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Vernon school board meetings moved online following protest

After the Dec. 13 board meeting was disrupted by protesters, the school district is no longer allowing in-person participation
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The Vernon School District is switching to online only meetings after protesters disrupted the board of education meeting on Dec. 13, 2023. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

The Vernon School District has switched its board of education meetings from in-person to online only after its last meeting was disrupted by protesters.

School District 22 board chair Mark Olsen confirms that the district is moving its board meetings to an online format indefinitely after its meeting on Dec. 13 was disrupted by a handful of people, causing some at the meeting to express safety concerns.

“We will continue to conduct our public meetings online until it is deemed to be safe for all in attendance,” Olsen told The Morning Star Friday.

“It is my job as chair to ensure order is kept and people are respected while in attendance.”

Following the Dec. 13 meeting, a video was shared on YouTube showing a woman making accusations towards the school board for about 10 minutes. At various points in the video, staff played loud music and shut off the lights in an attempt to deter the protester, who was joined by several other protesters in the meeting room.

Olsen said none of the comments the protesters made were related to the meeting agenda.

“There is a misunderstanding on the purpose of the public board meeting, which is to conduct the business of the board in public for transparency purposes. The public board meeting is not a town hall type of meeting whereby various questions or comments are fielded,” said Olsen of the process that is similar to that of city councils. “The business of the board is identified in the agenda that is put out in advance of the meeting. Question period is to allow the public to ask questions for clarification relating directly to the agenda.”

Olsen criticized the conduct of the protesters, saying they resisted attempts to bring the meeting into order, and there was some “shouting and name calling, making future meetings potentially difficult to conduct in the current format.”

He said the protesters were shouting words including “coward” and “traitor” as well as “other more offensive words that I don’t want to repeat.

“It is not acceptable for anybody to be the subject of such verbal abuse,” Olsen said.

The proper procedure for those with specific school-related questions or comments, said Olsen, is to raise it with the school principal, and if the response is unsatisfactory they can contact Supt. Christine Perkins.

He added there are some issues that are not under the board’s control, such as legislation and curriculum. Questions on those issues should be directed to the Ministry of Education and Childcare.

Olsen said the decision to switch to online only meetings is in line with advice from the RCMP, which investigated the Dec. 13 disruption.

The school board’s next meeting on Jan. 24 will be streamed live via Zoom.

The school district’s website outlines methods for communicating with the board at sd22.bc.ca.

Meanwhile, an opportunity to hear from the school district on a school-related topic is coming soon. The public is invited to attend a presentation on finances and budget for the 2024-2025 school year on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. in the library at Clarence Fulton Secondary.

The budget includes over $135 million of expenses to support the education of 9,000 students in the district.

“We have a talented and dedicated team of educators and support staff who work hard to make a difference in the lives of our students every day. We also have a supportive and engaged community that values education and collaboration,” said Perkins.

The presentation will be followed by a question, answer, and discussion session where the public can provide feedback on the budget.

READ MORE: Protesters shut down Vernon school board meeting

READ MORE: Vernon parents petition to keep alternative program at Fulton



Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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