Vancouver school trustee resigns from committees after racial comments at board meeting

A Vancouver School Board trustee is stepping down from committee positions following comments he made at a meeting about suspending the school liaison officer program.

At a school board meeting last week, Fraser Ballantyne defended the use of school liaison officers, saying the discussion should focus on how they help students instead of police’s relationship with marginalized communities.

“To take that support away for any amount of time is extremely disturbing to me,” Ballantyne said. “We’re not talking about the Indigenous women — we’re focusing on our students.”

He went on to say, “Caucasian kids are actually the visible minority, so when we get the sense from the population of our secondary schools and elementary schools, I think it’s really important to hear what they have to say about it.”

Following the comments, the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association, which has said the school liaison officer program should be suspended because of the systemic racism present in police forces, called on Ballantyne to resign.

Ballantyne apologized and said he will step away from his roles on the board’s policy and governance committee and finance committee. He is also resigning as the trustee liaison for the British Columbia School Trustees Association.

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“I hope that by resigning my committee positions, I am creating space for a new perspective,” Ballantyne wrote.

“It is clear that I have not done enough to listen to, or centre, the voices of our racialized communities. I will do that critical work now.”

VESTA vice-president Jody Polukoshko said it’s not enough for him to step down from the committees — he should resign entirely.

“We don’t think it’s sufficient for him to maintain those positions of power and to continue to receive a salary when he’s demonstrated he doesn’t understand or follow the existing ministerial orders, board policies, or the years of work that have been done in the name of reconciliation, anti-racism or, for example, anti-homophobia or transphobia,” she said.

“So we don’t think it goes far enough.”

In fact, she said Ballantyne is closing himself off to more opportunities to understand the community he represents.

“Some of the ability to do that work, that ongoing work of listening and learning form students and community groups as well as stakeholders, would be reduced by the reduced participation he’s proposing, but he would retain that vote at the end of the day.”

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Polukoshko said VESTA’s position on the matter has not changed, and it is still calling for Ballantyne to resign.

She said in the meantime, the Vancouver School Board should think about revisiting its decision not to suspend the SLO program.

“Many folks were very frustrated that their perspectives weren’t shared at that table,” she said.

“So a re-discussion of this matter — while it may have the impact of reinforcing some of that harm — may also allow some of our constituent groups to have a part of that conversation.”

A letter written to Education Minister Rob Fleming asking for Ballantyne’s termination has upwards of 700 signatures so far.

Fleming would not have the power to dismiss a single trustee without dismissing the whole board.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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