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Kamloops trustee candidates talk capital funding, catchment areas and SOGI 123

All 10 candidates attended the Sept. 28 civic election forum at the Henry Grube Education Center
The School District 73 District Parent Advisory Council organized the Sept. 28, 2022, forum for trustee candidates seeking a seat in the Oct. 15 civic election.

A school trustee candidate forum, organized by the School District 73 District Parent Advisory Council, included a handful of issues for discussion on Wednesday night (Sept. 28), with more than 100 people at the Henry Grube Education Centre to hear from the 10 candidates seeking one of five Kamloops seats in the Oct. 15 election.

The evening's topics spanned four issues, including capital funding, catchment changes, SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) 123 and early childhood education.


Candidates were asked by moderator Brett Mineer how they would deal with issues related to securing capital funding from the province in order to build new schools.

Kathleen Karpuk acknowledged the problem and cited her prior experience in dealing with the province

"I would really like to engage city council a lot more, in having them come to the table and lobby with us," Karpuk said.

Pointing to the school district for Sooke, on Vancouver Island, Karpuk said the city council, regional district and school district present a united front, resulting in new schools being built each year.

"If we had that happening here, we wouldn't have the problem we have right now," she said, pointing to capacity issues seen especially in city schools.

Jennifer Rowse said she would be a "pain in the butt" to help secure funding.

"I think with my persistence, I believe that we, together as a board, can really get those needs met," she said.

John O'Fee pointed to the successes of the previous board on which he sat, noting the planned rebuild of Parkcrest elementary and progress made toward a school in Pineview Valley. The next target, he said, would be a school in Batchelor Heights.

Marian Anderberg, a longtime social worker, agreed that collaboration is key and suggested working with major employers such as Interior Health and Thompson Rivers University. She called the overcrowding in the region's schools "disgraceful."

"We don't even overcrowd jails in that way. We're going to do it with our schools, our kids? It's not acceptable," Anderberg said.

Heather Grieve echoed what others had said and suggested implementing solutions found elsewhere in this district. She called for more transparency in how capital funding is allocated across the province.

Jo Kang gave kudos to the current board for what it managed to get done with the funding it received and suggested inviting ministers to see the overcrowding issues in person.

Jimmy Johal echoed thoughts on collaboration and said communication is important, too. Karla Pearce echoed those sentiments.

Cole Hickson said capital funding is a key issue of his, pointing to his part in prompting a funding review by the provincial government — the result of a years-long campaign by the TRU Students' Union.

"We went everywhere and anywhere that would hear us to talk about the issue of funding. ... I can say that campaign was a success," he said.

Shahriar Behmanesh stood out from the rest, playing devil's advocate, as he said, worrying that much of the province's spending had been wasteful and arguing resources should be allocated more carefully.


Another issue raised was that of catchment area changes — a move twice necessitated last year as the district and school board looked to deal with overcrowding.

Candidates were asked how they would work with parents and conduct consultations if further catchment changes were necessary.

Anderberg said her own children had been caught up in catchment changes and acknowledged how difficult it can be for some. She said the decisions should be made with consultation and transparency.

Grieve, who sat on the board during several previous catchment changes, said work should be done to "get ahead" of the impacts from any changes and deal with changes on a case-by-case basis.

Kang echoed some of Grieve's thoughts and called catchment changes a "necessary evil" until new schools are built, while Johal called them "hard choices" that had to be made in the face of limited space. Pearce also called for more space to deal with the issue.

Hickson said in the short-term, parents should at least be notified far in advance. In the long-term, he said, more schools need to be built. Behmanesh emphasized early and transparent communication on the issue.

Karpuk, another current trustee, said she struggled dealing with catchment changes on the board before, talking about transport challenges that emerged with previous changes.

Rowse said her approach would be transparent and that any changes needing to be made would first be explained to parents.

O'Fee said catchment changes to improve efficiency are no longer enough.

