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New Westminster school board opts not to dump DPAC rep

A recommendation to remove a District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) representative from a committee that reviews appeals of lengthy suspensions has been shot down by the New Westminster board of education.

Recently DPAC discovered some decade-old files that contained confidential information on students appealing suspensions, including two involving serious criminal offences, distributed to committee members.

The current DPAC executive was unaware someone from the organization was supposed to participate on the review committee. Vice-president MaryAnn Mortensen said it wasn’t necessary for committee members to know who the student was.

A check with the Ministry of Education revealed other districts around the province don’t have a DPAC representative on their appeal committees, so district staff drafted a recommendation to remove the DPAC representative.

That motion, however, was rejected by a 4-3 vote at Tuesday evening’s board of education meeting.

Although DPAC raised alarms about confidentiality, Mortensen said the organization is relieved they haven’t been removed from the committee. Parents of students who are appealing should have the right to have someone on the committee who can advocate for them.

Board chair Michael Ewen, however, said the DPAC representative’s role is not as an advocate but as part of the appeal adjudication process. Parents, he said, have the right to bring their own advocate to the meeting.

Ewen voted for the recommendation because other districts and the ministry don’t find it appropriate to have a DPAC representative on the committee. Those voting against were trustees Brent Atkinson, Casey Cook, Jim Goring and Lisa Graham.

“That’s a pretty emotional issue for a parent and a child,” said Atkinson. “I think it’s advantageous to have another parent, who is apart from this direct issue, at the table because otherwise the rest of the people are part of the system.

“There’s not third party involvement if you take out [the DPAC] involvement. It’s always good to have someone who can see both sides of the issue. It adds some balance to the process.”

Atkinson said he will suggest a motion to the board to change the wording to say the review committee “may” include a DPAC representative.

District staff have been directed to come up with recommendations for the committee’s composition and handling of appeals.

“It’s a matter of what’s going to work best for the district and the student,” said Ewen.

Mortensen said DPAC is grateful the district will take a broader look.

“I have every confidence [the district] will handle it properly,” said Mortensen.

•••

In a similar vein, the board will vote on recommendations to restructure its main committees at its next meeting.

A few years ago, the board reduced its four main committees to two—education, and business and administration. Because the committees also consisted of many stakeholders they were having trouble getting quorums.

Ewen said with the two committees the quorum issue didn’t disappear.

“Too often they were staff talking to staff,” said Ewen.

The latest proposals call for the business and administration committee to be disbanded and replaced by three others—finance and audit, facilities and capital projects, and human resources.

All four would consist of three trustees and a senior administrator, have the ability to form sub-committees and meet monthly. Non-voting members from the community can also be added.

With the restructuring, Ewen believes regular board meetings could be held once a month instead of twice.

ggranger@newwestnewsleader.com

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