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New West. associate superintendent Calls for Student Inclusion

Recommends students become involved in decisions at board level

Vancouver School Board headquarters. Wikimedia Common photo
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Reported by Jennifer Wilson

Students should have a voice on the New Westminster school board next year, according to the district’s associate superintendent.

And that kind of inclusion, recommended by Karim Hachlaf, on school boards is something that student trustees elsewhere are supporting.

Hachlaf told a recent meeting of trustees in New Westminster that the addition of one or two student trustees, with a third position designated specifically for an aboriginal student trustee, would ensure that students are more involved in the decisions made at board level.

“There is no question that our school district, can and should, benefit from providing a structure for student voice at our board and committee meetings,” Hachlaf said in a written submission to the board.

Three student trustees in B.C.

Three B.C. districts already have student trustees on their boards. Vancouver, Victoria and the Sunshine Coast districts each have a slightly different process for electing and including student representatives.

All three have some form of district student council as well as a trustee position for a Grade 11 or 12 student. In all three districts, student trustees do not vote on board decisions and are not invited to closed meetings.

Holly Nathan, the New Westminster school board’s communications co-ordinator, said in an email that the board has heard Hachlaf’s recommendation and is now considering his proposal.

“The topic has been a source of rich conversation in our board meetings.”

Eugene Jeoung, the current Vancouver school board student trustee, believes that school boards across the province should go a step further. Jeoung wants B.C. to adopt a system of student representation similar to Ontario’s. There, each school district has a student trustee who is part of a student trustee association which, in Ontario, has allowed for province-wide organization of students to lobby boards on various issues.

Jeoung, along with the Sunshine Coast student trustee, Pearl Deasey, is preparing to present a motion to the British Columbia School Trustees Association.

He said that a province-wide association was a long-term goal but, in the short term, the motion calls for student trustees to be integrated into all B.C. school district boards by 2023.

“[An association] is what we want to bring here to B.C. but obviously in order to do that we need student trustees and so  that’s why we are trying to take it slow and just bringing this motion right now.”

Ontario already including students

Laurie French, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said that student trustees in Ontario are a vital voice on district boards and that their input allows board trustees to communicate in relevant terms with students as well as to understand what items students want prioritized in budgets or, more recently, how students want schools to handle cannabis legalization.

French said that while student trustees have direct influence on policy and are invited to vote at board meetings, their votes are non-binding for good reason.

“There could be, as a caution, political situations where they could be placed under particular pressure, so we’ve involved them so that they have every right to have their voice heard but I don’t believe they are to the point of having full decision-making authority.”

While some school boards in Ontario have chosen to elect an aboriginal student trustee, as proposed to the New Westminster school board, it is not an obligation, French said.

Creating an aboriginal student trustee position in Vancouver was something his board should consider, Jeoung said.

“It would be such a new perspective for the board and would be a step towards reconciliation.”

Jeoung said that he plans to contact the New Westminster board to ask for their support for the BCSTA motion.

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