Election Primer: Edmonton school board elections spark heated discussions
Inclusion, reconciliation and public funding discussions highlight this year's race
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A large crop of candidates is stirring up noise in this year’s school board elections, with a provincewide curriculum review underway and a number of high-stakes issues on the table.
“I don’t necessarily remember hearing as much about a school board trustee election as we have this year,” said Heather Quinn, President of Edmonton Public Teachers Local 37.
The public board has 29 candidates vying for nine positions, while the Catholic board has 19 running for seven spots.
Meanwhile, public board chair Michelle Draper has been acclaimed in Ward B, with the distinction of being the only candidate in the municipal election to run unchallenged.
Perhaps the campaign's most heated discussion has been around the inclusion and safety of sexual minority students and new provincial legislation mandating schools to allow Gay-Straight Alliances if students choose to form them.
“We know that there are some special interest groups, if you will, weighing in and perhaps trying to have their voice heard,” Quinn said.
Quinn said supporting gender minority students the support they need to feel safe is one of Edmonton Public’s top priorities.
Another top concern is reconciliation and supporting Indigenous students, who are disproportionately struggling with grades.
Both topics appeared on the Local 37’s candidate survey, along with a question about whether private schools should continue to receive public funds – another contentious topic that has seen outside groups weigh in.
A Environics poll released in in spring showed nearly two-thirds of Albertans believe private school funds should be re-routed into public education.
Some have gone a step further and pushed for an end to publicly funded Catholic schools, and last month their call was joined by outgoing Catholic trustee Patricia Grell.
The Catholic board took heat last year after public meetings around LGBTQ issues erupted in shouting, and a consultant hired by the province ordered a review of all policies in a report that highlighted interpersonal conflicts.
Some Catholic candidates are running on a promise to stamp out the conflict, while others say socially progressive voices of dissent are crucial to its democratic functioning.
School board voter turnout is historically lower than citywide turnout.
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