“I hope and pray we can do better.”
Those words from Central Okanagan school trustee Julia Fraser summed up the feelings of her school board cohorts in the wake of a harassment incident that occurred during an elementary school track and field meet at the Apple Bowl last week.
Wednesday’s school board meeting was the first time trustees have had an opportunity to publicly comment on the incident, when a grandfather accosted a nine-year-old girl competing in a shot put event, questioning the girl’s gender, shouting out that if she was not a boy, then she was definitely transgender and should be disqualified from the event.
The moms of the girl posted their version of the dispute on Facebook, and it has subsequently garnered global media attention including CNN, New York Times, New York Post and ABC News.
B.C. Premier David Eby and Kelowna RCMP issued statements condemning the incident, as did Kelowna city councillor Loyal Woolridge and Mayor Tom Dyas.
Fraser said hateful behaviour is not acceptable among public school students, and neither should it be from adults.
“I think adults can learn something from our students in how they celebrate and are taught to respect the individual diversity of other students,” Fraser said.
Lee-Ann Tiede, Central Okanagan Board of Education chair, said she was disappointed at the negative public scrutiny the incident has generated when there is so many positive, inspirational things Central Okanagan students are achieving.
She noted at Wednesday’s board meeting alone how trustees recognized the graduation of this year French Immersion class and students winners of City of Kelowna Civic Awards, in both cases offering individual examples of perseverance, achievement and recognizing the support of others that has drawn them personal accolades.
“It is not appropriate under any circumstances for any adult to bully a child,” Tiede said.
Trustee Wayne Broughton, a parent who has become a vocal supporter of transgender youth on the school board, introduced a resolution, which was unanimously passed, for the school district to issue a public statement affirming the inclusivity and equality of public schools and address the misinformation spread largely in social media about school staff improperly influencing the gender identity decisions of students.
Broughton described the incident at the track meet as “truly appalling.”
Trustee Lisa Guderyan, who was at the track meet but did not witness the harassment incident, said what happened was so opposite of the spirit of the event.
“There was the incredible athleticism of these students on display…so much positive energy so it was confoundedly disappointing to hear afterwards about what had happened,” she said.
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, reported to the board of education the process to have the couple involved banned from any school activities is ongoing.
He said numerous violations occurred under Section 171 of the School Act for the school board to pursue the ban.
He called it “disturbing” for the students and staff to be subjected to that kind of harassment on any terms, especially what is intended to be a celebration of the school term year-end culminating in the annual track and field meet.
Kaardal said the teaching staff supervising the shot put event handled the situation appropriately given the level of belligerence they were confronted with, ultimately moving the event to another side of the field so it could be concluded, and members of the public has since acknowledged the support from school staff to the impacted students and their families.
“It is upsetting to see these young athletes traumatized by this,” Kaardal said.