Abbotsford’s 17 school board candidates lined a long table at the Abby Arts Centre on Thursday to answer questions from the district parent advisory council at the school district’s only all-candidates forum. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Abbotsford DPAC says school board’s sole all-candidates forum a success

Candidates asked about SOGI resources, involvement in school district, experience and strategic plan

Officials with Abbotsford’s district parent advisory council are calling last week’s all-candidates forum for the current school board election a success.

The DPAC managed to squeeze in two-minute opening and closing statements, along with five questions for all 17 candidates within about two hours.

“That took a lot of organization to get to that point, because 17 is a lot, and we wanted to get the information out and have a chance for all of those candidates to speak. We had to be rigid in our times and we tried to keep it as fair for every candidate,” said DPAC vice-president Kandyce Wark.

“Pretty much everything that had to do with a school trustee, we managed to get that into our questions. Those questions were straight from the parents; that was the focus here tonight.”

RELATED: Here’s what you need to know about Abbotsford’s 17 school board candidates

The first question was a simple yes or no — do candidates support all students and faculty, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation? All candidates answered in the affirmative.

Candidates were then asked what they have done and will do to support LGBTQ+ students, parents and staff in the schools.

Responses to that question largely fell in two camps, with some candidates saying they support all students, appearing to skirt around talking specifically on SOGI-specific policies and resources.

“I believe we help all students — all 19,800 of them. My concern is parents need to be part of the conversation,” Korky Neufeld said.

Other candidates addressed SOGI 123 specifically, saying they support SOGI policies and learning resources.

“I think that it’s incumbent on us as trustees to make sure that that policy is enacted and it’s working,” incumbent Freddy Latham said.

RELATED: Abbotsford candidate list released as nomination period closes

In the third question of the night, candidates were asked how many school board meetings they had attended prior to September 2018 and how involved they have been with the school district since the 2014 election.

That question saw a variety of answers, with incumbents noting that they may have missed one or two meetings, also pointing to involvement in a variety of activities, either as school liaisons or in extracurriculars of interest to them.

Most non-incumbents noted that, while many had attended one of the last two meetings, they had largely not attended school board meetings prior to September, though most added they were involved in events and extra-curricular activities their children or grandchildren were involved in.

One candidate, Graham Evan MacDonell, said he was likely the only non-incumbent at the majority of school board meetings in the past four years.

The final question of the night asked candidates to suggest changes, if any, needed to the strategic plan. Only one candidate, Krista Cardinal, said she could not properly answer the question, saying she was not familiar enough with the school district’s strategic plan to provide an answer.

Of those who did answer the question, a majority spoke mostly on the need for involvement of parents and teachers in the ever-evolving document.

Jared White spoke on the topic of former K-7 schools, noting that a new school in the district provides an opportunity to return a K-7 school to the district.

Shelley Godwin spoke to tight space in east Abbotsford schools, while Kathryn Sobko and Earl Storey spoke of getting more teacher supports for high-need students.

Find all of our local election coverage here.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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