association President Daryl Beauregard expresses concerns about Silva’s remarks and the way the board welcomed them, rather than pushing back, saying it creates an unsafe environment for teachers.
February, 2023: Beauregard is not allowed to speak at a board meeting.
March 2023: The board votes to delay the adoption of several policies outlinging role of the board, trustees, superintendent, chair, vice-chair, foundational statements, board operations, transportation, anti-racism and anti-discrimination, and Indigenous reconciliation that have been in the works since 2019. Trustees Burnett and Bekkering are opposed to the deferral.
March 2023: The board announces Heitmann is no longer superintendent. Gillian Burnett and Betty Bekkering resign from the board.
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Thank you for this write-up Andrew.
One thing that stuck out to me is how some seem to think the author of a prayer somehow changes the content of it. The Dec 13 meeting was opened with this as the prayer:
"I will now open in prayer, you may now stand if you like.
"God, the creator, we your people humbly come before you tonight. We thank you for your love, your guidance, your family and your community. We pray for honesty, humility, courage and integrity in everything we do this evening. We ask your blessing for our children, our teachers and our leaders. God, please help us in everything that we do. Help us to express our thoughts and concerns honestly and clearly, that we may be heard and understood. Help us to speak life into those around us today, of hope rather than hurt, and of love rather than pain. Amen.
"I would like to thank the McLeod Lake Indian Band elders who created that prayer."
Is that a Christian prayer? Judged on the content, yes. The prayer didn't invoke Buddah, Allah, or any Sikh, Hindu or other religious deities.
Is the defence of saying a Christian prayer that elders for the McLeod Lake Indian Band can not be Christian and therefor didn't write a Christian prayer? Because that is nonsense - apparently according to the 2011 Census, 63% of Indigenous respondents identified as Christian (I tried to get more recent numbers, but all I could find with the 2021 Census data is that 53% of Indigenous people reported having religious affiliation, with half of that amount being Catholic).
Either way, it's a Christian prayer said before a school board meeting. It's horseshit. The meeting shouldn't have started that way, it shouldn't have been said, and I don't care who wrote it, but they can fuck right off with their royal "we" in that prayer. I am a parent with children in schools of this district - in no way or manner are I or my children praying to their god and asking for anything. It's offensive and insulting that Trustee Webber and Chief Chingee can't accept that.
Prayer was removed from the BC School Act. Compulsory prayer goes against our Charter Rights. The chair of a meeting starting a school board meeting with a prayer that speaks for all there, without consent of those it proposes to speak for, is wrong.
Very comprehensive piece.
Though it answers no questions directly I can clearly see mud in the water.