How would you help to advance the TRC Calls to Action for Education through your role as Regina Board of Education Trustee?
Greta Lange: I think it is the responsibility of the School Board Trustees to develop policy in consultation with those most affected by the actions of the TRC. I am looking forward to sitting down with community members to have them tell me what they think needs to be done to help in the healing process. I would base my approach on the information received through the discussions with those community members.
John Lax: I would advocate for and support policy direction and budget choices that acknowledge there are significant gaps in opportunity between many Indigenous students and the broader community. The outcome we need – and that the TRC seeks – is an education system that provides appropriate recognition and support for Indigenous students and families from early childhood right through to guidance through postsecondary education or training. The bedrock of my campaign is a fair, safe, and quality education for every Regina student.
Cecilia Prokop: Ensuring that any curriculum updated or newly developed is culturally appropriate and recognizes the impacts of treaties, residential schools, and the Indian Act to the Indigenous people that are still a large part of our society and community would be paramount. This also means broadening availability of Indigenous language courses. Programming and budgetary decisions that aim to improve achievement and funding gaps for Indigenous students should be a top priority. These moves should all happen in close and direct consultation with Indigenous students, staff, and community groups.
Elizabeth Strom: As a School Board Trustee, I look forward to working with the Elder Advisory Council and educators in developing a robust curriculum. I would also advocate, as a Division, that there is local content created to reflect the history and legacy of residential schools and the impact on the Regina community, not only from a national or provincial perspective. And lastly, I would also encourage developing components within the education piece for meaningful reconciliation. The TRC Education Calls to Action are solemn and vital commitments that we must ensure are appropriately addressed.
Do you support Tristan Durocher’s call for meaningful action on the suicide crisis, particularly among young Indigenous people, in this province? What do you see as the role of schools in suicide prevention?
Lange: As Tristan Durocher points out, the suicide rate among our Indigenous youth is tragic and heartbreaking and is, indeed, a crisis. I believe schools have the potential to play a positive role if they are places that create space for authentic expression in our communities. To play a useful role in suicide prevention, schools will need to understand the realities facing the youth in our communities, move away from the singular perspective of the status quo and have the courage and flexibility to change and allow for genuine engagement with kids and families.
Lax: Yes. I see no reason not to act. Our education system must be a source of support, comfort, and safe haven for students. We must prepare children for future opportunities and challenges. In this regard, after school and support programs must recognize the varying degrees of family and community support available to students and compensate for these disparities wherever possible. No child should live in despair. Schools must be a step – whether the first, middle, or last – in empowering students to live happily.
Prokop: I absolutely support Tristan Durocher’s protest and call for action, and I think it’s shameful the government was not able to have a meaningful dialogue with him during his time just outside our legislative building. I see schools as a place to ensure students of all backgrounds and abilities are able to feel safe and whole as themselves; to me, this means meaningful mental health supports and programs, and ensuring culturally competent and trauma-informed staff at all levels to help students in crisis before it’s too late. ‘
Strom: Absolutely. The suicide rate of Indigenous people is estimated at 3X the rate of non-Indigenous and up to 5X the rate amongst female Indigenous people. This is a crisis. Our family is quite passionate about mental health as I personally have lost an extended family member and friends to suicide. This needs to be addressed. As a Trustee, I believe it is important to first ensure our educators and staff are being properly cared for. Many educators are themselves burning out under the weight of current Covid restrictions and we cannot expect them to adequately help others if they themselves are in need of care. Secondly, educators need to be properly prepared and trained on suicide prevention that accommodates for cultural sensitivities. And thirdly, I would advocate for more counsellors to be available in both primary and secondary schools.
We are in the midst of a global and local reckoning around racism, colonialism and policing. Do you believe that police belong in schools in Regina? How do you define “defund police?”
Lange: I believe that resource officers in schools can have a beneficial effect, but I am also aware that the police force itself, like the term “defund police” can represent very different things to different people depending on the circumstance. I strongly believe that “policing resources” need to be allocated in a way that they will have the biggest impact on creating a healthier society. The traditional policing model, in both schools and communities, may not always be relevant to, or appropriate for, the situation at hand.
Lax: I do. Police exist to serve and protect but too often – particularly for minority communities – interactions with law enforcement are negative. They do not need to be. I realize we have a long way to go to fix certain issues – we need to redefine the parameters around interaction and mutual respect between law enforcement and communities. But I simply do not think further widening the gulf between police, youth, and broader communities is a recipe for short or long-term success.
Over the past few decades police have become the general complaints department: every time the public does not know what to do, we call the police. Consequently, police respond to an immense range of situations where they are not genuinely required – and many of which they have not been trained for. We need to allocate resources for mental health, addictions, family crisis, and other types of problems that currently get left to police. It is past time to have a conversation about how best to allocate public resources to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Prokop: I think uniformed officers do not need to be in public schools. Instead, I think more resources and programming with community supports should be implemented, alongside direct communication with schools to determine what their needs are, and funding those needs appropriately. I believe that in many cases, uniformed police escalate conflicts that need not be escalated, and I do not believe our students need to be faced with police officers when they are simply trying to get an education. To me, defunding the police means taking some, if not all, resources currently directed towards police services and redirecting them to community supports, poverty strategies, addiction and mental health resources, etc. Again, I think this needs to be done in direct consultation and communication with the communities most impacted by police presence.
Strom: I believe there is a role for police presence in schools to build community trust and maintain mutual respect and understanding. Without the full context of how police funding is currently allocated, I cannot comment on the best resource allocation. However, I do believe that as a Board Trustee, I can facilitate important discussions to take place between educators, the police, and impacted community groups on how to work together to create a safe and respectful school environment.
Do you think public schools should recognize Pride annually? As a Regina Board of Education Trustee, would you support a motion to formally protect the rights of schools to recognize Pride week and fly the Pride flag annually?
Lange: As a School Board Trustee, I would certainly support a motion to formally protect the rights of schools to recognize Pride Week and fly the Pride flag annually.
Lax: Yes. The mishandling of this vote was a primary reason I got involved in this election. Reasonable people can disagree on issues and have conversations. Regina Public Schools’ motto is, “I belong, I want to know, I respect, I am responsible.” This mandate is crystal clear and I will support every policy that opposes racism, sexism, or any other forms of discrimination in our schools. And I will not be tolerant of intolerance. I’m John Lax, a father of three and I’m running for School Board to represent you and ensure fair, safe, and quality education for all students and a better society.
Prokop: Yes, absolutely, on both points.
Strom: The school division worked very hard last year on developing a framework in consultation with community groups, parents, and educators to respond to the previous motion introduced. As a School Board Trustee, I would adhere to the Special Committee’s framework recommendations on diversity. I look forward to ongoing discussions with committee members regarding celebrations in schools.