'The latest battleground in culture wars': School board trustee vote taking a political tone
In past years the election of school board trustees went by with little notice.
The 2022 election cycle is proving to be different.
“What we are seeing in interest in school board elections is potentially the latest battleground in culture wars,” said Andrea Perrella, professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Spurred on in part by controversies over the last term, including the suspension of a sitting trustee and a lawsuit filed by a teacher whose presentation was cut short during a board of trustees meeting, the 2022 campaign has taken on a political tone.
“A lot of it has to do with policies enacted by the Ministry (of Education) to advance more equity diversity and inclusion policies across the schools, that has caused a reaction,” said Perrella
"It can be referred to as an anti-woke movement that is finding its way to the school boards,” he added.
According to Perrella, some of this energy may be misplaced because school board trustees have very little control over what happens in the classroom.
“Some people expect trustees to play a part in curriculum, and that’s really where we have to say, 'no, that doesn’t happen.' The Ontario curriculum is determined by the ministry, so trustees don’t have any authority in creating the curriculum,” said Perrella.
Perrella said he believes much of the energy around the school board elections is coming from the United States.
“What is different in the United States, if you look at the job description of their version of school board trustees, you see a word that you don’t see in the job description of our trustees, and that word is curriculum. In American school boards, trustees have a greater say in developing classroom curriculum, so those in the anti-woke movement see greater potential to influence the curriculum,” said Perrella.
According to Perrella, the power of the board of trustees comes with the ability to hire key personnel.
“The most important function of a trustee is to appoint or sometimes replace a director of education.”
But Perrella adds this power also has limits.
”Directors retire, or they resign, but it can happen where they fire a director. Now there is the Education Act, so they can’t just fire someone because they want to. We can’t just fire someone for no reason or if we disagree with them. There has to be some legitimate reasons.”
Perrella said despite the lack of actual power, trustees can be an effective voice of public influence.
“They may see this as a platform for a loud voice,” said Perrella.