"We can't just be efficient anymore. We are efficient. We've got four schools worth of kids in portables right now. It's time to start building," O'Fee said.

SOGI 123

The forum allowed audience members to submit written questions for candidates and several were received on the issue of SOGI 123.

The candidates were asked their opinions on gender- neutral bathrooms and on SOGI 123, a curriculum component that has been in place in B.C. for more than six years.

Johal said SOGI is just one tool that can be used to teach children that everyone should be accepted. On gender-neutral washrooms, Johal said it's a difficult decision on how to create a safe space for children.

Pearce said she does not understand why there is an issue was with gender-neutral washrooms, pointing to many that already exist without issue.

Hickson said he's been asked — and harassed — about the issue on social media. He suggested using the individual bathroom stall model and said SOGI is an important part of the curriculum that teaches about the diversity of society.

Behmanesh, who moved to Canada from Iraq when he was nine years old, said he was taught the SOGI curriculum in school and pointed to Canada's comparative success overall in dealing with discrimination.

Karpuk said gender-neutral bathrooms shouldn't be controversial at all with a doored toilet stall and separate sink. In her opinion, they are not an issue. On SOGI, Karpuk said students feeling connected, represented and safe is a big part of their success.

"We have to recognize that there are kids who feel they are a different gender, recognize where they're at, support them as a full person and let them move forward from there," she said.

Rowse, the only candidate to take issue with SOGI 123, is looking to ban about a dozen titles from school libraries and on Wednesday night claimed SOGI 123 amounted to the "encouragement and glorification of gender dysphoria" and questioned the curriculum's value.

O'Fee said schools should be a safe place, "not for our children, but for all children. The sooner we start treating people like human beings, the better the school system we're going to have," he said.

Anderberg said she “100 per cent” supports SOGI 123 and also critical race theory being taught in schools because of the human rights protections present in Canada.

"I see the aftermath. I deal with students who are suicidal because they come from groups that have been historically excluded in our society. I will not stand for that," Anderberg said.

Grieve said gender-neutral bathrooms have not been an issue and were included in the new Valleyview secondary expansion, with floor-to-ceiling doors and not different gendered students sharing the same room.

Grieve said she supports the SOGI curriculum and that children should be taught to lead with respect and kindness.

Kang also supports SOGI 123 and said, as a minority, he knows how it feels to be mistreated and misjudged.

"The minority of people you'll see on Facebook and on the news, they're just there,” he said. “We all know what's right and we all what's needed for our students to thrive.”

Shortly after the SOGI 123 issue concluded, one audience member began shouting as he was leaving.

"You people are sick. One out of 10 — the rest of you, sex cult perverts. Disgusting what you want to do," he said, while filming the stunt on his phone and being escorted from the room.


Early childhood education was the next issue discussed.

Over the past trustee term, the provincial government has integrated younger children into the Ministry of Education's purview, including child care and early education.

Behmanesh said the issue is an important one to him, calling on students of all ages to be pushed harder toward success, beginning in primary education.

Karpuk said space is the biggest issue in providing child care, also noting the low wages available to early childhood educators, but overall praising more investment by the province on the issue.

O'Fee acknowledged the value of early childhood education and said spaces will be integrated into new school builds.

Anderberg said she loves the direction taken by the province, but noted available spots have been sparse.

Grieve said she hopes more child care spaces will open and pledged to support existing programs.

Kang said he's a proud educator with the Mother Goose early childhood education program within the library system. He said he would look into any issues with staff retention.

Johal said he was on the same page as other candidates, noting allocating space for early education is important.

Pearce said she has experience in running after-school art programs, but also noted space challenges.

Hickson said funding is an important part of providing early childhood education and that it is important provide in order to prevent future social and developmental issues.

Ten trustee candidates are running in Kamloops in the Oct. 15 municipal election, with the top five set to form the next school board alongside four rural trustees, all of whom have been acclaimed.