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Controversial new slate running in Okanagan school board elections

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Controversial new slate running in Okanagan school board elections
WATCH: School board races in the Central Okanagan and Vernon have been getting a lot more public attention this election cycle because of a controversial new slate running in both ridings. Critics of Parents Voice BC feel the electoral organization includes candidates with extreme views, but the group argues those critics are missing the point of the slate. Global Okanagan tried to speak with all the Okanagan Parents Voice candidates. Only one of seven made themselves available for an on camera interview. – Oct 12, 2022

School board races in the Central Okanagan and Vernon have been in the spotlight this election cycle because of a controversial new slate running in both ridings.

Critics of Parents Voice BC feel the electoral organization includes candidates with extreme views, but the group argues those critics are missing the point of the slate.

Global Okanagan tried to speak with all the Okanagan Parents Voice candidates. Only Sylvia Herchen, one of seven Parents Voice candidates in the Okanagan, made herself available for an on-camera interview.

If elected to the Vernon School Board Herchen, a physiotherapist, said her role will be to let parents be heard.

“There is nothing extreme about wanting your child to have the best possible education,” said Herchen.

“Learning is interrupted constantly and good students have no place in this. This is what I want to focus on is having classrooms return to healthy learning.”

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Herchen is one of 28 Parents Voice BC candidates running in eight school districts around BC.

The electoral organization said its candidates support transparency and trustees’ independence from unions or “special interests”.

In a campaign ad the electoral organization lays out its argument that “increasingly the government is bringing major educational initiatives with little or no input from the parents or community.”

When asked what kind of educational initiatives she is concerned about and feels the public should be able to weigh in on, Herchen brought up SOGI.

“At the risk of sounding like a person who is against minority groups SOGI is a big government agenda that has been brought into BC schools without any discussion,” Herchen said.

SOGI 123 is a framework that includes policies and teaching resources on the topic of sexual orientation and gender identity aimed at creating inclusive schools

Herchen was also asked how she thinks LGBTQ topics should be taught in schools.

“I think what they are doing is very good and they are making people aware that we are not all the same which is fine. But this topic is taking away time and energy from really really important ways of getting youth prepared for the realities of life which is basic skills: reading, writing,” said Herchen.

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These types of comments don’t sit well with Carmen, a parent of trans kids who attend school in the Central Okanagan school district.

Global News has agreed not to use Carmen’s last name to protect her children.

“It was my impression at the candidates forum that the Parents Voice candidates were focused on this SOGI 123 instead of the real issues. We’ve got this super-fast growing school district. Our schools are crowded maybe over capacity. We need trustees that are going to focus on those issues,” Carmen said.

The Central Okanagan parent also disagrees that she left out of her kids schooling.

“When my kids get sex ed every year at school I get a letter, I get a link to all the resources, I get all the information. I’m encouraged to review it as a parent. I don’t feel like I’ve been left out of the loop,” Carmen said.

Herchen was last in the news in April 2020 when she spoke out against COVID restrictions.

“Our civic rights have been trampled by all the things that they are not allowing us to do to protect us from one little virus,” said Herchen in April 2020.

Now running for school trustee, Herchen was asked how she would want to see COVID precautions handled in schools.

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“Here is a very good example of how policies are put into a school with little discussion. Children are at extremely low risk for COVID, yet masking was pushed, and many many vaccines were also pushed,” Herchen said.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, “most young people are not likely to get very sick from COVID-19, but some will. Being vaccinated for COVID-19 is the best way to protect young people from COVID-19.”

The North Okanagan Labour Council has argued that the slate holds anti-vaccine views, is not inclusive and is anti-LGBTQ2.

The council has urged its supporters not to vote for Parents Voice BC.

The electoral organization’s campaign manager has argued some are criticizing Parents Voice BC because they are on the defensive.

“There is a lot of…unions and special interests that have had their way public system for a while so when they see an organized group coming along trying to go for more openness, transparency and parental and community involvement, that scares them, so they naturally want to lash out,” said campaign manager Fritz Radandt.

Click to play video: 'New elector organization is running candidates for school board in eight B.C. ridings and critics are concerned'
New elector organization is running candidates for school board in eight B.C. ridings and critics are concerned

Parents Voice BC says its candidates have a range of opinions and critics are missing the point of the electoral organization.

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“We have candidates who have children that are gay, we have candidates who are pro-SOGI. Our big thing isn’t the particular issues, our big things is there seems to be this sense among the public and parents…that the school systems are going in the wrong direction Radandt said.

While they didn’t make time for an on-camera interview, two candidates sent written statements about their positions.

Central Okanagan candidate Tovey Demman argued it was the media who were focused on SOGI 123 and explained her views.

“I believe that all students require a safe and inclusive learning environment. A space where they feel supported and belong. If you had asked parents a month ago what is SOGI 123 the majority would not have been able to tell you. How can families advocate and support their children when they have no clear understanding of the initiatives set by the education ministry,” wrote Demman.

Parents Voice BC has three candidates in the Vernon School District and four in the Central Okanagan.

On Saturday, it will be up to voters to decide if they are the right fit for local school boards.

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