How will Kamloops Thompson school trustee candidates protect children’s rights?

We asked candidates a series of questions using rights outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Kamloops Thompson School District serves roughly 15,000 students. On Oct. 15, local residents will have the option to vote for five Kamloops school district trustees to represent the interests of their community at polling stations across the city. 

At The Wren, our mandate is to fill the gaps in local reporting, so we decided to take a different approach to our school trustee questionnaire.

Parental rights are often pitted against children’s rights. However, as the Canadian Anti-Hate Network points out, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and common law centre on rights for all people and the best interests of the child

For the 2022 Kamloops school district trustee elections, The Wren sent out a candidate survey that follows a children’s rights framework, pulling from rights outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991. These questions were originally shared by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

Five of the school district’s 10 trustee candidates responded. The Wren made multiple attempts to contact the other candidates who didn’t reply but we didn’t get an answer in time to publish.

The responses were lightly copy-edited for clarity. The names are presented in the order their answers were received.

Children have the right to protection from harm, including “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.”

If elected, how will you defend the right of children to protection from harm, particularly for Black, Indigenous and other racialized students?

John O’Fee

Every school within our district as well as our district as a whole puts the protection of children at the forefront of what we do. Every child deserves an opportunity to reach their educational potential in our public school system. This has been a core tenet of our district and will continue.

Kathleen Karpuk

SD73 has an Equity Program where we look closely at policies, procedures and practices to examine them for bias. If bias is found, we work to change. We work with First Nations groups and take their lead on what’s needed. 

Marian Anderberg

I have been a practicing Social Worker since 1999 and am registered with the BC College of Social Workers. I am obligated by my registration to uphold the rights of children and take this responsibility very seriously. Children are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the BC Human Rights Code, just as adults are. I would argue that children are even more vulnerable than adults. We as adults must ensure that children are protected from harm. We are held legally responsible to do so. I will work to ensure that all policies approved by the board ensure that children are protected. Intersectional vulnerability must be acknowledged to ensure that those who have been traditionally excluded from our laws and our consideration as a society are ensured. Specifically, when it comes to drugs, I want to ensure that awareness programs are reinstated by SD 73. Previous offerings have been disrupted by COVID. There are additional offerings that are strong and have not been adopted by SD 73. Programs that promote peer to peer education are in my opinion the best options. Educating children and youth at an early age will provide protection later in life. Young people will be able to make informed decisions and seek help rather than slip into the use of drugs and alcohol to cope.     

Jo Kang

If elected as a School Trustee I will always make protecting from any sort of harm my number 1 priority, more specifically to our Black, Indigenous, and other racialized students. Being a child that was part of our school system who is part of a racialized group was very tough. I want to ensure that our administration is doing everything in its power to make sure our children are safe. Working with administrators and holding them to a standard to ensure safety our children will always be on top of my agenda.

Cole Hickson

I fully intend to be a representative of ALL students, no matter their race, religion, sexuality or gender. As a former advocate for students at TRU, I did exactly that by working with stakeholders from across the institution to ensure equity and inclusion. If elected I would do my best to approach every topic with as much information as possible while understanding my privilege(s) as a cis white man and will not presume to know the problems marginalized communities face. I will connect with community member in marginalized groups so I can properly represent their interests and meet their needs.

Children have the right to free expression, including the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.”

How will you ensure that rights to freedom of expression are protected, particularly in cases of children seeking information about subjects like sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)?

John O’Fee

Age appropriate education on a wide range of social issues produces the best outcomes for students. Places providing age appropriate sexual education have lower rates of teenage abortions, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assaults than places not providing this education. Every student and staff member deserves to be respected for their humanity above all other factors. This includes, but is not limited to one’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kathleen Karpuk

One of our Assistant Superintendents is in charge of equity and inclusion, and we have an annual report that goes to the board in public on how we are doing. SD73 takes part in the Pride Parade, and we regularly bring in speakers who talk about acceptance. Schools and librarians are free to select appropriate books and there is no mechanism that allows the board to interfere.

Marian Anderberg

Children’s ideas are the ideas of the future. We should foster children’s creativity and encourage their abilities to express themselves as they are able. Provincial law guides the legal age at which children have a voice in particular matters. As a Trustee I will ensure that policies approved by the board are congruent with provincial statutes. Personal agendas have no place in governance within a public system. SOGI curriculum is provincially approved curriculum and ensures that children have vital information to understand their own sexual identity and to engage in strong allyship to their peers. This content is delivered in an age-appropriate manner. As a practicing social worker, I feel strongly that creating a sense of belonging for all members of a community is imperative to mental wellness and acts as a preventative factor against suicidality amongst youth.  

