Questionable decision?

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School board shuts down questions from the public

By Blake Ellis
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Petrolia Independent

Members of the public can no longer ask questions at Lambton-Kent District School Board meetings, as trustees eliminated that option.

This comes after two separate people at meetings in June and September raised the issue of 2SLGBTQ++ rights, and apparent concerns from trustees and staff that the divisive issue could lead to violence.
At the June 20 meeting, a member of the public used the section of the agenda that welcomes taxpayers to ask questions about school board operations to talk about their disgust in allowing LGBTQ efforts to be highlighted during the school year. Chair Randy Campbell shut down the line of questioning.

Then, during the Sept. 26 meeting, another person raised the issue without asking a question. Campbell again shut down the speaker.
That prompted a discussion about whether members of the public should be allowed to ask questions without being vetted at the public session. Trustees first discussed new rules that would have seen a vetting process set up where any questions had to be submitted seven days before a meeting. The board chair, vice chair and director of education would decide whether the question is appropriate.

That plan to screen questions failed. On Oct. 4, at a special noon-hour meeting in Chatham – which was not streamed live as all other board meetings are –trustees decided to eliminate the question period.

Trustee Kelly Robertson, who put forward the notice of motion at the last school board meeting, felt this change would in fact improve communications with the
public. There is no information exchanged when a person just asks a question and moving to a delegation format would allow trustees to hear diverse voices, she said.
While Trustee David Shortt supports an increase in communication with the public, he said the public perception would be that the trustees are less open to the public in the wake of the decision.

Director of Education John Howitt backed the idea of eliminating public inquiries at a meeting Sept. 26.
“There are 3,000 staff that I need to keep safe,” said Howitt at the time.
And he agreed with a suggestion from Robertson that hiring security staff would also be something that needs to be considered.

Trustee Roberta Northmore found the Lambton-Kent board’s practice of allowing the public to ask questions during a board meeting as unusual. She found only one other board that still has a public question period.

That one board is now getting people to submit their questions to the board, said Howitt.
Robertson encouraged people to phone or e-mail trustees if they need to ask questions or voice their concerns. Trustee phone numbers and e-mails are posted on the Lambton Kent District School Board website.

Parents can also bring up concerns with their school principals.

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