The Central Okanagan Board of Education has opted not to remove an opportunity for the public to address trustees on any given issue.
Trustees had a motion before them at Wednesday’s board meeting to eliminate the public question/comment period from the board meeting agenda.
But school board chair Lee-Ann Tiede made it clear at the outset of debate on the motion she would vote against it, and the majority of the board ultimately sided with her.
The lone trustees to support the motion, referred to the board by from the Jan. 3 meeting of the coordinating committee, were Chantelle Desrosiers and Valene Johnson.
Two people from the public gallery spoke up against the motion, including Simon Adams, president of the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council, with both saying they valued the chance to speak before the school board.
Adams said the PAC meeting on Monday involved a “robust discussion” on the topic, which Johnson also attended and acknowledged the pushback she heard from parents.
“We don’t want to lose an opportunity we now have to speak before the board about issues not on the agenda,” Adams said.
Currently, the school board sets aside two opportunities for public input – once to address action items on the agenda which requires eight days advance notice of the board meeting, and a second instance for public discourse on any topic.
Desrosiers said her intent was not to limit public input, but she felt the current public question/comment period often leaves people who address the board walking away frustrated, unclear how the board will respond to their presentation.
“As a parent speaking before the board before I became a trustee, I felt that frustration. You felt like you walked away without getting a real answer,” she said.
Desrosiers said she talks with people daily as a trustee and finds those discussions more consequential than someone given three minutes to voice an opinion.
Johnson echoed Desrosiers’ sentiments, saying such presentations are often more meaningful if done at the committee level when recommendations on policy are being discussed to advance to the school board.
She added that with recent deliberations over expanding the French Immersion program in Lake Country, trustees heard loud and clear from parents who supported the move without the need for a formal presentation to the board.
Because of the feedback heard from Adams, trustee Wayne Broughton introduced an amendment to delay a decision until further discussion on the matter could be held, but his amendment was voted down.
Trustee Julia Fraser said she empathizes with parents wanting an opportunity to speak before the school board, and the value of that input for trustees to hear.
“Often it is not about expecting immediate action to a presentation, it is just wanting to be heard,” Fraser said.