Jo Kang

As an individual the right to free expression is very, very important to me. I am individual that is a member of the community and I wear a visible turban. How an individual chooses to express themselves is up to them. I will always stand up for this freedom to be continued in our school district. I want to ensure that any policy our school district has does not affect a child who is wanting to express themselves. I am 100% in favour of the SOGI program and see many benefits of it in our BC curriculum.

Cole Hickson

I completely support an age/developmental appropriate program and resources that is built on better understanding diversity within our society and building a community for all students to learn in, and understand themselves, regardless of differences. If elected I will approach this topic — like all others — with an outlook and remember inclusivity and safety for all should be the top priority for those on the board of education.

Children have the right to an education that is “child-centred, child-friendly and empowering” and is directed to the “development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

How will you protect the rights of children to an education that emphasizes teaching about racism as both a historic and contemporary phenomenon?

John O’Fee

I am a university teaching professor. When I teach real estate law I point out that many of the people who came to Canada in the first part of the 20th century, did so based on the colour of their skin. My grandfather came to Canada because, as a caucasian person, he was given a significant parcel of land to farm. This was not something offered to Indigenous people or potential immigrants of colour. In fact, those immigrants were often refused entry into Canada. Understanding the advantage that was bestowed based on race is critical to understanding the development of Canada.

Kathleen Karpuk

SD73 has a professional development program that focuses on educating teachers and administrators about Indigenous history and injustices. By educating teachers and administrators about historic wrongs, they are more comfortable in addressing these issues in schools and classrooms.

Marian Anderberg

I feel strongly that we must teach from a perspective of truth and reconciliation. Board policy and process needs to recognize the right to equity and ensure fair process for those who have been traditionally excluded. Teaching students to be critically reflective of what has occurred and challenging them to think about the kind of citizens that they want to be in the future will contribute to reconciliation. Teaching things such as critical race theory will work toward reducing racism and hate.

Jo Kang

Understanding and teaching our children at an educational level about racism as both a historic and contemporary phenomenon is very important. We need to tell the children about our very dark past. Canada has seen some very dark days when it comes to our indigenous brothers and sisters. Teaching this to our children will allow them understand a different perspective and understand the great negative effect racism has had to the Canadian people in the past.

Cole Hickson

Racism is still present and embedded in our society and I believe education is our best tool to combat it. I will be an advocate for ensuring our students are able to engage with this issue in a safe learning environment.

Children have the right to privacy. “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence.” This includes membership to 2SLGBTQ+ clubs, for example, and connecting with school counsellors.

If elected, how will you defend the rights of children to privacy?

John O’Fee

As a lawyer, I am reasonably well versed in privacy law. I teach students about privacy rights in the workplace and helped draft some privacy policy for Thompson Rivers University. I would remain vigilant in ensuring that everyone’s privacy rights were appropriately protected.

Kathleen Karpuk

Students have the ability to connect with counsellors without having their parents notified. Unless a club is doing activities that take them off campus (which would require parental permission), parents are not notified that a child is taking part in a club. SD73 follows the appropriate privacy legislation.

Marian Anderberg

SD 73 has strong policy related to the protection of student privacy. As a member of the board, I will ensure that I am acting in good faith to uphold this policy. I will ensure that I do not use my personal social media platforms to post pictures that may identify students or student location of attendance. Ensuring student privacy is also related to the protection of students. As a social worker I am aware of the risks that some families endure including domestic violence or children protection concerns. Exposing the location or identity of a child may place them at significant risk. Ensuring that board approved policy is in compliance with provincial and federal privacy law is imperative. Students have the right to protect their personal information and make choices about their own identity. School personnel and staff must uphold the privacy of students to ensure their safety and protect them even from their parents. Student rights should take precedence over parental rights when it comes to the protection of privacy.

Jo Kang

Upholding individual privacy is something I take very seriously. Each and every child in our school district should never feel anything that they tell someone in privacy may come out. I want to ensure that are in administration and counsellors are also taking this as serious as I would. A child that is seeking help and wants to speak with an individual in the school, such as a counsellor, should feel comfortable and that we are there for them.

