Boiling Point: A call for democracy at the Vancouver School Board

Photo: Adam Foster, flickr creative commons.

Photo: Adam Foster, flickr creative commons.

Things just got a lot more complicated at the Vancouver School Board. More than a decade of under-funding, ever-shifting priorities, and conflict came to a resounding halt with a single order from the B.C. government and Education Minister Mike Bernier that removed the democratically elected school board from office.

I am proud to say that I finished school in the K-12 public education system. It is where I have met some of my closest friends, where I found my passion, and where I established a support system that provided so much stability where even hard days were good days. But the system I grew up in is not the same system students are starting in today.

I remember the government breaking their promise to have all schools seismically upgraded by 2020. In an earthquake prone region that is long overdue for the “big one”, this is ludicrous. My elementary school was fortunate enough to go through one of these upgrades. They’re not easy on the school -- it involved many moves -- but was certainly worth the price. Many students today are not afforded that luxury.

The funding decisions made by this government slowly erode the balanced education system me and many other students thrived in. I can’t imagine what it’s like for students starting school today knowing that what I had is harder to access. Education is supposed to equal the playing field, yet we are much farther from that today than when I started in 2002.

I was shocked and dismayed by the Minister’s announcement. I learned in high school that we elect city councillors, parks board commissioners, and school board trustees to serve our interests. Canadians should be proud of our democratically elected institutions. The system that supported the interests of students and the Vancouver electorate has been replaced by something that is unaccountable to the public. I expect an elected board, or any elected official to fulfill their term in accordance with the mandate provided by the electorate. What type of message are we sending to students by eroding our own institutions? What are we saying to students and parents who supported the decision of the board to reject the budget or to halt the school closure process?

This year has been rough on students. They fought to keep their schools open by showing passion for their community. The provincial ministry should have come to an equitable agreement that supports students, not only in Vancouver but across the province. Students are fighting for the places that they know, love and care about. All students deserve safe community spaces that foster their education, creativity and that supports them towards success. We should be working towards eliminating class divides through education, not building more walls. It starts with a fair and equal system.

Now more than ever, we need to band together to demand that democracy is respected in Vancouver. It doesn’t matter where you sit on the political spectrum or which party you support. We can all agree that no one but the public electorate should remove an elected official from office. We are the only group that can establish a legitimate mandate. A newly appointed Trustee from the Provincial Government cannot fix, nor instill trust, in our democratic institutions. Stable, predictable, and adequate funding for all children in the public system is needed to restore stability. An election to establish a mandate from the public is needed to restore trust in an institution that is so desperately in need of public support.

Aaron Leung