Student leader supports Okanagan school district’s move to restrict public comments

School board decided to suspend comment period in response to anti-LGBTQ speech

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By Melbah Grace Jacob

A B.C. school district’s move to restrict public comments at board meetings has been defended by trustees and applauded by one student leader as a step towards progress and inclusivity.

The Central Okanagan School District, based in Kelowna, decided last month to suspend one of its two comment periods at board meetings, citing “discriminatory comments” from members of the public. The decision, the board said, was in response to “discriminatory comments” targeting the LGBTQ community.

“I absolutely was in favour of the board suspending the second question and comment period because a student did feel unsafe,“ said Zachary Johnson, District Student Council co-president. “That environment needs to change for us to continue moving forward in a productive way.”

Board meetings previously allowed two 15-minute periods for members of the public to comment. During the first period, members can comment on matters on the agenda. The second period, which allowed people to speak on any topic of their choice, was indefinitely suspended by the district last month.

front-facing photo of Zach JohnsonTrustee Chantelle Desrosiers from West Kelowna confirmed that the comments contained anti-LGBTQ sentiments and language. Desrosiers noted that the comments were mostly directed at board members but made students and staff feel unsafe.

“We do not want to get in a situation where our students are afraid to use their voices,” Desrosiers said to The Voice.

The board determined the suspension of the second comment period was necessary to ensure school board meetings are safe and respectful spaces for everyone. The district is now working to revise its policies governing school board meetings to address issues of discrimination and hate speech.

The decision to suspend the comment period has been met with mixed reactions. Some members of the public have expressed frustration at being denied the opportunity to voice their opinions. However, others have supported the district’s decision, arguing that hate speech has no place in public discourse.

“It was getting to the point where we had LGBTQ staff and students, who might be present at these meetings and not feeling safe because their very identity was being denied or threatened by these people and this was really a matter of workplace safety,” said trustee Wayne Broughton.

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