Cole Hickson

I would reflect on and reaffirm the right to privacy for and on behalf of our student population. Unless relating to a health or safety crisis, students should have a right to confidentiality that is age and developmentally appropriate. 

Children have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Repeated studies have indicated that exclusionary home and school environments — those which deny or invalidate a young person’s gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability — are linked to negative mental health consequences.

If elected, how will you defend the right to health of students?

John O’Fee

Our district has policies in place that protect students from bullying and mistreatment. While this is not a direct role for a school trustee, every student should have access to appropriate in-school counselling. I would advocate for similar measures provincially but, outside of a school setting, this would be beyond a board’s mandate.

Kathleen Karpuk

Children have the right to be accepted as who they are, and the district has put programs in place that reinforce that right.

Marian Anderberg

The mental wellness of students is my top priority. Creating a safe environment and a sense of belonging will work toward positive student mental health. Students must be welcomed as they are for who they are. Curriculum that destigmatizes and supports diversity is imperative. This will encourage students to flourish. Supporting a culture of allyship is also crucial. Student’s diverse abilities and identities are protected under law and as a district we are obligated to ensure safe study opportunities. I believe that our obligation goes even further to promote a culture of respect and celebration of diversity and inclusion. School events and curriculum that teaches individual humility and reflection will assist students who have not experienced exclusion to look inward and ask how they can ensure equity. Teaching this social responsibility at a young age will assist students to engage in allyship as adults. Equity-deserving students must be protected within all board policies.            

Jo Kang

Upholding individual privacy is something I take very seriously. Each and every child in our school district should never feel anything that they tell someone in privacy may come out. I want to ensure that administration and counsellors are also taking this as seriously as I would. A child that is seeking help and wants to speak with an individual in the school, such as a counsellor, should feel comfortable and that we are there for them.

Cole Hickson

I will advocate for the rights of students, and work to ensure that there is adequate support available for those discriminated against, particularly those in our 2SLGBTQ+ community. This includes counselling, housing, and mental health support.

Children who belong to religious or linguistic minority groups, or who are Indigenous, have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in community with other members of their group.

If elected, how will you defend the rights of religious and linguistic minoritized students, as well as Indigenous students?

John O’Fee

Again, each student and staff member is entitled to be treated with respect. Our primary focus should be on each other’s humanity above any other consideration. No student should be marginalized for any protected characteristic. This includes, race, religion, ethnicity, medical conditions, sexual orientation and sexual identity among other things. I have consistently stood up for these principles as a legal professional, as a teaching professor and as a school trustee.

Kathleen Karpuk

Many of our schools celebrate multicultural days where students are encouraged to share their heritage. SD73 initiated a “day of recognition” where Indigenous culture is celebrated. This has expanded to a week. Our latest strategic plan incorporates the seven Grandfather teachings, bringing Indigenous education into the center of the district’s operations.

Marian Anderberg

As a Trustee, I will endeavour to ensure that diversity of culture, race, religion, faith, ability, and social location are represented within the hiring in the district. Students should be able to see themselves in those at the front of the classroom and in administration. A curriculum that focuses on diversity and includes sharing from all cultures and religions is imperative. Canada’s history of colonialism has almost erased indigenous language and knowledge. As a commitment to truth and reconciliation, we must work to reverse the harms that have occurred. This needs to include offerings of traditional indigenous languages and knowledge from local knowledge keepers. Libraries must include books that delve into diversity and offer opportunities for learning about all cultures and perspectives. As a Trustee, I will ensure programming is reviewed and developed with input from members of the diverse community that represents SD 73.             

Jo Kang

If Elected as a School Trustee, I will always be the first to step up and defend the rights of religious/linguistic minoritized students, including our indigenous students. As a practising Sikh, I understand how difficult it can be to be a student that falls into this category. I want to provide our students with an environment where everyone is the same and free to practice whatever they do so choose to. At the end of the day, we are all humans, we bleed the same blood, I will always at the board level fight for the rights of our students and make sure they feel comfortable in any school environment.

Cole Hickson

I will speak up for those who cannot. As a representative on the board, I plan to represent everyone, including those who are linguistically minoritized students. This means I will consult with those affected and work to better represent their views rather than assuming I know what’s best for their education.

General voting day in Kamloops takes place on Oct. 15, 2022, from 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. For more information, visit The Wren’s voting guide or the City of Kamloops website.

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